From fires to vandalism and also safety concerns, vacant properties in the Las Vegas valley continue to house squatters and the problems that come with them.
Las Metropolitan Police Department saw an increase of calls for squatters in all area commands last year except for the northwest which had a nearly 11 percent reduction.
The squatters bill or AB 386 passed in October. What was once a civil matter is now treated more seriously. Metro police can make arrests to help property owners when people illegally enter and stay in homes that don’t belong to them.
Even so, it doesn’t mean the problem has gone away.
Take a drive around the valley and you will likely spot a vacant home as the area continues to recover from the housing market bust. Those homes are easy targets for people looking for shelter.
“Squatters could move in,” said Vicki Ozuna, a code enforcement supervisor for the city of Las Vegas. “A lot of the time, they’ll steal power from the neighboring properties.”
There have been numerous fires involving properties housing squatters.
“In most cases, it’s accidental fires that most people have in their home, they’re smoking related, mattress fires, maybe they were cooking. It’s very rare is it where a person is going onto a property to purposely burn it,” said Tim Szymanski, Las Vegas Fire and Rescue spokesperson.
But it does take up department resources.
“The fires are occurring in all neighborhoods, in all parts of the city. A little bit more towards the downtown area and a little bit more towards the east side. That’s where we have the older homes, they’re more accessible, easier to get into,” Szymanski said.
And it’s also getting easier for city code enforcers to discover. They say there are some simple signs to spot a squatter.
“A lot of time we’ll find that the door handles are removed, the lock’s been removed, a lot of squatters will re-key the house,” said Ozuna.
Plus open windows, unsecured back doors and and missing signage. Squatters also tend to cover windows.
“The squatters they don’t want us to be able to see inside, so they’ll put up something to obstruct the view,” Ozuna said.
So far this year, Metro has responded to more than 2,700 squatter calls for service which is up about 32 percent from 2015.
Police made 39 unlawful occupancy arrests since the squatters bill passed in October. The number of abatements the city performs, is also up.
“It’s surprising because everybody thinks that the recession is over but we still have a large inventory of vacant properties,” Ozuna said.
Giving squatters the opportunity to let themselves in.