HESPERIA • John spent many evenings after work painting his baby's bedroom with scenes and characters from Animal Crossing, a Nintendo video game.


"I've always wanted to do that for my kid so I kind of went overboard," the 40-year-old P.E. teacher said. "It was a dream for me and my wife to have a home."


John and his wife, both teachers, moved to Hesperia in 2007 when they bought the brand new one-story house on Pomona Street.


Then the market crashed, and his wife got laid off. They tried to negotiate with the lender, but they received an auction notice on the door in October 2010. They left the house immediately because they didn't want to get evicted.


"I was trying to be responsible, to do the right thing," John said.


A few months later, however, he received a call from his neighbor to find out the house didn't get auctioned and there was a squatter living at the house. He realized that he could have been living there. Instead, a stranger was trashing his dream house.


John is among many local homeowners who have been victimized by squatters, who illegally occupy foreclosed homes. He said he was so mentally traumatized by the incident that he wished to keep his last name out of this report.


Some squatters sneak or break into empty homes, change the locks and turn on utilities to claim residency. Others disguise as a homeowner and rent out foreclosed homes.


The District Attorney's office filed charges against a woman who was occupying foreclosed homes in Rancho Cucamonga, pretending to be a tenant and asking banks for moving fees. Quddusa Lynette Anderson, 38, was recently sentenced to 252 days in jail and ordered to pay $10,000 she stole from Bank of America and Freddie Mac.


While banks and landlords trying to evict homeowners or renters is a civil matter, squatting by breaking into a house is a crime in California. But squatters are difficult to spot because neighbors usually don't know whether they are legitimate residents or not.


The squatter living on John's property was a woman who claimed to have rented the property from another man, who advertised it at a coin laundry in Victorville. She said she paid the man in cash each month when he showed up at the house.


John said he was reluctant to take actions when he first found out about the squatter because people told him it was a civil matter and he needed to hire a lawyer. The family was suffering financially and was trying to start a new life out of the area. He was also worried about liability if the squatter caused any hazards at the house.


"I just felt hopeless," he said. "I felt like I didn't have any options. I'm just a teacher, so I just listened to tons of different info and nothing seemed right."


He eventually hired a real estate agent to resolve the problem and short sell the house as the lender began approaching him for negotiation.


Roy Blume, broker at Blume-Truong Real Estate Group in Sierra Madre, went to the house to meet the squatter.


"I told her it's time to leave because she wasn't even paying anymore," Blume said. "She asked me, 'What's my right as a squatter?' I told her I would call the authorities and she said, 'Then I want cash to move.' They say, 'I have rights.' But how can you have a right when you're living at the house illegally? You have a right to move out. The fact is she knew what she was doing. She admitted it."


Blume contacted the District Attorney's Real Estate Fraud Unit before sheriff's deputies went to the house and told her to move out within 24 hours. The squatter moved out last week, after living at the house for more than a year.


"It wasn't really hard to get them out because legally they have no standing to be there," Sheriff's Sgt. Don Cox said. "They don't have to go through the eviction process. Owners can go in and change the lock if they want."


But deputies have to get proof of ownership from the victims and make direct contact with the squatters before they can be tossed out, Cox said. He advised that homeowners keep contacting the sheriff's department because officers usually don't have time to follow up.


Blume said neighbors should watch out for one another because vandalized properties can hurt real estate values in the whole area. John said at least three out of 16 homes on Pomona Street are distressed and he's suspecting there's a squatter in one of them.


John finally listed his property up for short sale and he said he's already getting multiple offers.


But his door has been broken and his dishwasher, microwave, faucet, ceiling fans and even street address sign are missing. A koi pond he was trying to build in the backyard is now just a hole full of weeds.


"I just don't want any more issues," he said. "I want to get done with it all."


Tomoya Shimura may be reached at (760) 955-5368 or TShimura@VVDailyPress.com. Follow Tomoya on Facebook at facebook.com/ShimuraTomoya.


Get complete stories every day with the "exactly as printed" Daily Press E-edition, only $5 per month! Click here to try it free for 7 days. To subscribe to the Daily Press in print or online, call (760) 241-7755, 1-800-553-2006 or click here.