Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994

Urban Trespassing: A Harrowing Experience

By Heidi Peterson
Detroit, Michigan

Seventeenth Annual National Conference on
Private Property Rights
October 26, 2013
The Century House, Latham, N.Y.

Thank you. Hello. I'm Heidi Peterson and I'm here today to tell you that when I returned from Russia there was somebody living in my home. But I knew that they were in my home because my friends were checking on my home and told me about it. I had my child in Russia and it took me a long time to get her birth certificate and our passport because I had to get a DNA test and everything to get back to America. So there was a delay in acting quickly towards the home invasion.

It was scary because I contacted my housing association in the Boston-Edison Historical District. I guess, our historical district is one of the famous historical districts in the U.S. My block has Henry Ford's house. The Kresge Mansion is on the next block. Berry Gordy lived there, I mean, it was just the one of the richest cities in the world at one point. But now, in Boston-Edison the security company said forty homes have been stolen by squatters and they can't get them out.

Audience member: How many?

Ms. Peterson: Forty homes. People move into the area from out of town and gangs will take over their homes. And without help from the local government they'll be intimidated by the gangs, leave town, and not come back. I was told by the lawyer of the historical district to give her power of attorney over my property. But her letter was so vague it gave her complete power over my property and she could have even sold it. And she threatened if you don't give me power of attorney I will declare your house abandoned. I had no idea what that meant. Well, it turns out in Michigan the community can declare your house abandoned and the city inspector can write a letter stating that and whoever wants to take it can quiet title to your home.

Audience member: That's probably how they bankrupted Detroit and threw all the businesses and the rational people out of the city.

Ms. Peterson: Yeah. It's that. So, there were not many options. Although I was the title holder and I owned the house a hundred percent and I had no mortgage and my neighbors called the police and they took pictures of the police at the scene of the crimes while people were chopping down my trees and shrubs, the police never took police reports and never arrested anyone for trespass, property damage, home invasion, or theft. But it wasn't just the theft of my radiators, which were probably scrapped for scrap metal, or my heating system, or my French doors, or the destruction of my property, it was an attempted theft of my entire house by a squatter who knows the law. This squatter used Thirty-sixth District Court to file a lien on my home and she continues to file claims against me to steal my property. Thirty-sixth District Court seems not to require proof of service to give people judgements against people. So while I was gone they granted her a lien on my house. She also used those laws to file a nuisance report on my house, abandonment. She was trying to use these administrative laws in order to say that she could just take it over.

She was a nuisance, herself. She brought in a plumber who hooked up a pipe that was previously unhooked that had holes in it and flooded under my property. The police told me I would be liable for property damage to the city if that water had damaged city property. The water company stuck the bill on my property taxes. I sued them all but the City of Detroit was in bankruptcy and they stayed all the lawsuits. And the water company during the lawsuits said, "You're going to pay for everything." And I said, "You know, you guys are just like the squatter. You're charging me for services I never ordered." And they told me, "We're going to take your house in attorney fees." I said, "Wow!" Birds of a feather, I suppose. Then I realized the City of Detroit's government was very similar to the reflection of the mind of the squatter. And maybe, the City of Detroit was obtained illegally by a group of squatters. But anyway, unfortunately, I lost my home. But we were sort of like a prisoner of my house while my child had lead poisoning. There was lead paint in the house. When you disturb the lead paint it can become very poisonous and the squatter had punched holes in all the walls and there was paint dust everywhere and my child became lead poisoned.

The squatter also brought a gang in the middle of the night and tried to rip out the stove while it was on. We called the police and they wouldn't stop them. The police said, "Let her get her stuff." I said, "You don't know what is her stuff or what is my stuff. Give me back my stuff. Get out of here." So the police said, "All right. That's fair, right?" And I said, "If you tell me..." because they told me, "If you want your property back you've got to go to civil court and ask for it back." I said, "That's my property. You can't abrogate my property rights to a home invader and tell me I have to go to court to get it back. Are you crazy?" Then they told me, "Let her in and get her stuff." And I told her that. I said, "You're telling me I have to go to court to obtain my property?" I said, "Tell her to go to court and tell the court what is her property." And then that was it. We wouldn't allow her in the house at all. She left the house. We did not have to file the eviction papers. We gave her the thirty-day notice as they required. Because under Michigan law there seems to be a social contract between home invaders and the State of Michigan which tells us that if somebody moves into our property, they're suddenly our tenant and we have to treat them under landlord-tenant laws. Yet there's no contract between me and the home invader. And the home invader doesn't have to pay me rent. How's that even imaginable? Isn't that illegal?

