Squatters invade Texas homes worth millions
Strangers seize one woman's house while she's away for chemotherapy.
This post comes from Marilyn Lewis at MSN Money.
Neighborhoods in the Fort Worth, Texas, area are battling a plague of squatters who've taken over homes while owners are absent, even temporarily. They've occupied properties worth a total of $8 million, says the Star-Telegram.
Fort Worth's spate of squatting appears unrelated to Occupy Our Homes, a political movement kicked off Tuesday by a coalition of homeowner-rights groups for "the liberation of vacant bank-owned homes for those in need, and the defense of families under threat of foreclosure and eviction."
Anger at county
The Tarrant County, Texas, squatters are picking up tips from books and the Internet, says the Star-Telegram:
Shysters. Burglars. Fugitives. Some of the characters seizing homes under adverse possession in Tarrant County have criminal records.
Suspicions are that other squatters have conducted the same racket in other states, said (Clint C.) Burgess, the Mansfield constable. "When you come in and start enforcement, they just leave," he said. Then they move to another state to run their scheme, he said.
Others are copycat squatters, who may learn the ropes through Internet videos or how-to books.
Owners of affected homes and their neighbors are angry with the county for failing to "police the problem," the paper says:
The schemes are hard to unravel because of a loophole in a state law that allows people to suddenly claim supposedly abandoned sections of property if no owner is on the spot to challenge such a claim. The law's intent was to help ranchers and others who had tended vacant land for years, so they could eventually gain legal ownership of the property. That's done by filing a document called an adverse possession affidavit with the county clerk.
But the law doesn't distinguish between a claim on a $27 section of sod and one on a $2.7 million mansion with an elevator, three master bedrooms, a five-car garage and a pond with fish in the back yard. File the proper paperwork, pay a $16 filing fee, keep up with the property taxes and live in the house three years or more, and even the courts may not be able to evict you.
"Adverse possession laws allow people who move onto property and possess it in an open and obvious public manner to potentially acquire title, after a certain amount of time," according to FindLaw, which lists adverse possession laws by state. Post continues below.
Tales of Texas squatters
Examining court documents, the newspaper found a "cast of characters." Squatters who moved into an Arlington, Texas, home in late October while the owner was in Houston for chemotherapy "pushed a commercial Dumpster into the driveway and filled it with the home's belongings."
Police records report that tens of thousands of dollars in valuables were removed, including a $10,000 stamp collection, the electric wheelchair of the homeowner's elderly mother, bottles of Chanel perfume, Judith Leiber crystal purses and a hand-carved ivory armoire.
In other cases:
- A woman seized a vacant Fort Worth foreclosure, a $2.7 million mansion that had been for sale for a couple years. She removed "for sale" signs and broke the chain on "mammoth gates" guarding the 3-acre home and gardens. Neighbors called police. "She was apprehended, along with a man who had a set of chain cutters, according to the police report."
- Another woman laid claim to one house in the nearby town of Mansfield while her son squatted at a different house and her boyfriend took possession of a third home, Burgess told the paper.
Legal mumbo jumbo
Tarrant County officials apparently accepted "adverse possession affidavits from anyone who wanted to file" them, allowing documents "filled with legal mumbo jumbo," says the Star-Telegram.
Affidavits were "streaming in" to the Tarrant County Clerk's Office between June and November, until the district attorney pointed out the problem, the paper says.
Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia responded that it's hard to identify illegal affidavits as they're filed. But her staff notifies property owners of adverse possession actions filed against their homes and land.
Would-be squatters can easily find instructions online. WikiHow.com, for example, tells how to proceed.
MSN Real Estate ran this Bankrate.com advice in response to a reader who asked if it was OK to take possession of a neighbor's abandoned foreclosed home.
Squatting is risky and legally complicated, since someone else still owns the home, the column says. It's better, it suggests, to make a cash offer to buy the home cheap.
But squatting is a sign of the times. In August, the New York Post wrote that hobos were squatting in a $2.9 million Manhattan four-story townhouse belonging to NBC "Today" co-anchor Ann Curry and her husband, Brian Ross. The home had been empty for eight years while the couple did renovations and fought a legal battle over building violations.
More on MSN Money:
Do these squatters know that in Texas there is a "They just need killing law still on the books". Basically, it means that you can use lethal force and your defense is "They just needed killing".
If the home owners family were to go in and find people squatting, shooting is fine and legal in Texas, and the only defense the family would need is "They just need killing."
They don't need to squat at my house.
BAC already squatted both cheeks over it...
well its better than how they do here, considering they're mainly meth heads here they pull into the yard and strip the house of copper wiring and the heating units/a.c. units, some of them are even taking door knobs, towel racks, basically simple yard sale and recycle center stuff leaving the house a total dissaster inside, not only is the house not selling but the inside is destroyed and value less entirely. so whats worse someone who wants to live there with it cleaned up, or just a dump on the side of the road thats uninhabitable, or needs thousands of dollars in electrical, and wall repairs, not like a meth head takes the wiring carefully its ripped right through the drywall. so like I said texas whats worse...
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