Three years ago, when the housing crisis first hit Las Vegas, John Carver lost track of all the homes destroyed by homeowners facing eviction. Holes punched in walls and paint spilled on carpets were common forms of destruction; some homeowners even spray painted much of the interior, and let animals defecate inside.
“I would say ‘ferret’ from the way it’s all along the baseboard, the way an animal would scurry,” Carver told a Wall Street Journal reporter in 2008, as they toured a house that had been trashed by the departing homeowners.
Such destruction has become rare in the years since then, Carver says. In cities that already have suffered the harshest blows from the bursting housing bubble, like Las Vegas, homeowners’ rage appears to have mellowed into a kind of resignation.
“I see a lot less of it, actually,” Carver recently told Credit.com. “The people I see are all cooperative. Friendly. Most of them turn over the keys pretty peacefully.”
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But in other, smaller cities, where the mortgage crisis was slower to take hold, it appears that homeowners have only started to express their anger through destruction. In Yakima, Washington, a small city 142 miles southeast of Seattle that’s a popular destination for retirees and outdoor enthusiasts, more and more houses are getting targeted for abuse, Frank Lopez, a Yakima real estate agent, told the local CBS station recently.
Homeowners have been doing minor damages to their houses before turning them over to banks ever since Lopez started selling homes in Yakima six years ago. But in the last year such cases have grown much more common, and the destruction far more intense.
Lopez led a KIMA-TV reporter to one local home where the outgoing owners had let dogs urinate and defecate inside.
“It looks like garbage,” Lopez said.
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Such destruction is illegal, Carver says, since houses in which eviction notices have been served already belong to the bank and not the homeowner. But banks rarely pursue charges against people who vandalize their houses, partly because they are so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of houses falling into foreclosure.
“I’ve never seen the banks go after the homeowners,” Carver says. “Not once.”
Instead, banks try to prevent vandalism ahead of time using a practice they call “Cash for Keys,” in which they offer up to a thousand dollars to a homeowner who leaves a house fully intact.
Even as the practice of trashing homes that are headed into foreclosure spreads to cities where the foreclosure crisis has been intense, the overall trend seems to be on the decline. Says Carver, “I think things have calmed down a little bit.”
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Image: jakeliefer, via Flickr.com