Audience member: You can't make it up.

Ms. Peterson: The lady left, though, because it was on national news. And after she was threatened by various phone calls because she was running for president with her phone number and she was telling the news that she was doing this as part of her affordable housing campaign. But there is a real movement in Detroit. It's called "Occupy Detroit." Occupy Detroit is a movement where people will occupy foreclosed homes. There's also another problem in Detroit. The government condones such behavior to the extent where they give these squatters rights or they don't recognize the rights of the owner. The other movement is the society can declare a house abandoned and then give it — or your property — give it to whomever they want.

The other thing that they do is the Wayne County treasurer just assumed that property owners weren't paying their taxes, therefore the people who were squatting in them could obtain that property for as little as five hundred dollars. Well, how can Wayne County assume anything. How do these people make decisions on our houses when we paid for them? And we paid exceptionally high property tax for no police service. They told us that crimes against property weren't crimes — they were civil disputes. There was no enforcement of trespassing laws. No, the squatter's never been in jail. She's never been criminally charged even though she robbed my house and caused $50,000 worth of damage.

They say under the new police chief that they're reinvestigating it. But none of the witnesses were ever called. We have photos of the police at the house while the guy was cutting down my trees. My other neighbor says that they took the radiators out in broad daylight. If anybody was called, I mean, I would assume that part of police work is collecting evidence and calling witnesses. So I would know if they were investigating because I would be one of the people they called. They've never investigated because they don't want to consider it a crime. And then you wonder why Detroit looks the way it does. These people have no invested interest in our property. Why is the government giving them rights to it? What they do to our property is they strip it and sell parts of it. They leave families cold in the winter so that they can earn money from scrapping their heating systems. They stress out humanitarian organizations for women and children who have to leave their homes because gangs took over their homes and the police won't remove them.

Wayne County is selling homes at auction that people are living in. Once the buyer goes to get their home, they can't get their home. If they move the squatter's property out of the home it's conversion of property and that the squatter can sue them for three times the value of the property.

Audience member: Sounds like transfer of wealth.

Ms. Peterson: Who's right? Who has the right to that property? Is it the person who is possessing it or the person who bought it? And then how does the person have the right to sell property if you can't give them the property rights?

So, what kind of policy is this? You know, is this in Michigan? Obviously, it's the worst case scenario in Michigan. The City is bankrupt. They have no property tax. No wonder. And they were used to being bailed out — every Democratic administration — so they never needed property tax. So why would they ever need property rights?

My case is in Federal Court right now and I'm challenging, based on those powers which another speaker talked about, that the state does not have the right to abrogate my property rights to give them to home invaders. The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment says that, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." When they told me to go to court to get my property, that is the inverse of what this says. If that squatter wanted rights to my property she had to go to the court and the government would have to give her the right after due process. But they said she had the right to my property once she adversely possessed it and I had to go to court to get it back. That's the inverse of that statement.

The Double Jeopardy Clause, "[N]or shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." So when I sued the State of Michigan, I sued them for making that law. Because that law is in violation of my Constitutional rights. The State of Michigan said that they have immunity. And then I laughed and I said, "Well then why do we have laws? Why do we have a Constitution? Isn't the Constitution there to limit the powers of the state?" To protect our liberties, that's what the Constitution was, that's what these enumerated powers are about. And they said, "Oh, we have immunity." Oh, really? We don't know why Wayne County accepts gangs to take over our homes. I mean, there's theories. A certain group of people controls the water supply. That gives them some kind of power to charge things. They want crime and certain activity to chase other people out of town or to maintain their power. I have no idea. Obviously, if they have to work in a real financial situation and depend on property values and property tax then they will change their policies.

Let's see, what else? Well, I guess the last thing I would say is that currently the squatter is suing me in court for the same amount she sued me for with the liens. This time she sued for her furniture, which was in my house when I sold the house. I left her furniture in there and how is the court going to justify what you do when somebody leaves their furniture in your house and you sell the property. I can't move her furniture because it's conversion of property so how's that government going to justify or rectify that situation?

Audience member: How were you able to sell your house? Who would want to buy it that way?

