The holiday season stirs feelings of gratitude, love, and generosity among many people who look forward to gathering with friends and family, enjoying good food and the company of loved ones. We open our hearts and homes to share what we have, great or modest, with the people we care about most. But each holiday season is also an opportunity for scammers to take advantage of people’s goodwill, and an affordable housing shortage is leading to unwelcome guests perpetrating more “home takeovers”.
According to a recent CTV News report, home takeovers are becoming a problem in midwestern Ontario. The situation often unfolds with a once-welcomed guest not only overstaying their welcome but refusing to leave and sometimes setting up a criminal enterprise in the home. The crime is often committed against the most vulnerable people – elderly adults, and those with disabilities or mental health issues. There may also be drug dependencies involved or someone with a low-income living alone who is targeted.
Home takeovers can occur gradually developing from an established relationship such as a grandparent whose grandchild needs help with housing and other necessities. Over time, the relationship may change and the “guest” may refuse to leave, be violent, steal, or threaten the host. Family and friends can watch out for signs of a home takeover if they notice changes in homeowner behaviour, signs of weight loss, stress or anxiety, discussion of being short on money or food, or if there is increased unusual activity around the home.
Because of the housing shortage, and high rents, some victims may initially welcome added help paying rent or with household chores from an invited guest. But when the homeowner or primary tenant feels unsafe in their own home or loses control of what is happening in their home, a housing takeover is likely to have occurred. If a guest is doing something that could cause problems with the police or a landlord, or if the homeowner feels afraid of the guest, it may be time to get help by calling 2-1-1 to access support.
A good houseguest should never make the host feel unsafe, or make them do anything they don’t want to do. If the host feels like the guest would not leave if asked, makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened – it is a clear sign to get help. Bruce County has set up a Home Takeover Pilot Project to help educate, identify, prevent and support recovery from home takeover. Follow this link to learn more.