November 7, 2011

Tarrant County district attorney says squatters' affidavits are fraudulent

He says those who use adverse-possession documents could face criminal charges.

Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon has instructed the county clerk's office to stop accepting what he calls fraudulent filings that allow "squatters" to take possession of other people's homes.

Those squatters also could face criminal charges, including burglary and theft by deception, Shannon warned.

So far this year, 60 affidavits of adverse possession have been filed with the Tarrant County clerk. The documents allow people without legal title to claim ownership of what they say are abandoned properties. If they live there long enough with no one challenging them, they could eventually gain legal rights to the property.

In some cases, the properties have been empty for years, are overgrown with tall grass and weeds, and have been deemed nuisances. But in others, the squatters are claiming pricey suburban homes.

Shannon's office called the practice a scam and said it will be contacting police chiefs, constables and the Sheriff's Department to encourage them to pursue criminal prosecution of individuals who have filed fraudulent documents.

"We can't comment on whether we will prosecute anyone until we get some paperwork," Shannon's spokeswoman said Monday.

On Saturday, the Star-Telegram reported the case of a traveling nurse who found a stranger living in her Mansfield home after she was away at work for an extended period. The man, who had entered without permission and changed the locks, had filed an affidavit of adverse possession to claim the property. He was charged with burglary after the homeowner filed a police report accusing the man of taking two TVs and a lawn mower, police records showed.

In October, a dispute over adverse possession of another Mansfield home arose in Justice of the Peace Matt Hayes' court. No one has been charged in connection with the dispute.

The county clerk's office did not respond to a request for comment Monday. But Shannon's office said that County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia wrote: "While state law mandates county clerks to take nearly 100 different types of documents, the affidavits of adverse possession filed this year in my office have been determined by the District Attorney to be fraudulent filings."

In the dispute in Hayes' court, the owner is attempting to evict Paul Roper, 40, who had moved into a home on St. Mark Drive. Roper had filed an adverse-possession affidavit Aug. 26.

Roper's attorney, Thomas L.G. Ross of Fort Worth, said Monday that he could not comment on whether Roper filed a false document.

Tarrant appraisal records show the home is owned by Taiel Mahmoud Abdallah, who hasn't lived in the home for an extended period.

This summer, Abdallah received a nuisance abatement notice citing the property for grass, weeds and vegetation more than 12 inches tall. The notice, which Ross faxed to the Star-Telegram on Monday, was entered into evidence in the court dispute on the adverse possession, he said.

A Realtor discovered Roper living in the home and told him to get out.

On Oct. 25, Hayes dismissed Roper's eviction based on lack of jurisdiction, court documents show. Cases involving disputes on property ownership are usually handled by the district court, legal experts say.

But on Oct. 31, Hayes vacated his judgment and set the case for trial last Thursday.

At the hearing, Hayes issued a judgment in favor of Abdallah and ordered Roper to move out by today. Hayes "ruled in my client's favor initially ... and then he entered an order vacating his ruling and basically resetting the case for trial," Ross said Monday afternoon. "It's important for the public to understand what is happening here."

Although the dispute hasn't been resolved, Ross said Mansfield constables have put up "no trespassing" signs on the property.

One of Hayes' clerks said the judge could not comment on a pending case.

The clerk also said no appeal of the eviction had been filed as of Monday afternoon. Roper has until today to appeal, court documents show.

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705

Related content



Editor's Choice Videos