Properties in the city of Atlanta, Georgia have reportedly been overrun by illegal squatters, with some estimates claiming that more than 1,000 vacant homes are currently occupied by uninvited residents.
According to desperate homeowners—many of whom have attempted to bribe the squatters into moving out—local authorities are unwilling or unable to intervene, leaving the brazen trespassers free to terrorize the neighborhoods and operate illegal strip clubs.
“I’d be terrified in Atlanta to lease out one of my properties,” Matt Urbanski, who manages an Atlanta home cleaning service, told Bloomberg. Urbanski further reported that one of his employees was shot in the leg while attempting to clear a squatter’s belongings out of a residence in the Atlanta suburb of Lithonia last spring.
Similarly, the neighborhood of South Fulton saw its own surge in illicit activity in October when four men—later identified as DeAnthony Maddox, Jeremy Wheat, Kelvin Hall, and Tarahsjay Forde—took over an unoccupied 4,000-square-foot house and converted it into an underground strip club.
During their four-month stay, the men threw parties for whole weekends, housed live horses on the property, and organized street races through the neighborhood.
The armed SWAT team that eventually responded to the situation also found two stolen cars and an assortment of stolen IDs, guns, and credit cards.
According to the New York Post, residents in other neighborhoods are terrified to leave even for a weekend vacation in fear of having their homes stolen out from under them. “Is this even America anymore?” fumed one resident. “We are homeowners and we can’t even do anything about trespassers?”
A Bloomberg report reveals that the Georgia capital is the largest market for rental properties, with an estimated 72,000 homes owned by corporate landlords. However, online listings for rentals have also provided prime opportunities for squatters to take up residence—and once in, the trespassers can be incredibly difficult to get out.
Evicting squatters is often not a direct law enforcement matter, but rather a civil issue that requires court oversight. Serving eviction notices is often insufficient, and criminal intruders have been known to simply ignore court orders once issued. This required stretched-thin police departments to commit further resources, which can take months.
National Rental Home Council CEO David Howard reports that Atlanta’s rate of illegal squatting is “disproportionately higher than comparable markets across the country,” suggesting “some kind of organized criminal effort.”
However, a state bill introduced in the Georgia legislature seeks to make squatting a crime to be handled by police directly. If House Bill 1017, also called the Georgia Squatter Reform Act, passes, law enforcement will finally be able to intervene in criminal evictions.
“House Bill 1017 says to squatters, ‘No more freeloading, no more free rides,” state Rep. Matt Reeves said.