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Suspected Squatters Sprout Throughout Vacant S. Fla. Homes

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Michele-Gillen-600x450 Michele Gillen
Michele Gillen is chief investigative reporter at WFOR-TV, Mi...
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MIAMI (CBS4) – Unmasking suspected squatters isn’t simple because they are turning up in homes that are up for sale.

It used to be that if you bought a house “as is” you got a great deal. Well, a chilling new trend is to buy the house “as is” and that means complete with squatters inside and it’s the buyers’ responsibility to get them out.

Christina Malloy is living the nightmare as she buys a condo in Downtown Miami.

For months, CBS4 Investigates has been following her as she purchases and tries to close on a one bedroom apartment; squatters somehow moved in and keep changing the locks and have figured out how to sneak in and out of the building.

“What’s your message to them,” CBS4’s Chief Investigative Michele Gillen asked Malloy.

“Get out because I am coming for you,” Malloy said.

As someone who buys and sells property for a living, Malloy said it’s frightening how often she now comes face to face with squatters.

“I go to open the door and there’s people inside. There’s furniture. There’s beds. There’s personal items,” Malloy said.

And that’s exactly what she finds when she finally gets to see the inside of her unit and videotapes the possessions of the squatter living there; TV hooked up to cable, a place to eat, but no living room furniture.
“I absolutely consider them criminals,” said a property manager who is fed up with the problem.

He describes them as out of control in multiple buildings decorating our skyline.  He asked that we mask his identity to protect his condo’s reputation.

“Some people who have no rights to this property move in, use the free water, use the free cable, destroy property and for what? So they can live for free,” he said.

For months, CBS4 Investigates has been documenting cases across South Florida where police or banks have been notified that people living in vacant and foreclosed homes or apartments – allegedly – don’t legally belong there.

“They are getting a free ride,” said Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff.

Sarnoff said the number of absentee owners coupled with banks so slow to foreclose is a recipe for disaster.

“Unfortunately, the police are ill-equipped to deal with this because if someone just shows a document, a quit claim deed, a lease, the police treat it as a civil matter. And then you go before a judge that takes time, you have to hire a lawyer and next thing you know you are months, weeks, sometimes almost a year away to get a person out that doesn’t belong in the property,” Sarnoff said.

When police are called, squatters often say they are the victims. And, in some cases, they may be victims of crooks posing as realtors or property owners.

On a recent day, Miami-Dade police were called out to a house in Miami-Dade County to investigate a burglary.

The alleged criminal: a mother of two who says she was duped by a make believe realtor who took her money and disappeared after renting her the house – a foreclosure not available for rent.

“She was just so convincing,” the woman said describing the demeanor of a realtor who turned out to be a fake.

“Did you write a check?” Gillen asked.

“No, I gave her cash,” the woman said. Just hours after this exchange, the woman found herself an efficiency apartment and moved her family out of this house.

“There are some honest victims, usually the ones willing to negotiate with you. They are the ones who say, ‘Do I need to pay’,’” said the property manager.

But countless numbers are conning the system and you never know whose property they might move into next.

“You don’t know what they have behind that door. But who knows if they have a gun. Who knows if they are going to attack you. Who knows what I’m going to find. Will I find a dog, will I find drugs, will I find guns, will I find someone dead? I just don’t know,” said the property manager.

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