ACTION 13: Houston homes taken over by squatters leave owners, neighbors frustrated by legalities

Miya Shay Image
Tuesday, May 7, 2024
Homeowners and neighbors remain frustrated by squatter situations
ACTION 13: In one neighborhood, residents live in fear near a home obviously falling apart, with missing doors, bits of drywall scattered everywhere, and small fires that are slowly eating away at the home's framing.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- To live across the street from 6322 Costa Mesa is to live in constant fear. The house is obviously falling apart, with missing doors, bits of drywall scattered everywhere, and small fires slowly eating away at its framing.

"Waves of squatters coming in, teenagers, it brings fear upon you," Willie Robinson, who lives just across the street, told ACTION 13.

She and several other neighbors want the squatters out and would like to see someone tear the house down.

"We're scared to come out," she said. "And (the squatters) look at you as though we belong here and not you, and we're paying the taxes!"

But like so many other neighborhoods have learned firsthand, dealing with squatters or problem homes can take months if not years.

In 2023, we profiled several squatting situations. Each one is a bit unique, and the solutions are not clear-cut.

RELATED: Woman claims trespassers moved into her Meyerland rental home and changed her locks

The Meyerland homeowner reached out to ABC13 extremely frustrated, saying a family of five is refusing to leave her rental home after changing its locks.

In one incident, a woman who began as a legitimate renter stopped paying rent two months into her lease. Her landlord was a young Army reservist stationed out of state. She had to travel back to Houston several times to go to court as her case moved through the eviction process. Meanwhile, the woman continued living in the home, even appearing on Zoom during one court appearance from the house she was squatting in. The judge in that case eventually ordered her to move out.

Another incident in Willowbend involved a home that had been put up for sale. A family of four, including a school teacher and two young kids, lived in the house for almost a year. In that case, the realtor had to go to court several times before a judge finally ordered the squatters out. ABC13 attended one hearing, where the teacher spoke to the judge in her HISD uniform and alleged she had a valid lease. The judge did not buy the story, and the family finally moved out a few weeks later.

SEE: Squatters living in SW Houston home move out after living there for 6 months

For the first time in 2023, a realtor whose property was taken over by so-called "professional squatters" finally got to go inside a now-emptied home.

Then, there was the house on Murrayhill in west Houston. It was owned by an elderly lady who had to be moved to a retirement home. The house was occupied by a series of squatters and drug users. There were layers upon layers of trash in the backyard. Inside, ABC13 followed the realtor, George Huntoon, in a walk-through that involved used needles, feces, and a variety of rancid odors. Huntoon finally managed to get several of the squatters arrested and began clearing out the house.

We revisited the home recently, which was so badly damaged that the new owners tore it down. The property is now an empty lot.

For now, laws in the State of Texas generally force anyone who claims they are a legal tenant of a property and the landlord to go through a lengthy eviction process. Even if the tenant is actually a squatter, local law enforcement generally does not intervene and instead directs the parties involved to civil courts instead of arresting an alleged squatter. Many times, the process eventually works. However, it can take months and sometimes more than a year.

The slow process is why neighbors on Costa Mesa are so frustrated.

"You want some new laws?" we asked Robinson.

"We should," she said. "Updated laws to protect us!"

The Texas Legislature reconvenes in seven months, in January 2025. That's the next time lawmakers can introduce any new bills.

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