Squatters ‘agent’ moves homeless into abandoned properties in US city

A squatters 'agent' is helping homeless people in the US move into foreclosed properties that have been abandoned by owners who can no longer pay their mortgages.

Max Rameau isn't like any other real estate agent in Miami where he is based. He doesn't wear a suit, is unshaven, drives an old car and takes no payment. He also breaks into the properties that he is showing.

He has formed a group called Take Back the Land which he says helps homeless people move into foreclosed homes.

'We're matching homeless people with people-less homes,' he said. 'I think everyone deserves a home.' He claims to have helped six families move into foreclosed property and he has more on his waiting list. One was a 39 year old single mother who had been sleeping in a shelter with her toddler.

Rameau claims he is actually helping the owners who have abandoned their property as someone moving in prevents thieves breaking in. 'Some properties have been stripped. They steal the furniture, even fittings, copper pipes, wiring the lot. Then the drug dealers move in,' he explained.

Across the US homeless people are squatting in empty homes. But they tend to move in at night when no one is watching. But Rameau is quite open about what he does. He breaks in and shows them round just like a regular real estate agent.

'I point out if the shower room is tiled nicely, remark on the decor and blinds. Why shouldn't they be able to choose before moving in,' he said.

It is perhaps not surprising that the squatter's agent should come to the fore in Florida, especially the Miami area, with its once-booming condo market that is one of the hardest-hit states in the housing crisis, largely because of overbuilding and speculation.

Florida had the nation's second-highest foreclosure rate, with one out of every 178 homes in default. In Miami the owners of abandoned homes, whether an individual or bank, have to register those properties with the city so police can better monitor them. Bu so far the police seem disinclined to do anything about Rameau and his organisation's work.

He isn't worried about being arrested. 'There's a real need here, and there's a disconnect between the need and the law. Being arrested is just one of the potential factors in doing this,' he said.

Miami spokeswoman Kelly Penton said city officials did not know Rameau was moving homeless into empty properties. 'It is important to note that if people trespass into private property, it is up to the property owner to take action to remove those individuals,' she said.