Saturday, October 20, 2018

Detroit Squatters Lose A Round

Because many of my older relatives, friends, and people I know in Detroit grew up in racially defined horrible poverty and segregation with plenty of bitter experiences with evictions and racist insults they tend to be, well shall we say, less than sympathetic to incidents where someone is ripping off a landlord. Because Detroit is relatively impoverished with spotty enforcement of criminal and civil codes around housing, health, and waste management many landlords in Detroit have indeed taken the opportunity to screw over tenants and the taxing authorities as often as they can and as hard as they can. 

If you want people to internalize such values as respect for other people's property and paying their bills on time then you need to make sure that they have an opportunity to succeed by doing things the right way. If they are shut out of all opportunity they might not have much respect for your property. It's just human nature.

The answer is not to pick one side or another and blindly cheer them on but to create and follow law that is fair both in its execution and its definition. The landlord must be forced to maintain the property and submit to routine unbiased inspections to make sure the property is up to code. The tenant must pay their rent on time and in full. The tenant must have a financial incentive not to wreck or damage the property during the rental period. Pretty simple stuff right? The tenant and landlord have entered into a contract. The state needs to enforce that contract. Both sides should give each other incentives to treat each other well. Win-win for everyone. 


But what happens when some city residents decide that they don't want to bother with such technicalities as signing a contract? What happens when people just move into an empty house? Squatters ruin a neighborhood because as they aren't paying any rent or risking any security deposit they have much less incentive to keep up a home or apartment. 

Landlords obviously don't have any incentive to buy a home if they also have to worry about losing money trying to get rid of squatters. Money that's spent on squatters is money that isn't spent on upkeep. Many insurance companies will not insure an empty house or one which has no leased occupants. So if a landlord takes damage on a home without a legal tenant, the insurance company may decline to pay for the damage. Housing stock stays empty or falls into disrepair.

There was another recent local example of a confrontation between a landlord and a squatter. I think people should remember, that no matter how much they may despise landlords, a squatter is a thief. You wouldn't like it if someone came into your home without permission and wouldn't leave. Landlords don't care for that either.

DETROIT (WXYZ) - It happens over and over in the City of Detroit - landowners and landlords confront squatters who have moved into unoccupied homes. Mark Fuga of Rondo Investment asked us to come with him to a house on Westphalia where two people had moved in.

The confrontation began immediately between Fuga and a man and woman at the house.  Fuga asked them how they’re living without power, “Show us the electricity. How is it on in there?”  The electric meter on the back of the house showed the power was off.





The landlord says this could have all been avoided by paying the squatters to leave, “I’ll give you 200 dollars to get out. I didn’t want them to steal my furnace,” Fuga said. He gave us pictures from another house; he said when the squatters were forced out they torched it. This can also work against him saying, “If we pay one set of squatters, then they’re going to be in another house then they’re going to want that, and you get that rep.”

Fuga says in the suburbs, squatters are arrested. Here they had no lease to show police. They were told to get out. Their friends from down the street started moving their stuff out. Fuga says this may not be the end, “They should be arrested. Because if he’s not arrested, he will go to that house there, this house will be firebombed tonight or tomorrow night.”
 

Not every landlord is Jared Kushner (estimated net worth over $300 million). There are some landlords who would be hard pressed to continually come up with an extra $4000 for a new furnace or an extra $10,000 for new pipes and wiring because some squatter stole all the plumbing, toilets, wires and fusebox. Some landlords are middle class people who are trying to make money for their retirement, recover from a divorce, support a stay at home spouse during a career transition, or put together their child's college fund. The City of Detroit needs to crack down both on scofflaw slumlords and scummy squatters.
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