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Mine, Mine, Mine! Are Defaulting Homeowners Criminals When They Take the Stove?

How many of you have seen foreclosed homes damaged or stripped of wall lighting, appliances, even kitchen cabinets, countertops, and toilets? I’ve even seen homes stripped of their copper wiring (I mean, really?!)  Indeed, we’ve probably all at least heard stories of homes being damaged as the occupants depart after default.  With the ongoing recession, I think this will continue to be a problem – especially in the most depressed markets like Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Seems like the powers that be in my state (Nevada, one of the nation’s foreclosure meccas) agree, and they’ve decided they’re not going to take it.  Under AB373, which takes effect October 1, homeowners who purposefully remove or destroy real property while the home is in default may be charged with a misdemeanor crime and subject to arrest and prosecution.

To be clear: If a defaulting Nevada homeowner wants to remove the bathroom medicine cabinet or dismount the marble mantel and take them, the homeowner may be arrested. In property law, the cabinets, countertops, mantles, fixed appliances, etc. are “affixed” to the real property because they are installed – they are either screwed, nailed, cemented or bolted to the real property and thus are a part of that property. Whoever owns the property, owns the fixtures. When a home is foreclosed, that home – and all of its fixtures – become property of the bank.

For whatever reasons defaulting homeowners feel “entitled” to damage their homes, they do more than just bring bad karma. Neighbors are negatively affected by that kind of bad behavior too. Homes that are damaged make neighborhoods look bad. Property values already decline because of the foreclosure, and a damaged home just adds insult to injury for the neighbors.

Plus, banks are not typically inclined to repair REOs, and a badly damaged foreclosed home is often much more difficult to sell than an intact one, which even further stretches out the time it will take for surplus inventory to clear and the real estate markets to find their legs again.  What’s more, fair or not, homeowners insurance premiums often increase as criminal activity in the neighborhood increases – which can further dissuade new buyers.

So trashing the home after foreclosure does more than just “stick it” to the bank.  Homeowners who do it are hurting their neighbors too.  As of October in Nevada, at least, they won’t be doing it without possible consequence.  What do you think?  What have been your experiences with homeowners damaging the home after foreclosure?  What are the related laws in your state?

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