Mansion squatting |

Mansion squatting

As the season winds down, many changes are in the works. Winter roommate arrangements that are wearing thin begin to dissolve. Leases run out, seasonal jobs end, people move on. The spring runoff describes that roommate who hasn’t paid his share of the utilities for a couple of months as much as to the melting snow. But as the seasonal shuffle begins, there are options. Apartments turn over, new arrangements get made, and the cycle starts anew like spring itself.

There are lots of options besides renting yet another overpriced flea-bag apartment. A friend recently pointed out an article from the Washington Postconcerning the growing problem of mansion squatting. Apparently the wealthy from all around the country have discovered people moving into their lavish second (or third or fourth) houses without benefit of an invitation. Shocking.

One common way this happens is people signing a lease/option agreement to buy the unused extra house, moving in, and then never paying a dime in rent. Once they are in, it is fairly difficult to boot them out. It’s not just possession of the mansion that creates the problem, but they are often squatting there with all the owner’s stuff. It’s one thing to bring in the sheriff and throw the deadbeat tenant’s futon out on the curb. It’s quite another when it’s your own furniture and there is an argument whether each item belongs to the owner of the house or came in with the squatter.

Another variation of mansion squatting comes from the very nature of the mansions themselves. These are not houses that take care of themselves. There are cleaning people, hot-tub and pool-maintenance people, HVAC technicians, driveway-boiler repairmen, plant waterers, and so on, who are necessary to keep these places ready for the owners’ instant arrival. Nobody wants to arrive at their vacation home and discover the heat has been off for months and all the pipes are frozen. So they have people.

Well, it turns out that some of these people don’t have houses of their own. They know when the owners will be coming and when the houses they care for will be vacant. Or should be vacant. Apparently it is increasingly common for the owners to arrive unannounced to find the members of the furnace technician’s family making themselves at home. The mechanical systems in these places are so complicated that the repairman is there all the time anyway; might as well bring the wife and kids along. The owner really ought to appreciate the guy squatting there and keeping an eye on that complicated computer-controlled boiler system. The damage if it goes bad could be huge compared to a little wear and tear caused by a few uninvited guests living there.

With a little judicious planning and an ability to pack up on a moment’s notice, a good maintenance man with a fistful of keys can live in very nice houses without a dime of expense. Sure, they may have to spend the holidays "visiting" family members or in motels for a week or two at the peak season. But with appropriate planning and a reasonable portfolio of properties, it’s entirely possible to live in luxury for free.

The squatters are not limited to the maintenance staff. There are reports of realtors listing the properties for sale and then discovering that it is much easier to show the property if the realtor just takes up residence. The owner can be kept at bay for months at a time by saying that there is a showing that week and it would be better if the owner’s family weren’t around.

With ski season down to the last gasp, I want to use a little space to say thanks to everybody who has made it happen. It was a lousy snow year, and the efforts and artistry of the snow-makers and groomers was very evident. Without them there wouldn’t have been much of a ski season — or lodging, dining, retail, etc. So we all owe a lot of thanks to the people who spend their nights freezing in the side-stream of those nozzles and driving cats off cliffs for us.

Once again, I’ve managed to get through the season without needing the ski patrol in its professional capacity. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to go down the Daly Chutes in a sled, and assume that they are ready with the cyanide tablets as an alternative. Full service. But their efforts at controlling the avalanche danger are greatly appreciated. The tough reality of their job becomes clear whenever you hear the helicopter flying in.

So to everybody with the boots on the ground, from lifties to food service, from the parking-lot attendants to the patrol at the peak, thanks for making the very best out of a difficult ski season. See you next year.

Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.

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