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NYT Cheers Renting To ‘Needy’ Squatters

From an approving New York Times:

A landlord was arrested for taking rent from Fabian Ferguson, above, on houses he didn’t own.

At Legal Fringe, Empty Houses Go to the Needy

By CATHARINE SKIPP and DAMIEN CAVE
November 8, 2010

NORTH LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Save Florida Homes Inc. and its owner, Mark Guerette, have found foreclosed homes for several needy families here in Broward County, and his tenants could not be more pleased. Fabian Ferguson, his wife and two children now live a two-bedroom home they have transformed from damaged and abandoned to full and cozy.

There is just one problem: Mr. Guerette is not the owner. Yet.

In a sign of the odd ingenuity that has grown from the real estate collapse, he is banking on an 1869 Florida statute that says the bundle of properties he has seized will be his if the owners do not claim them within seven years.

A version of the same law was used in the 1850s to claim possession of runaway slaves….

We take it then, that this law might no longer be universally applicable.

Mr. Guerette, 47, a clean-cut mortgage broker, sees his efforts as heroic. “There are all these properties out there that could be used for good,” he said.

You see, as long as he is "clean-cut" and he means well, then we should have no problem with someone taking possession of property they do not own and renting it out to others for a profit.

(We can’t help but wonder if ACORN isn’t running this scam, as well.)

The North Lauderdale authorities, though, see him as a crook. He is scheduled to go on trial in December on fraud charges in a case that, along with a handful of others in Florida and in other states, could determine whether maintaining a property and paying taxes on it is enough to lead to ownership

All 50 states allow for so-called adverse possession, with the time to forge a kind of common-law marriage with property varying from a few years (in most states) to several decades (in New Jersey).

The statute generally requires that properties be maintained openly and continuously, which usually means paying property taxes and utility bills.

And what could be more fair than to foreclose on people for not being able to pay their mortgage, and then to turn around and give it to other people for free? That really is "heroic."

It is not clear how many people are testing the idea, but lawyers say that do-it-yourself possession cases have been popping up all over the country — and, they note, these self-proclaimed owners play an odd role in a real-estate mess that never seems to end. Though they may cringe at the analogy, as squatters with bank accounts, these adverse possessors are like leeches, and it can be difficult to tell at times whether they are cleaning a wound already there, or making it worse

We would note that leeches only suck a little blood from their host. These squatters take over the host’s entire property.

Mr. Guerette, who now faces up to 15 years in prison, insists that his business is legitimate and moral. He said he got started last year, driving around working-class neighborhoods in Palm Beach and Broward Counties, looking for a particular kind of home: not just those with overgrown lawns and broken windows, but houses with a large orange sticker from the county reading “public nuisance.”

The stickers signaled owners out of touch: the county or city was unable to reach them.

Mr. Guerette filed court claims on around 100 of these properties, which appear to be in the process of foreclosure. Then he chose 20 that could be most easily renovated and sent letters to the owners and their banks — presumably overwhelmed — to make them aware of his plans

Nineteen of the owners and their banks did not respond, Mr. Guerette said.

So he set about fixing up the unclaimed properties. In some cases, he just mowed the lawn and replaced stolen air conditioners or broken windows; in other cases, like with Mr. Ferguson, he let tenants make improvements in lieu of rent.

At his peak last year, he said he managed 17 homes with renters, some of whom he found on Craigslist, others through a Christian ministry in Margate, Fla.

Copies of leases show Mr. Guerette included an addendum noting that he was not the legal owner. Tenants like Mr. Ferguson and his family, who had been homeless before moving in last year and paying $289 a month, see Mr. Guerette as a savior

What exactly are they paying $289 a month for? What service does Mr. Guerette provide?

But come to think of it, Mr. Guerette is a "savior" just like Mr. Obama is – of course on a much grander scale.

In other cases, though, adverse possession has been more aggressive and problematic. In Palm Beach County, Carl Heflin spent a year in jail awaiting trial on fraud, trespassing and burglary charges. But after accepting a plea agreement and the rejection of his adverse possession claims, he was arrested again on charges of trying to collect back rents on houses he had tried to possess.

Why shouldn’t enterprising real estate mavens be able to collect rent on properties they don’t own? Isn’t that the epitome of social justice?

“The whole time he was harassing us and threatened to burn the house down with my kids in it,” said Misty Hall, a single mother of two who rented a home from Mr. Heflin

What a crybaby. There is no pleasing some people. 

Mr. Guerette says his goals are more charitable. After several marriages, six children and some minor trouble with the law, he said, he is now a born-again Christian who sees his new company as a way to make an honest living, and solve a dire need.

Except that it isn’t honest at all.

His tenants confirmed that after he was arrested in April, he told them they could stop paying rent. Even if he is not allowed to keep taking homes, he said, why should needy people not be matched with homes left to decay?

“There are over 4,000 homeless in Broward, and the number is growing all the time,” he said. “I thought I could use these homes and put people into them. It could be a good thing.”

He added: “It’s not rocket science.”

No, it isn’t. And only ‘intellectuals’ like those at the New York Times would even find it a morally tough call on the "legal fringe."

Squatting is bad enough. But charging rent for stolen property is thievery — plain and simple. 

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, November 9th, 2010. Comments are currently closed.

3 Responses to “NYT Cheers Renting To ‘Needy’ Squatters”

  1. Mae says:

    Theft is theft, no matter how you cut it. He’s not following the law. He’s following his own selfish desires.

  2. P. Aaron says:

    This is HUD, or Fannie & Freddie without the down payment.

  3. NoNeoCommies says:

    Roaches move in and they never move out…


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