HARRIS COUNTY, Texas (KTRK) -- Jim Johnson and his wife, Lark, knew something was amiss when a family moved into their cul-de-sac seemingly overnight last week.
"When they show up and immediately rip down the sign of the leasing company or owner company, it's like, that raises a concern," Jim Johnson, who, like most of his neighbors, is an original owner of his home for more than 20 years, said. "And the next move is a locksmith shows up, and that's a concern."
The Johnsons and their neighbors are tight-knit. They knew the management company of the rental home in the neighborhood and immediately called managers. Sure enough, their fears were confirmed. The management company says the new neighbors were not renters but squatters.
"They did have what looked like a very legitimate contract, and because of that, the police had to leave them alone," Lark Johnson, who immediately contacted the Harris County Sheriff's Office, said. "So now it's going through the whole process of the court. We're waiting for them to get their court date and be evicted."
The Johnsons and other neighbors are worried about illicit activity associated with the home. They have kept a constant watch and shared videos with each other on the frequent cars that drive to the home in the overnight hours.
Still, the sheriff's office said there's not much they can do unless an actual crime is committed.
When ABC13 visited the home, a young woman opened the door but shut and locked it immediately after we identified ourselves. A short time later, the squatters called the sheriff's office. Deputies confirmed the squatters also called a few days ago and complained their neighbor was harassing them by pointing a security camera in their direction.
"What's been frustrating is that I have a 12-year-old and that I don't even let her walk to her best friend's house without watching her," Lark Johnson said. "And we've never had that problem."
The ownership company says it has filed eviction papers, but our experience covering these squatter stories shows sometimes it can take six months to a year for the eviction process to work through the court system.
In general, experts tell us the best option is prevention. They urge homeowners and management companies to post "no trespassing" signs clearly on their property. In addition, experts say homeowners with empty houses should place cameras inside the homes so they can immediately identify people who break in.
The management company for this home told us over the phone that they have cameras in some of the houses they own but that it's cost prohibitive for them to place cameras in every house up for rent.