In those moments where you’re not quite sure if the undead are really dead, dead, don’t get all stingy with your bullets. I mean, one more clean shot to the head, and this lady could have avoided becoming a human Happy Meal. Woulda … coulda … shoulda.
– Columbus, from Zombieland
In its effort to be trendy and vivid, Reuters (March 28, 2013) re-invoked a metaphor it had first used back on Reuters (January 10, 2013) (red font) describing the consequences of defaults, whether strategic or unstrategic, and mortgages that were more recourse than the borrowers expected:
Always make sure
Special Report: The latest foreclosure horror: the zombie title
Columbus, Ohio (Reuters) – Joseph Keller doesn’t expect he’ll live to see the end of 2013. He blames the house at 190 Avondale Avenue.
Five years ago, Keller, 10 months behind on his mortgage payments, received notice of a foreclosure judgment from JP Morgan Chase. In a few weeks, the bank said, his three-story house with gray vinyl siding in Columbus, Ohio, would be put up for auction at a sheriff’s sale.
In this story one sympathizes with the protagonists, even though they repeatedly ignored Survival Rule Two.
The 58-year-old former social worker and his wife, Jennifer, packed up their home of 13 years and moved in with their daughter.
That was understandable – how depressing to live in a house you have been told will be foreclosed – though unwise, because Mr. Keller failed to look behind him, and while that might have been wise for Lot’s Wife and Satchel Paige, it was for Mr. Keller a mistake:
The home they thought dead, now decaying
Joseph thought he would never have anything to do with the house again. And for about a year, he didn’t.
Then it started to stalk him.
First, in 2010, the county sued Keller because the house, already picked clean by scavengers, was in a shambles, its hanging gutters and collapsed garage in violation of local housing code.
Here the metaphor falters, for it wasn’t the house that stalked the Kellers, it was those who attached claims to the house; if anyone was a zombie, it was they.
Then the tax collector started sending Keller notices about mounting back taxes, sewer fees and bills for weed and waste removal. And last year, Chase’s debt collector began pressing Keller to pay his mortgage, which had swollen, with penalties and fees, from $62,100 to $84,195.
Some years ago, I warned against ‘strategic mortgage default’ (if in fact it ever existed, as opposed to default under duress); and even before then, I laid out rules for a delinquent subprime borrower. One such was simple: stay in touch with the lender, and be part of the solution. That included verifying every step of the way:
Keller continues to bear responsibility for the house because on December 23, 2008 – about two months after he received Chase’s notice of sale – the bank filed to dismiss the foreclosure judgment and the order of sale. Chase said it sent Keller a copy of its court filing on December 9, 2008. Keller says he never received any notification. Either way, his name remained on the property title.
Whether Mr. Keller was notified should be clearly proven one way or another; banks send these notices certified mail or using some other service that proves delivery and receipt. If it had not, the Kellers should have been able to stay, and frankly should have stayed:
Abandoned multi-home dwelling, Chicago
Since 2006, 10 million homes have fallen into foreclosure, according to RealtyTrac, a number that in earlier, more stable times would have taken nearly two decades to reach. Of those foreclosures, more than 2 million have never come out. Some may be occupied by owners who have been living gratis. Others have been caught up in what is now known as the robo-signing scandal, when banks spun out reams of fraudulent documents to foreclose quickly on as many homeowners as they could.
Unfortunately, it has now become clear many people did not confirm their process completion.
More than 300,000 homes are foreclosed “zombies,” study says
ORLANDO, FloridaA national survey found 301,874 ‘zombie’ properties dotting the U.S. landscape in which homeowners in foreclosure have moved out, leaving vacant property susceptible to vandalism and degradation.
Sorry to disappoint Reuters, but the properties aren’t zombies. Wikipedia’s definition is as good as any:
A zombie is an “animated corpse resurrected by mystical means, such as witchcraft”. In modern times, the term “zombie” has been applied to an undead being in horror fiction, largely drawn from George A. Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. They have appeared as plot devices in various books, films, television shows, and video games.
While zombies may a wonderful plot device (people who turn into demons, people whom one must unhesitatingly kill) and societal metaphor (choose your opposing group you wish to dehumanize, and presto), empty houses have little in common with them. A better metaphor, one more familiar and less threatening, is the abandoned prairie dog burrow:
Move out for a minute, and you have no idea who’ll move in
Abandoned property becomes a convenient resting place or stopgap for all sorts of interlopers who appreciate the convenience of a ready-move-in location, and who have little or no interest in maintaining the property.
Once a bank walks away from a foreclosure, the real rot begins. Living rooms turn into meth labs. Falling shingles menace passers-by.
Zombie properties can be easy to spot as they deteriorate into neighborhood eyesores –
Let’s be clear; homes do not deteriorate that rapidly by themselves.
Who’s been messing in our burrow?
– and havens for criminal activity.
These abandoned homes are maltreated and plundered by those who move in to the prairie dog burrows.
[Marlon Sheafe, 55] started visiting the tall, crooked house [he owned] every week.
I’ll return later to Mr. Sheafe’s back story; it’s not as pristine as implied by this context.
Looters had stripped the place bare. The “dope boys” had left their sneakers on the porch and their empty cans of sausages strewn around inside. Sheafe repaired the steps and spray-painted patches of the exterior where the vinyl siding had been ripped off. He returned every week to check on the house and mow the lawn.
They also become health and safety hazards:
Squatters’ cooking fires turn into infernos. The latest iteration of the trend: gas explosions.
Abandoned house that had been used as a meth lab
Electric companies usually shut off the juice when homeowners tell the utility they are moving. But natural-gas companies usually don’t. In recent months, abandoned homes have exploded in Chicago, Cleveland and Bridgeport, Connecticut. In all cases, foreclosed homeowners had moved out. With no one home to smell the gas, it went undetected – until the houses blew.
Though there have been written many romanticized tales of squatting as a kind of housing-Robin-Hood, the reality is squalor and crime and addiction and poverty. That is why homes must be occupied, and why they must be owned by someone with an economic interest. Those two attributes combine in homeownership, they are divided in rental, and in squatting or semi-abandonment both are absent.
Watch out for squatters
Oh, America. I wish I could tell you that this was still America, but I’ve come to realize that you can’t have a country without people. And there are no people here. No, my friends. This is now the United States of Zombieland.
– Columbus, from Zombieland
Drug paraphernalia left in abandoned house
“We are seeing more and more close calls,” says Mark McDonald, a former natural gas public safety worker who now runs the New England Gas Workers Association. “These houses are a formula for disaster.”
Cleveland: House being demolished by its owner, the Cuyahoga County Land Revitalization Corp.
Florida tops the list of zombie properties with 90,556 vacant homes in foreclosure, according to a foreclosure inventory released on Thursday by RealtyTrac, a real estate information company in Irvine, California.
Illinois and California ranked a distant second and third with 31,668 and 28,821 zombie properties respectively on the list.
Observe that, though it’s Florida where many vacancies exist, it’s from Cleveland or Detroit where arise the heartstring-tugging stories.
Cleveland, City of Light! City of Magic!
[Continued tomorrow in Part 2.]