Ms. Peterson: Oh. Actually, I sold it to an interior designer from Miami because it is very historical neighborhood and it's their mansion.

Audience member: Did they pay cash or a mortgage?

Ms. Peterson: Cash.
Audience member: See that's the thing because no bank would take the mortgage on that. That's an interesting thing because also when mortgages go on the secondary market, I can't believe how that would be not an issue.

Ms. Peterson: Yeah. They're losing not just mortgage but insurance. Their insurance is skyrocketing.

Audience member: Did you tell this person that bought your home what was going on?

Ms. Peterson: Yeah. He knows. He has five homes there. I think they're hoping for change but I...

Audience member: Do you know the story on any other parts of the country?

Ms. Peterson: Oh, it goes on in Johannesburg, South Africa. Oh, yes. A friend of ours calls it hijacked homes. So his home's been hijacked by a squatter who's been living there for two years. He's not allowed to evict her because you have to legally evict them because they're considered tenants even though you don't have a contract and they don't pay rent. He's not allowed to evict her because of code violations and that's in Washington, D.C. So a squatter can break in your house, live there and create code violations, they can take you to code court and live there forever and entirely bankrupt you.

Audience member: So, how long were you away for or does it matter?

Ms. Peterson: It doesn't matter. But, it's my house.

Audience member: Somebody decides that you have abandoned your home because you were gone to work today, that's OK.

Ms. Peterson: Well, somebody has said to park my car out there if I didn't want it any more.
Audience member: This is not actually an isolated case. I read that there are two home owners in Kansas City with very similar situations. What happens is that the home is not lived in for a certain period of time — six months — it can be declared abandoned. And when it's declared abandoned then people can file in court for permission to move into the house, rehabilitate it and then take title to it with no compensation to the owner or the mortgage owner.

Ms. Peterson: Or even identification.

Audience member: What if I'm paying my mortgage for those six months?

Audience member: Or a vacation house?

Audience member: That doesn't matter. You lose the house and the mortgage company loses its interest.

Audience member: Is this a state by state issue or is it a national kind of thing?

Audience member: That particular statute in Kansas City is spreading in the Midwest. I do not know if the statute looks the same in Detroit but the idea is for the city to clean up abandoned homes. But naturally if you're going to take on a less abandoned home then that makes more sense than buying a really abandoned home. So if you're out of town for six months and in my court papers — this was a few years ago — I said "What if somebody's going for a long trip around the world for more than six months, somebody can come in and, well, apparently that happened."

Audience member: OK. But when you're gone for six months you're contracting with someone to mow your lawn, clear the snow, or you're rehabilitating the house and you're not living in it for six months.

Ms. Peterson: Yes, it could be investment property.

Audience member: That's the "too bad" doctrine.

Audience member: If I'm living in my house in Italy or some other country, you can take my house in America and I'm paying the taxes on it?

Audience member: Yeah, if you move to Kansas City, I'll take your house.

Audience member: Well then you can't own more than one home.

Ms. Peterson: If it spreads, right. And if it's a movement like she said, if they're going to make it a movement then that's right. No more vacation homes.

Audience member: You said your squatter had gained adverse possession?

Ms. Peterson: She was attempting to.

Audience member: Attempting to?

Ms. Peterson: Yeah. There's a time limit. She was, through fraud, putting on a lien and then she would try to show through court that she had interest in the home and quiet title the home.

Audience member: You can only gain adverse possession if you're possession is legal.

Ms. Peterson: Right. But even though it wasn't legal, that in my opinion that she broke into my home. But they also have this thing where I don't know if this is true or a group of people are imagining it but also Wayne County is telling people if you do repairs on the home you have interest in the home therefore you might gain ownership.

Audience member: In New York it's only a lien.

Ms. Peterson: Why should people have the right to go to somebody else's home and do repairs? You don't have a contract with them and then put a lien on it. And that's the whole thing with the water company, I said, "Why do I have to pay a water bill for services that damaged my property that I didn't even order." So now we have to pay for things that we didn't order and people are just allowed to come in our homes and mess them up?

Audience member: So you're going to stay in Detroit and fight. You're not going to leave Detroit.

Ms. Peterson: Well, the problem is that she's suing me again in Thirty-Sixth District Court. Unless I can get her sanctioned to stop her from suing me, they'll give her default judgements on me and that effects my credit. She doesn't serve me. And even if she did like our friend who has to go every month from Florida to Washington, D.C. to go to code violation court because of the squatter. She has him hostage. It's just if you run into the wrong person and they'll bankrupt you. And what are you going to do? You know what I'm saying?

