Las Vegas City Council Stiffens Penalties for Squatting or Aiding Squatters; Organizes Dedicated Squatter Task Force

LAS VEGAS, NV – The Las Vegas real estate scene is hot right now; according to reports, demand is far outstripping supply in terms of both housing and rental units, with prices soaring and continuing to increase ever since the Southern Nevada area has recovered from the housing bubble burst of the mid-2000’s. Jobs are increasing, the economy is stabilizing and beginning to flourish, and big-name businesses such as Amazon and the NFL are setting up shop in the region, galvanizing current residents and inviting a virtual flood of newcomers from out-of-state looking for a fresh start.

While these factors are no doubt a good thing for Las Vegas, the latest real estate boom has brought a negative with it that local officials are currently scrambling to combat- squatters, people who break into vacant or empty dwellings and live there illegally until they are removed by property owners or authorities. There are a number of reasons squatting is an issue in Las Vegas currently, but while homelessness is an issue that any major city has to deal with in one way or another, the main reasons have already been touched upon in this article- the general lack of housing options and the ever-rising prices of the ones that are currently available.

In Las Vegas, however, the issue of squatting is increased by the fact that the mid-2000’s housing crisis has left numerous homes simply abandoned or foreclosed upon; more so than the national norm at the moment, and thus ripe for the picking by anyone looking for a place to crash illegally. But while squatting to some may merely appear to be a harmless pursuit of somewhere to live, to others – legitimate property owners – it’s proven to be a hardship, and one that local government is looking to address in a hurry.

One area couple, according to reports, has been involved in a nearly year-long dispute with a number of squatters that have been regularly breaking into a former office that they had previously used for a family business; despite sinking money into boarding up the property and constantly calling the police, the couple nonetheless noted that in the last several years, there have been at least 30 break-ins, and that their patience is wearing thin to the point that they are considering selling rather than deal with the headache.

Recently, people squatting in a downtown Las Vegas house caused a fire in the dwelling, causing approximately $75,000 in damage before local fire department crews were able to get the blaze under control. Thankfully, the damage was contained to the individual property in question; no injuries were reported, and the fire prevented from spreading to other adjacent units. Some area realtors have actually started carrying weapons when visiting properties listed for sale, just in case they have an untimely – yet rare – encounter with a squatter; more often than not, they simply walk into the aftermath of their unwanted presence, consisting of discarded food and clothing items, and occasionally, minor damage to walls, doors, or cabinets.

Although squatting is mostly contained to small, specific areas at the moment, local officials are looking to head off the problem before it becomes more widespread and problematic; especially as it related to maintaining local property values. The Las Vegas city council is currently putting together a registry that identifies and classifies currently vacant homes that run the risk of being taken over by squatters, and then taking steps to secure those properties, which typically consist of ones that have been abandoned or foreclosed upon and are currently in-between owners and, thus, are not currently subject to regular use by legitimate parties.

In addition, the City Council has passed laws stiffening penalties for squatting and/or aiding squatters, and has organized a dedicated squatter task force that allows officials to not only keep up with the activities of potential squatters, but actually keep ahead of them. In addition, more work is being done, including setting up coordination across municipalities in order to form an organized front against such activities. In the meantime, real estate experts suggest not advertising a property as being vacant with a for sale sign on the front lawn or window, and to refrain from posting the street address of any available property on a publicly-accessible real estate website.

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