Question: I just purchased a home and, after spending my first few nights there, realize that a gaggle of hobos are living in the driveway of the house next door. The Realtor had told me the heirs of the prior owners had owned the house, and it would quickly be renovated and sold. As a single woman, living alone, I am concerned about the proximity of homeless men squatting right outside my bedroom window. Their primary activity seems to be making beer runs on foot to the nearest gas station. Should the Realtor, who was also the property owner, have disclosed this and did I have any remedy? — Susan G.
Answer: Your concerns are very understandable. There are over 3 million vacant homes in the U.S. Insurance companies restrict the days they will insure a vacant property because of the potential for winter freeze-up, vandalism, and other crime. We will assume the property is in a typical neighborhood, and the vast majority of the lots have a home built on them.
The good news may be they will not stay long. Here are a few suggestions as to how to deal with the situation.
Review your purchase documents for a seller disclosure report. Most states have such a report that the seller is required to furnish to a buyer.
You are looking to verify that this disclosure is not in the condition report or that it is in the condition report, and you overlooked it. These reports are designed to require a seller to notify the buyer of material conditions that would cause significant expense or to diminish the home’s value. Were you furnished one? If you were not, or you were and the housing next door was not reported, you may have an argument, but it may not be a very strong argument.
The homeless may have begun gathering there recently, so the seller/agent may claim they were not aware of the problem.
The seller may claim they told you about the problem.
The seller may pursue the claim is not a “material” disclosure as it is temporary.
Now you have choices to make about the direction to take. Here is a list in priority order:
Call the Realtor/owner of the home. Ask for their assistance in removing the problem. The owner should be worried about them finding a way into the house and removing salable items they can pawn for beer money. Tell the owner the homeless have taken up residence in the yard of their home. They will not be happy about it and should have the most leverage with the local police department. Most police departments will respond quickly to a call from a homeowner with a complaint of this nature. Homeowners are the eyes and ears of what is going in the neighborhood, and the police cannot be everywhere.
You call the police. You are experiencing for the first time one of the realities of home ownership.
Speak with other neighbors. It is a way to get acquainted. They will not be excited to have the squatters in their neighborhood either. Another reason to do this is to learn if this is a continuing problem or a new one.
Were you not told of the problem and the seller knew, a complaint to the licensing authority in your state is the most efficient remedy. It is unclear how the state would view the gravity of the error or the lack of forthrightness on the part of the seller/agent.
Richard Montgomery is a real estate industry veteran who has championed industry reform for over a quarter century. Send him questions at DearMonty.com.