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Intern Raj, PrisonArtWare.com

Can sophisticated squatters steal my home while I'm not looking...or "using" it?


Staff writer Jerri Cook from Countryside Magazine says "yes"


In his provocative analysis of adverse possession law, PrisonArtWare.com, Intern Raj, asks how a cold and calculating bum was able to steal the property his mother left him upon her death, and while he was atuniversity abroad. 



His story begins with an article written about the law and how it's being used to actually steal real estate. He then details his own story an how a nonprofit attorney hired by his employer is going the distance to get back the farm. 





Squatter nation.


Wer're told we were saved from a complete and total collapse of our banking system in 2008. Whew. That was close. But are we safe now, almost four years later? Has the system been reinforced in case of another quake? No. In fact, the collapse hasn't stopped. It's just imploding in slow motion. Not only has the financial crisis not ended, the banking structure is still fundamentally unsound, and it won't take another fiscal earthquake to bring it down. The slightest tremor will do it. That tremor could well be the arcane law of adverse possession, which is transforming squatting from a national disgrace into a national movement.


Twenty-first century squatters are educated and shrewd, nothing like the squatters of the Great Depression. During the Depression, squatters were confined to shanty towns, squalid settlements made from scraps of wood and steel, and displaced people left with only scraps of their previous lives. Historically referred to as "Hoovervilles" out of disdain for the economic policies of President Herbert Hoover, these huddled clusters were the result of poor monetary policies. Today's squatters stand in harsh contrast when we consider that they may cause the next tremor that energizes the stalled collapse, burying the banking and housing industries in the deep rubble of greed. Those who understand how to harness the motion of this growing tremor will be left not only unharmed in the final throes of the collapse, but all the better for it. Just ask Kenneth Robinson of Flower Mound, Texas.


Mr. Robinson has become somewhat of a folk hero in the squatter movement. He used the doctrine of adverse possession to acquire someone else's home. In order to be in adverse possession, the squatter must actually, openly, and notoriously posses the property, using it for its intended purpose and must put the owner on notice. It's important to understand that "adverse" doesn't mean combative or aggressive. It means that the squatter's claim to the property is adverse to the interest of the owner. Kenneth Robinson executed this legal strategy with text book perfection. On June 17, 2011, Robinson filed an Affidavit of Adverse Possession in Denton County, Texas. It cost him $16 to take possession of a $300,000 home in the upscale neighborhood of Waterford Drive in Flower Mound, Texas. His neighbors also knew he was in adverse possession, and they weren't happy about it. They called the police and demanded Robinson be arrested for stealing the house. But there is no such crime. The police can't even prove that Robinson has trespassed on the property. According to Robinson, he was in lawful possession of a key which he used to gain entry and is not guilty of trespassing. Once inside, he decided to claim the house as his own. Until the owner comes forward, Robinson hasn't committed a crime under these facts.


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Robinson is using the property in the manner for which it was designed--as a single-family dwelling. He had the locks changed. He lives there. Even though he has no running water or electricity, he returns to the sparsely furnished home each evening after work. He has replaced the for-sale sign with no trespassing signs, and lists the home as his address.


In Texas, the law requires the adverse possessor be in continuous and exclusive possession for three years if they have claimed possession under "color of title." As long as the adverse possessor believes they have some sort of document which gives them title (legal or not), the requirement is satisfied. If they don't have color of title, but are just laying claim to abandoned real estate, the statute of limitations runs for 25 years. If the owner doesn't object to Robinson's presence, in as little as three years, the $300,000 property will be Robinson's.


So, why doesn't the owner step up and put a stop to this? Hang on, we're about to feel one of those banking tremors. As far as anyone knows, there is no owner other than Robinson. Before the cave-in, before the ivory towers of the elite crumbled, banks were selling mortgages to bundlers who in turn used those mortgages as assets in order to take huge risks in the securities market. In their rush to raise collateral, bankers and traders made mistakes-billions of dollars worth of mistakes. It seems that paperwork for hundreds of thousands of properties has been lost. There are missing deeds, missing contracts, missing financial forms, improperly signed loans, and in thousands of cases, all of the mortgage documents are gone. This is a problem because The Statute of Limitations for Ejectment allows a foreclosing mortgage lender to eject an unwanted tenant or occupant only if they provide the original loan documents signed by the buyer and the original mortgage lender. Insiders in the banking industry have began to publicly worry that there are so many homes with no readily discernable owner due to banking errors that banks stand to lose even more in 2012 as more squatters claim ownership of mismanaged properties. States like Texas, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Florida and Washington are particularly vulnerable to this tidal wave of savvy squatters who were untouched when it all came tumbling down.


