May 15, 2016
Squatters In Las Vegas On The Rise, Filling Long Time Vacant Homes

Squatters in Sin City? Nearly a decade after the area's collapse following the financial crisis of 2008, homes in the Las Vegas Valley are still virtually empty. But according to a report by the New York Times, not all of the newly constructed, abandoned homes are free from tenants. Houses throughout middle class and well-to-do neighborhoods, like Summerlin, are quietly and illegally inhabited by families and individuals that are displaced and in need of shelter. Other homes serve as the unauthorized locations for activities that are commonly frowned upon, police say, like arson, drug dealing, and counterfeit money operations.

While the vacant homes provide shelter to those who would otherwise be homeless, it also brings increased crimes and complaints, according to the Las Vegas Metro Police Department. The number of calls they receive about squatters increases every year. In 2014, the region's squatter complaints had an upsurge of 43 percent, meaning over 4,000 – more than double the complaints received in 2012. Residents are attempting to take matters in their own hands with neighborhood watch associations and laws like Assembly Bill 386, which takes a stance against squatters, passed in fall of 2015. But, the vehicle break-ins, theft, drug production, arson, and other heinous crimes attributed to squatters are becoming hard to handle.

History of Squatter Crimes in Las Vegas

In early April, Metro Police found local squatter and apparent Nazi, Bayzle Morgan, using a northwest Vegas home as his hideout after an attempted robbery and the murder of 75-year-old Jean Main. The Las Vegas Sun reports Main lived a few miles away from the home where Morgan was found. Morgan was picked up and detained at the High Desert State Prison on gun possession charges, he pled not guilty in the murder of Main. Although authorities have used Morgan's face to denote the average squatter, his legal counsel affirms that Morgan lived in the home along with friends and they paid rent. However, no lease was provided to show the relationship between the supposed renters and homeowner.

The home had 15 complaints within the six previous months, and authorities recovered three stolen vehicles from the residence.

The number of vacant homes in the area is decreasing with the economy's upswing, but Las Vegas still boasts some of the highest rates of foreclosures and "underwater borrowing" in larger U.S. metro areas. Possibly because the area is home to hosts of people down on their luck with, according to RealtyTrac, about 13,360 empty spaces to get into.

In one historic home on East Charleston Boulevard, a group of squatters use the dilapidated structure as a meeting ground. The home has been recognized as problematic for several years. Decorated with trash, stacked mattresses, and torn paint, the wall reads, "Violent tweekers on guard." Since May, 2014, Las Vegas Metro Police received five complaints regarding the property, including narcotics and a dead body, claims spokesman Officer Jesse Roybal. A woman overdosed and her body was found at the home in March.

Unfortunately, unwitting homeowners are the ones tasked to clean up the squatters mess. In the case of the Charleston avenue home, the owner chose to forgo paying for the disaster. Hit with a bill of nearly $50,000 in September, 2014, the owner opted to sell her home for almost $35,000, a whopping 82 percent under the price she paid for the house in 2004. In the bill she was advised to haul garbage away, board it up, repair a block wall, and remove a pickup – in addition to other things noted in the Clark County filings. The new owner, Dante Pugliese, also states he's walking away from the home after a failed attempt at a short sale and numerous responsibilities for code violations. Pugliese reportedly tried to clean up the home multiple times.

With the consequences falling on owners already facing difficult times, comment on how you think the city should deal with the rising number of squatters in Las Vegas and their related crimes.

[Photo via Getty Images News | Spencer Platt]