Audience member: You know James Madison said that we have staked the whole future of our society on people's ability to self-govern under the Ten Commandments. If you decide on your freedom that you want to be the squatter — this is what happens. And what they have done is they have expunged the knowledge of the Bible from our society We need to put up on bulletin boards — on billboards — "Thou shall not steal."

Audience member: They don't care.

Audience member: They will care. We don't know if they care because they're not told anymore. Everyone says nobody's going to care. Everywhere I go, I speak all over the place now on these issues. People care. You want to know what kind of politician you should put in office? One that fears God. Fears that if I steal that woman's home I'm going to stand before a holy God on the Judgement Day. Those are the people that you need to put in office. Because they appoint the police chiefs.

Ms. Peterson: Right. And how evil is a society that accepts gangs running families out of homes.

Audience member: She had rented from you at one time in the past. Like legally rented?

Ms. Peterson: Yes. A year and a half before.

Audience member: A year and a half before she claimed that, you know, when a lease terminates and then it can go just month to month? Is she claiming something like that?

Ms. Peterson: It was a month to month and what happened was she evacuated and she moved everything out. But she was planning to steal my house before then and she was telling people about it. But then she moved out and I was living at the neighbor's house before I went to Russia and then she just moved back in. Here's the thing. What she claims is that if you give somebody a thirty day notice and they move out and you didn't file it in court, which you cannot file it in court because the court will say, "Well, she already moved out," you can't bring a bailiff in to move her out. She already moved out. And so they're claiming it's not a legal eviction if your tenant moves out after thirty days if you don't file it in court, which the court wouldn't accept anyway. So it's a notice to quit and then like this administrator said she unquit a year and a half later and she tried to literally steal the house. She wasn't fake renting. She was trying to steal the whole house.

Audience member: She wasn't paying rent was she?

Ms. Peterson: No. No.

Audience member: Of course not.

Ms. Peterson: Yeah. So, the contract ended when she moved out. So this was not a valid claim. You can't just create a contract a year and a half later saying that I moved there and I'm your tenant and I don't pay you rent and I didn't tell you about it. I don't know if the City of Detroit agrees with this or not because the water department is a little bit strange compared to the other parts of the city. The police don't know what they're supposed to do in regard to these people but they say, "Oh, well, if the paper was not filed in the court — a thirty day notice — and the bailiff didn't move her out then it's not a legal eviction." Well, the bailiff will not come and move somebody out of your house who's already moved out of your house. So there's no way to go through that process.

Audience member: What would happen when she left the house and you came back and you went in the house and shot her dead?

Ms. Peterson: You can't do that until the thirty day notice is complete. No. Even after that if she filed something in the court or whatever.

Audience member: During the housing bubble there was a participation of gangs in organized real estate frauds and a couple of things. Do you think there's an organized background to this in terms of essentially it being theft of real estate?

Ms. Peterson: It's organized to the extent that the water company does have policies where they're not supposed to turn the water on without the permission of the owner and they did it anyway and then they defended their actions. DTE Energy Company is not supposed to turn on the electricity but they did it anyway and they defended their actions. And the scrapper industry lobbies the legislature so that they won't get in trouble and also there's been a guy who was caught in the scrapyard business with sixty stolen cars. He was never arrested because he claimed that he did not know the cars were stolen because the thieves didn't tell him. But he had no title to any of the cars.

Audience member: Did you get a city marshal to contact them?

Ms. Peterson: No. She left before then.

Audience member: The notice to her will get her out within thirty days.

Ms. Peterson: No. Because she left before thirty days.

Audience member: No let's say, for instance, you got the notice. Did you give the city marshal to do it?

Ms. Peterson: We had a third party do it but not a marshal. And I don't even know if you can hire a marshal to do that. I don't even know that.

Audience member: Yes, you do, in New York City anyway.

Audience member: They still have that in New York City.

Audience member: We were talking about Michigan. So that was my question.

Audience member: Was your squatter schooled by Acorn? (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now)

Ms. Peterson: She claimed to Inside Edition that Acorn did the home improvements but we don't know.

Audience member: What home improvements?

Ms. Peterson: Well, ripping my carpet up. We don't know. She could have been making it up. Ok. Thank you.

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