Washington Foreclosure Squatters Unnerve the Neighborhood

PHOTO: The destruction found inside of a home in Covington, Washington once occupied by squatters.PlayCourtesy City of Covington
WATCH Home Sweet Home? Squatters Take Over

A two-story home in a middle-class neighborhood in Covington, Wash., became a nightmare for neighbors after squatters turned the house into a trash dump filled with loud party music.

The abandoned home was "destroyed inside and filled with filth," according to an Oct. 28 report from the King County Public Information Officer obtained by ABC News.

The report from authorities who paid a visit to the house in the Crofton Hills subdivision told the tale of squatters living in squalor surrounded by broken items, feces and rotten food.

This story first appeared in the Seattle Times.

"You'd come home and find them throwing things out of the second-floor window," John "J.D." Wilson, who resides next door to the property, told the newspaper.

The nine-year resident of the suburban neighborhood told the Times about the group of squatters that became his unwanted neighbors for months. The group would play music until the wee hours of the morning, he said, and burn furniture on the patio.

At one point, according to the Times, while Wilson walked his Rat Terrier, one of the squatters approached the neighbor resident and told him, "I'd like to barbecue your dog."

Indeed, U.S. neighborhoods are changing as homeowners default on properties and more homes become boarded-up shells.

"I think it's happening in a lot of places, not just Covington," Brian Bykonen, a code enforcement officer for the city of Covington told ABC News. "I think situations like this are popping up across the United States because there are just so many foreclosed properties."

Bill Robinson of Flower Mound, Texas, 51, wrote a 63-page ebook about squatting after occupying a $340,000 abandoned home, according to the Associated Press. Robinson left the house earlier this week after a judge ordered him out.

Elsewhere, two people were arrested in Queens, N.Y., after cops found drugs and guns during a raid of the where the duo resided illegally, according to the New York Times.

The threat of violence at illegally occupied homes caused New York City police to begin keeping tabs on vacant homes in the area, the Times reported.

"I just drove by a house we boarded up, and it's open again and there are squatters living there," city Councilman Leroy G. Comrie Jr. told the Times. "It fell into foreclosure because the developer ran out of money."

In January, one in every 198 housing units in the country experienced foreclosure filings, according to RealtyTrac. While year-over-year activity is down, there has been a 3 percent increase in foreclosure filings since December.

"Although overall foreclosure activity was down from a year ago for the 16th straight month in January, we continue to see signs on a local and regional level that the frozen-up foreclosure process is beginning to thaw," RealtyTrac CEO Brandon Moore said.

"Foreclosure activity increased on a year-over-year basis for the first time in more than 12 months in Florida, Illinois, Indiana and Pennsylvania, following a pattern we saw in late 2011 in states such as a California, Arizona and Massachusetts.

"We expect the pattern of increasing foreclosures to continue in the coming months … " said Moore, based on foreclosure settlement among 49 state attorneys general and five of the nation's top lenders.

In the city of Covington, according to the Seattle Times, "2.1 percent of homes and vacant lots are owned by financial institutions, the highest rate in the county."

When Wilson, the abandoned home's neighbor, complained to police officers, he was told a formal complaint by the homeowners would have to be filed, according to the Seattle Times.

Two months after complaints were filed, the activity taking place in the home finally came to the city's attention.

And after an investigation of the home, the five squatters and five cats were removed from the home, and a correction notice was sent.

In the correction notice sent to the address or current homeowner in October, enforcement officer Bykonen wrote, the Covington Police Department found a " ... substantial accumulation of garbage both inside and outside. There was also a strong odor from human and animal waste and other refuse."

The home was labeled a "dangerous or unfit structure" and "unfit for human occupation" and the squatters were removed.

"It was uninhabitable because if you don't have proper sanitation service, then you can't occupy the home," Bykonen said.

But the neighbors in Crofton Hills still saw squatters coming and going as the city attempted to work with the bank owner's to have the property secured.

City officials corresponded mostly with a representative of Bank of America because the they were unable to locate the homeowner, who was no longer in the state and the home was in the process of foreclosure.

Bank of America cannot speculate as to how reported 'squatters' were able to gain access to the property in Covington, Washington, as we never had any direct contact with them," a company spokesman said. "To protect the rights of the business and privacy rights of the homeowner, a mortgage servicer has no legal authority to enter an occupied property and contact the occupants."

Also, in a previously issued statement, the company said, "this property went to sale on December 2 and title reverted to the investor, Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac manages its own REO properties, so Bank of America and BAC Field Services are no longer involved with this property."

There is no further information on the squatters, according to Cindi West, public information officer for the King County Sheriff's Office.

"It went to a foreclosure sell," Bykonen told ABC News. "It has now been cleaned up, and we're in the process of closing the case file because being that it's secure and been cleaned up, there's really no violation that exists anymore."