I live in Charleston, South Carolina. My girlfriend and I are currently looking for an affordable place to rent in a specific neighborhood we really like. Yesterday (11/18/08), while driving around looking for "For Rent" signs and calling about the places we found, we came upon a really nice place that was obviously vacant (no blinds on the windows, empty inside).
The really odd thing about this place was the fact that, despite being in a neighborhood where all the houses and lawns are extremely well kept, the lawn looked as if it hadn't been mowed in a year. The grass was literally 2 ft. high or more, filled with weeds, and brown. This place obviously stood out from the houses around it, and we noticed a small orange sign or sticker of some kind on the door, so we pulled in the driveway and got out to check the place out, simply out of curiosity.
The sticker on the door said something to the effect of: this property has been inspected and found to be vacant. Our best guess was that the neighbors had probably called about the lawn being unkempt and the house being empty for so long, which eventually elicited a visit by the inspection agency who left the sticker concluding, yes, the place was in fact vacant. The sticker was over 2 months old, dated 9/4/08.
Our curiosity now sparked even more by this mysterious house, we decided to peek in the windows. The place was indeed completely empty inside AND absolutely beautiful! I mean, this place had gorgeous hardwoods, granite countertops, nice paint, the works! We tried the front door and, to our surprise, found it unlocked!
So now the question I must ask, regardless of how absurd it seems, is this:
What would happen if we simply moved in to this place? I mean, what if we called and had the power and water turned on in our name, mowed the lawn, changed the locks, and just moved right in? Would this be illegal? I've heard of "squatting" and heard that in certain situations it doesn't constitute trespassing or breaking and entering. Is this one of those situations? I mean, there is obviously no one living in the place, the height of the grass indicates no one has lived there since at least before the summer, there are no "No Trespassing" signs, and the door is unlocked.
I have no intention of "stealing" the house or any desire to do so, but it seems silly to let such a beautiful house just sit there, unoccupied and going to waste while we, a clean and responsible (albeit poor and somewhat desperate) couple, could be enjoying and taking care of the place.. I mean, if the owner showed up it would obviously be extremely embarrassing for us, but we would certainly move right out and give the house back..
Does anyone out there know the legality of doing something like this? It seems sketchy, I know, but there's a certain logic to it too.. Wouldn't it be better for the house, the property, and the overall vibe of the neighborhood for the place to be lived in and taken care of?