RealtyTrac estimates that 47% of the nation's foreclosed homes are currently occupied. The percentage actually tops 60% in some hot housing markets, like Miami and Los Angeles.
Those still living in repossessed homes include both former owners and renters. Either way, their time in the homes is mortgage and rent free.
To arrive at its estimate, RealtyTrac compared its database of foreclosed homes with postal records showing whether mail was still being collected and whether change-of-address forms had been filed.
Even when occupants leave voluntarily, old owners typically take about two months to vacate.
With renters, it can take a year or more. "If someone has a bona fide rental agreement, we have to abide by that," said Amy Bonitatibus, a spokeswoman for JP Morgan Chase.
One issue, according to Wells Fargo spokesman Tom Goyda, is that the eviction process can take months as it winds through the legal process. The timing varies widely based on local laws and the backlog of cases in individual courts.
Goyda said the bank has been trying to speed up the process by offering cash to prompt occupants to leave.
In addition, some states, like Alabama and Utah, have so-called redemption periods of up to a year during which former owners can get their home back if they can find the means to pay off their mortgages.
And banks may be in no rush to kick people out. They will take their time in markets with a lot of homes for sale and depressed prices. Plus, letting homeowners stick around can help protect homes from abuse.
"Although one thinks lenders take losses by not moving evictions forward, they're still faring better by keeping the properties occupied," said Pauliana Lara of the Consumer Action Law Group in Los Angeles, which works with homeowners to fight foreclosures. "Many foreclosed homes get vandalized or squatters move in."
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