Los Angeles police are warning property owners to beware of squatters who trespass vacant bank-owned homes after an investigation that resulted in multiple arrests at two homes just a few miles apart in Reseda last week.
LAPD narcotics detectives served warrants at homes in the 19500 blocks of Saticoy and Hemingway streets July 30 after receiving a tip from a neighbor.
Detectives detained over a half-dozen people and arrested four men, booked on charges ranging from drug dealing to warrants for car theft. Drugs, cash, stolen credit cards, cell phones and computers were also seized, officials said.
According to police, the suspects found squatting in the Saticoy house had been squatting in the Hemingway house until they found other drug dealers to replace them.
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"This investigation made it clear how drug dealers play a game of musical homes and quasi-extortion of banks to live rent free in otherwise quiet neighborhoods," explained Capt. Paul Vernon, commanding officer of the West Valley Patrol Division. "Neighbors are our best source of information when a known vacant house has been taken over by squatters."
It was the second time detectives had served warrants on squatting drug dealers at the Saticoy house, officials said. "We notified the bank after the first arrest and asked them to board up the house and post the requisite signs," added Capt. Vernon. "But they didn't do it, and another clan found the house."
Police advise owners to board up their property and post no-trespassing signs when homes are vacant for an extended time to avoid expensive eviction costs.
In a statement to NBC4, Bank of America said: "We take our role as servicer seriously in helping to stabilize neighborhoods and preventing blight that may occur around vacant and abandoned properties. These circumstances affect the neighborhoods where we work, live and invest. We will be securing the property to more effectively deter entry and hope to avoid a situation like this from happening again, and we have reached out to the police department to ensure that they have a direct contact with the bank. The property will be repaired and marketed."
The bank also said $14,000 worth of repairs were made to the Reseda home before squatters moved in.
Anyone with information is asked to call Det. Frank Trujillo of the West Valley Narcotics Detectives, at (818) 374-7870.
NBC4's Lolita Lopez contributed to this report.