Tarrant County officials are baffled by a real estate nightmare. Squatters have claimed other people’s houses, to the tune of $8 million. One homeowner took up residence in a deceased neighbor’s house, a woman moved from Memphis to Fort Worth to claim a $2.7 million mansion, and criminals have picked up vacant homes and leased them to tenants. And that’s the short list.
County records show that squatters and their associates have possessed homes in ways that cannot be easily accounted for. A loophole in the state law allows people to claim abandoned sections of property if no owner is present to challenge that claim. The law exists for the express benefit of ranchers who tend vacant land for many years; they can legally gain ownership of the property by filing an adverse-possession affidavit with the county clerk.
Since the law doesn’t differentiate land and homes that can range in value from a few dollars to a few million, some squatters have taken advantage, targeting properties where owners have moved away due to work relocation or illness or, in some cases, where original occupants are recently deceased. Not all squatters are morally mischievous. Jerome Campbell of Southeast Investments finds vacant homes, researches public records, and attempts to locate the owner. If unsuccessful, Southeast moves forward with repairs, pays the back taxes, and then resells the property. Campbell defends the practice, saying that his firm benefits the community by removing the neighborhood eyesore that brings down home values and residents’ morale.