What is it with squatters in Texas? During my first day of class, I introduced the story of Kenneth Robinson, who attempted to adversely possess a $300,000 home in Dallas. He failed, and was evicted by Bank of America.
Now, a squatter in Dallas is on trial for theft, including stealing clothing and furniture from a $400,000 home in Dallas while the owner was in Houston for cancer treatments.
A North Texas couple accused of “squatting” face up to life in prison if convicted of stealing furniture and clothing from a home while the owner was in Houston for cancer treatments.
David Cooper, 26, and Jasmine Williams, 23, both of DeSoto, each are charged with one count of burglary of a habitation, which carries a maximum 20-year prison term, and one count of property theft over $200,000, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. Jury selection for their trial started Monday afternoon in Fort Worth.
In October 2011, Cooper paid $16 to file what is known as an affidavit of adverse possession with the county clerk’s office, claiming ownership of the $405,000, 4,320-square-foot home in Arlington. The obscure Texas law allows people to claim rights to otherwise unclaimed land after a period of time, typically 10 years, as long they maintain it and pay taxes on it.
It’s often used to resolve disputes between homeowners over driveways, lawns or other property with shared boundaries — but dozens of people in North Texas have started trying to use the law to file claims on foreclosed or temporarily empty homes.
Defense attorney Deborah Goodall says Cooper performed upkeep on the property and intended to live in the home.
“Our position is that you cannot commit burglary” if you have filed an affidavit of adverse possession, Goodall told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Burglary requires you to enter and the intent is to commit another offense, such as theft.”
During trial, David Cooper argued:
I actually had heard through the media and other sources that abandoned properties could be possessed through a claim called adverse possession.
Cooper also claimed he improved on the land by landscaping, and would have confronted the real owner to file suit against him. In other words, he wanted to make sure he was openly on the land, there was hostility, and he met the requisite period. This guy knows the requirements of AP!
I’d be willing to wager that Cooper heard of Robinson’s shtick.
The claims became popular last year, particularly after one man paid $16 to file a one-page claim to an empty, $340,000 home in the upscale Dallas suburb of Flower Mound. Kenneth Robinson placed a “No Trespassing” sign in the window, invited TV cameras inside for a tour and created a website where he offered an e-book and training sessions for would-be squatters.
Robinson apparently inspired dozens of imitators who moved into Dallas-Fort Worth area homes — some of which were still occupied. After a bank’s attorney went to court to have Robinson kicked out, he left on his own in February — about eight months after he moved in.
In fact, local district attorneys caught onto Robinson’s AP scheme:
Last year, Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon deemed adverse possession affidavits “fraudulent” and directed the county clerk’s office not to accept them. Dozens of people had taken ownership of more than $8 million of Tarrant County property.