Illegal Trends in the Troubled Housing Market

December 22, 2008 2:12:02 PM PST
The State Department of Insurance reports the number of suspected residential arson fires in California has doubled in the last two years.Fire officials say the amount of suspected arson cases for foreclosed properties is on the rise but all more common is vandalism.

This is one of hundreds of repossessed homes just in the Fresno County area.

While we don't know why the people lost this home we do know what they took with them.

This three bedroom Sunnyside home has been empty for six months.

The broker trying to sell it says that's been a challenge because the people living here stole the entire kitchen.

Shannon Martin: "All the cabinets, the countertops, the sinks the plumbing fixtures basically everything is gone."

Shannon Martin specializes in foreclosed homes and says people stealing appliances is very common especially toilets.

Another common problem, homeless people and teenagers breaking into empty homes.

Shannon Martin: "It's on a weekly basis it really is. We've got houses-we'll board them up today, and they'll be broken into again in 3 days."

While vandalism is most frequent fire officials say some struggling homeowners are going to extremes to get money out of their homes including arson, to collect insurance money.

Last summer Jason Morgan was hospitalized after his Fresno home went up in flames.

He's now accused of torching it to get insurance money.

Don MacAlpine, Fresno Deputy Fire Marshal: "We're not only facing it not just with personal residents, but with landlords with commercial property and with vehicles."

The State Insurance Department says suspected foreclosure-linked arson fires doubled from seven in 2006 to 14 last year.

The Fresno Fire Department is gearing up for more.

Don MacAlpine: "If we were to look at a bell curve on this trend- as you're putting it. I would say we're still on the rise- that's what I'm preparing for- I don't think we've seen the height of it yet."

Desperate measures which he says don't pay off for homeowners.

Fire investigators say those who get caught not only become felons, but it ends up costing them more money.

However they also say getting a conviction in these cases is both time consuming and challenging.


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