Homeowner catches squatters in home but they dodge arrests

PORTLAND, Ore. -- For Katie Haight, walking away from the Southeast Portland home she lived in for 10 years was hard enough.

She moved out in early November after she and her husband could no longer afford it. The home's now headed toward foreclosure.

"Oh, it sucks," she said, before beginning to cry.

But walking inside the home was even worse.

Her once tidy home and garage, on the corner of Duke Street and Southeast 74th Ave., are now in complete disarray thanks to two squatters. Two weeks after she moved out, she went back to the home to retrieve some remaining items like beds, appliances, and odds and ends, when she found two strangers living inside.

"I freaked out," Haight said.

"It's hard. Someone goes in your house, they're violating. There's no utilities, there's no water, there's no heat, they're just living in there," she said through tears.

Not only were they living there, but she said they stole several remaining valuables - like a lawn mower, tools, and other belongings - and even went through her mail. They also treated the home like a dump. They broke doors and other pieces of the home, food and cans were scattered about and toilets were used without running water.

Rather than confront them, Haight called police. But when they arrived, she said the squatters concocted a compelling story and avoided arrest.

"They said that these people knew us," Haight said. "They knew we were in foreclosure because they went through our mail."

Portland Police Bureau spokesman Pete Simpson said the strangers told the responding officers they were renting the home from Haight and even showed the officers a set of keys as proof. It's unclear where the keys came from. Haight contends she'd never heard of or seen these people before.

"Ultimately, the officers couldn't disprove the rental argument and it appeared to be a civil issue between the two and so they reached an agreement with everybody that these folks would pack up their things and leave the home," Simpson said.

The On Your Side Investigators researched and confirmed that Haight is the rightful owner of the home. However, at the time, Simpson said the officers couldn't prove ownership and without that proof, he said, they couldn't take law enforcement action.

"It's aggravating for the officers; it's aggravating for the neighbors who know people are squatting and that's the thing - everybody knows what's happening but we can't enforce the law without a victim," Simpson said.

Haight was beside herself that the officers did not make an arrest.

"What makes that right? How do they not break a law? How do they - they broke our locks, they moved in, they are living there and they're not supposed to be there," Haight said. "They went through all my stuff, they stole some things but they don't get arrested? I don't get that."

The squatters are now out but there's no guarantee they won't be back. Two neighbors noticed a trailer parked outside of the home and people hauling stuff away. They said they also saw some lights on at night.

"They're just going to keep doing it," Haight said.

Haight is now filling out a trespassing agreement with the Portland Police Bureau, which means anyone caught trespassing on her property can be arrested immediately.

'Common Problem'

What's more troubling, KATU found that squatters are getting away with living in foreclosed homes all the time without facing any consequences. That's because many foreclosed homes are owned by the bank but police say, banks don't often ask them to step in.

Simpson said it means police don't have anyone to enforce the trespassing.

"It's one of the real issues we're facing is the foreclosure issue in the community," Simpson said. "There are a number of homes that have fallen into foreclosure and they've gone into this gray area. The homeowner that lived there left and hasn't claimed the property, the bank hasn't claimed the property, or isn't claiming the property, and there's nobody to give us the ability to enforce trespassing."