“Squatters,” a term for people occupying an abandoned home they do not own, rent or have permission to use, are sweeping across Texas in droves to exploit an incredible loophole in Texas state law that allows them to claim expensive, upscale homes for a fraction of their price.
Predominantly taking place in Tarrant County, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that squatters have assumed control of roughly $8 million in real estate by simply squatting and filling out some paperwork.
“Everybody is just trying to learn what in the world is going on,” said Mansfield Constable Clint C. Burgess in the article. “It’s the craziest thing how anyone could be so brazen to just break into a home and start living in it.”
The loophole in question allows squatters to take over a presumably abandoned property by filing an adverse possession affidavit with the local county clerk, paying a $16 filing fee and promising to live in the home for three years. The law was originally drafted for ranchers to assume control over vacant properties they tended, but now, squatters are taking over properties that are vacant often for professional and health-related reasons.
The results have veered from absurd to heartless. One notable example cited by the Star-Telegram described a $405,000 property that was seized by squatters in late October, who promptly rented a dumpster and began disposing of all the original owner’s valuables, including a $10,000 stamp collection, an electric wheelchair, Judith Leiber purses and a hand-carved ivory armoire.
The home, however, was not vacant – the homeowner was in Houston undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
“This is the worst thing that I’ve been through,” said Joe Bruner, a certified public accountant who lives by the property. “It’s not healthy for anybody, for the neighborhood, for the county. It’s just not healthy for humanity.”
A more absurd example is a $2.7 million mansion in Forth Worth, which was claimed by a 28-year-old insurance agent who traveled from Memphis,Tennessee to seize the two-year vacant property. Though a local agent from Sotheby’s had been attempting to sell the home, which was foreclosed last January by Chase Bank, the squatter took over the property in August, and now, it’s up to the home’s owner, Bank of America, to challenge the insurance agent’s adverse possession.
The Star-Telegram piece, which chronicles quite additional examples of the squatting, can be read in full here.