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Cases of people claiming squatter's rights in Tarrant County under inquiry

11/04/2011 11:40 PM

12/18/2011 5:03 PM

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Traveling nurse Agnes Edede was shocked in September to find a stranger living in her Mansfield home after she was away at work for three days.

The man, Anthony L. Brown, had changed her locks, entered her house without permission and took two TVs and a lawn mower, she told police.

Brown told her that the house was now his. To get it back, she'd have to pay him $2,000, police records say.

Similar seizures may be taking place all over Tarrant County, Mansfield Deputy Constable D. Garnett said.

He said his office is investigating more than a dozen similar cases of people claiming ownership of what they say are abandoned homes.

"It's an elaborate sham," Garnett said Friday. "These people just go to an empty house, change the locks, put up no-trespassing signs and move in."

Other states are also having trouble with squatters asserting ownership rights. For example, the North Carolina attorney general sued several people who filed $1.2 million in fake liens on foreclosed properties that prevented their sale. The people were charged with moving into a house without the owner's consent by "filing deeds, liens and other documents on the public record that have no basis in law or fact," an indictment states.

In Texas, people trying to take homes they perceive to have been abandoned, such as foreclosed homes, are citing adverse possession laws. They fill out affidavits with the Tarrant County clerk, establishing that the home was abandoned and that there is a new owner, Garnett said.

If the rightful owner does not file a challenge within a certain period of time -- statutes vary from three years to 20 -- the person with the affidavit gets to stay. The man who took possession of a foreclosed home in Flower Mound is believed to be still living there, Garnett said. The home had been in foreclosure and the mortgage company had gone belly-up.

But attorney David J. Willis, board certified in real-estate law, said the state statute on adverse possession is being abused. At times, aggressive investors are trying to use the strategy to assert possession of hundreds of properties, he said.

"In fact, such a strategy involves breaking and entering, filing false affidavits, slander of title and fraud," he said.

Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia's office did not return repeated requests for comment. But Garnett said constables are working with the office to try to help victims of any abuses. The economic crimes unit of the Tarrant County district attorney's office is also involved, he said.

The problem is that once such affidavits are filed, it's difficult to remove people from properties they have claimed, Garnett said. If the owner doesn't file a challenge and try to evict them, authorities can't take action. Pressing criminal charges is also difficult unless police can apprehend someone living inside the home or arrest him or her and file charges of burglary of property, Garnett said.

However, because Brown was accused of removing property from Edede's home, police investigated and sought charges.

Brown, 61, who police said filed an affidavit of adverse possession, was arrested Oct. 17 and accused of burglary of a habitation, a felony, Arlington police records say. His bail was set at $25,000. Brown had a 1990 arrest for theft, police records say. State documents say he organized two nonprofits in recent months: Believers in Faith International Ministries and American Vet Services.

More frustrating to some is that once homes have been tied up with affidavits of adverse possession, the affidavits will muddy up any sale, legal experts said.

That is the situation for homeowner Taiel Mahmound Abdallah, who, through his Realtor, recently tried to evict someone with an adverse-possession affidavit on his Mansfield home, court records say. Tarrant Appraisal District records say Abdallah owns the home on St. Mark Drive.

On Thursday, Paul Roper, 40, was ordered to move out of Abdallah's home. Roper's attorney, Thomas L.G. Ross, filed an appeal Friday.

Roper could not be reached for comment. He has previous arrests on charges including aggravated assault, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and theft, police records say.

Ross was out of town and unavailable for comment, according to someone who answered the phone at his Fort Worth law office Friday late afternoon.

Gerald Perry, Abdallah's attorney, said the real estate agent discovered Roper living in Abdallah home. Apparently, Abdallah's son had lived there, but it had been vacant awhile, Perry said. The real estate agent wanted to put the home up for sale and told Roper on Oct. 3 that he needed to get out.

Later, the agent tried to evict him. But Roper argued that the justice of the peace court had no jurisdiction.

After that, the agent hired Perry, and the justice of the peace court ordered Roper and any occupants on Thursday to vacate the premises by Tuesday. Roper's appeal will be heard in county court. A date hasn't been set, Perry said.

But the situation will likely take yet more legal action in District Court to establish proper ownership, Perry said.

Roper's affidavit is the second filed on the home. One was filed Aug. 10 by "Minister Angula Yvonne Torrance Bey," court documents say.

Attempts to locate her were unsuccessful. Perry said he does not know who she is.

"Those affidavits are out there that cloud the record of title," Perry said. "If this goes to a title company and they do a title search, they'll see ... the adverse possession claim. They will not issue a clear title unless they get that cleared up."

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705

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