Adverse possession allows someone to take ownership of otherwise unclaimed land after a period of time, typically 10 years. It is sometimes used to settle boundary disputes between longtime landowners. But dozens of people in North Texas tried to use adverse possession to file claims on foreclosures or temporarily empty homes.
Nine people in Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth, have been indicted on charges related to unlawful trespassing or possession of vacant homes. About 17,000 property owners have now signed up to receive alerts if someone files paperwork on their property.
The Tarrant County clerk's office has recorded 55 adverse possession affidavits during the last six months of 2011, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported (http://bit.ly/OV7e2q) Monday. Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia and others in North Texas eventually stopped accepting the affidavits without further verification.
"Squatters understand that you just don't mess with Tarrant County," Garcia told the newspaper.
Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon told Garcia's office late last year not to accept adverse possession claims. Shannon also told law enforcement officials to pursue prosecutions against squatters who try to claim adverse possession.
Since then, no new cases have been brought to his attention.
"If they are, how we deal with them will depend upon the facts of each case," Shannon said.
Adverse possession claims became popular last year, particularly as one person used a $16 filing to lay claim to a 3,200-square-foot foreclosed home in Denton County. That man, Kenneth Robinson, was featured on local news and created a website, http://16dollarhouse.com . He moved in furniture and hung a "No Trespassing" sign inside a front window.
A lawyer for Bank of America went to court to have Robinson ordered out, and he eventually left on his own in February.
Authorities have reported people coming home to find strangers living there. One woman told a Tarrant County constable's office that a man living in her Mansfield home changed the locks and removed TVs, authorities said.
Others have claimed they are part of a religious sect that exempts them from Texas and U.S. laws.
Adverse possession rights can be established if someone lives on a property and no one else makes a legitimate claim for the time period required by law, experts have said. Until those rights are established, anyone trying to stake a claim to someone else's property is considered a squatter.