High-end house squatting on the rise: the tackiest of luxury trends

High-end house squatting on the rise: the tackiest of luxury trendsEver notice how the most downmarket of American phenomena can be positioned as a chi-chi trend by simply saying it in French -- even faux French? When Target became trendy, it also became Tarzhay. A bite-sized appetizer sounds kind of lame, but call it an amuse-bouche and signal that you're a foodie of the highest caliber (that, or you watch a lot of Top Chef). Cabinet? Never that -- armoire sounds so much more chic.

By that rationale, it might be time to trade out the term "squatting" for its French equivalent, accroupissement, meaning to squat or live illegally in property you don't own -- without the owner's permission!

Squatting in luxury homes is rapidly becoming a high-class problem. With so many multi-million dollar homes being lost to foreclosure and sitting vacant for months on end, the prospect of these swanky abodes sitting empty is just too much for many a scheming would-be squatter to resist.

Last spring, Chicagoland witnessed a case of high-class squatting when a man was charged with moving into a $700,000 "stately home" overlooking a suburban lake after its owners lost the home to foreclosure. His brazen accroupissement included not only introducing himself to the neighbors as the new owner and moving in his own furniture and flat-screen TV, but also illegally hacking into the public utilities, repeatedly. His next digs were a decidedly less luxe room in the county clink, after being charged with theft and criminal damage to state-supported property -- two felonies.

Upping the ante, an even bolder crew branded the "Mansion Squatters" has moved on into several multi-million dollar foreclosures in Kirkland and Bellevue, Wash., two tony Seattle suburbs. The Mansion Squatters' modus operandi (to throw some Latin into the mix) is to move in, change the locks and actually post a note on the door purporting to "claim" ownership of the home under a confusing morass of fabricated documents and faux-legal arguments.

These almost comical (and decidedly convoluted) efforts to claim foreclosed mansions owned by failed banks were perpetrated by the folks behind a company that claims to "eliminate" mortgages. Of course, the comedy disappears when you factor in the fact that each mansion they squat in costs the bank which owns the home upwards of $35,000 in legal fees, property restoration and security. (Lest you scoff that you could care less what it costs the bank, just remember that banks are businesses, and they will pass their expenses on -- to you!)

But one other high-end squat really takes the cake. In a now-infamous case, former Wells Fargo Senior Vice President Cheronda Guyton squatted in a $12 million Malibu estate that had been surrendered to the bank when its owners were robbed blind by no other than that highest of high-end thieves, Bernie Madoff. Guyton didn't attempt to claim the home as her own, but she did throw some monster bashes at the palace -- to which her guests were chauffeured via yacht! -- and refused to allow the home to be shown to prospective buyers. Well she did these things until she was fired, that is, for her house-jacking hi-jinks.

Call it what you like, squatting has clearly gone high-end, and high-end squatting has even gone international; mansions in London and Paris have recently been invaded by squatters seeking a taste of the high-life. Taking the exchange rate into account, the artists squatting in a £30 million London mansion are committing the occupation illégale of well over $45 million worth of real estate!

All levity aside, no matter how highbrow the house -- or the name by which we call the squat -- in reality, it's just plain old stealing. It's illegal, and immoral. And that is très déclassé (translation: tacky).
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