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Urban areas aren't the only ones ripe for squatting. Remember all those McMansions built on acres of prime farmland? Well, that land is being claimed by adjoining farmers using the doctrine of adverse possession. In fact, it's gotten so bad in the rural areas of Northern California that the legislature has had to step in. In California, the majority of adverse possession cases involve farm land. Traditionally, someone could possess the property for five years, make a lump-sum payment of back taxes for those years, and gain title. The new law requires the adverse possessor to pay taxes annually during the time of adverse possession. The purpose is to give landowners notice that they are in danger of losing title to their land. If the landowner starts asking questions when they don't receive a tax bill, they have a better chance of discovering the squatter.


Experts claim that the financial crisis which caused the housing market to crash will be over in two years, tops. But there's a rumbling from deep within the belly of Wall Street among real estate professionals that the mismanagement could cause another collapse in the housing market just as it starts to recover. The mismanagement is so prevalent and so complex that real estate professionals worry it could take a decade or more to sort it all out. In the meantime, billions of dollars in real estate assets remain unaccounted for and at risk for adverse possession. Squatters could force the whole heap out of slow motion into a real time freefall. This is the worry of the global financial industry. The breadth of this is as wide as the horizon. There is no end in sight.


The financial system is further strained by bank closures. From 2003-2007, 11 banks were taken over by the FDIC. Compare that with the 322 banks that closed from 2008 through mid-August 2011. What if the bank that has gone under sold its mortgages to a broker dealing in mortgage-backed securities who traded the mortgage to a foreign company before going broke in 2008 when the ground began to shake and shift? The required paperwork could be anywhere on the planet. Industry insiders are beginning to worry that hundreds of thousands of foreclosed homes owned by defunct banks with global accounts add up to billions of dollars in potential losses for banks and government. Do you hear that creaking? It's the system straining under the weight of global debt. If the banks give way, the stalled slide will quickly pick up speed. When the tremors finally stop and the financial market finally reaches the inevitable bottom, it's squatters like Robinson who could reap the rewards. Unless....


Congress may have to step in and help prevent billions in economic losses. While not exactly providing a bail out, Congress could pass federal legislation that protects banks against adverse possession claims from squatters. The irony here is thick. No one stepped in to stop banks from taking advantage of consumers during the housing bonanza. Just the opposite happened. Legislation was passed making it easier to be reckless with other people's money. But when the banks, which are far too big to fail, but not too big to blunder, have to face the foreseeable consequences of their malfeasance, someone wants to protect them. Policy experts worry that absent some national legislation, strategic defaults and foreclosure rates might never return to pre-recession rates. The number of squatters has been estimated to be in the millions. With so many people opting out of paying mortgages and becoming squatters, policy makers worry that the already thin fabric of our social values will be stretched beyond repair. If the value of squatting becomes morally and socially equivalent to the actual ownership, the economy will surely crumble.


Even though it's hard to find any empathy at all for the financial industry, it's not hard to find a way through this. We just have to check our moral compass to know that stealing is stealing, no matter who does it. It's easy to declare that the same loopholes that allowed corporations to bring us to the brink of financial ruin should remain in place, so the wheelers and dealers can get a taste of their own medicine. Nonetheless, adverse possession laws could set off a tremor that would rock the global economy, and there is no harm in requiring people not to steal, even under color of law. The entire system has to be reinforced with strong values if we have any hope at all of avoiding a complete collapse.


BY JERRI COOK


COUNTRYSIDE STAFF

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Hello, I'm John Q Doe


Thanks for taking the time to read a little about me, my work,  my inspiration. I'm a tattoo artist by trade. Just taking some time off from the rat race to clear up some legal problems I had with "the man".


I draw inspiration from happenings in the news, social strife, and things that go bump in the night. If my client can imagine it, I can put it on 'em.


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