AUSTIN (KXAN) - For months, Norvell Grimes was living in a Northeast Austin home that he laid claim to, but had not legally purchased. For much of that time, local authorities said they powerless to run him out of that house and several others in Central Texas that he had taken over as a latter-day squatter.
But that changed after a KXAN News investigation into Grimes' claim that he could gain ownership of foreclosed homes under a little-used real estate rule called "adverse possession."
Since KXAN broke the story in February, Grimes was arrested by Travis County constables at one of the homes he occupies in Austin. He was held in the Travis County Jail on several active warrants, issued out of Ohio, but will also face burglary charges here in Austin.
Ten days after his arrest, the former Michigan was extradited to Ohio where charges against him include 16 counts of forgery, theft, possession of a criminal instrument, engaging in a pattern of criminal activity and a probation violation.
"They had their guns out and they (were) ready," said Realtor Cary Beach, who was trying to sell one of the homes that Grimes had occupied and saw his arrest.
A new law-enforcement challenge
The whole concept of someone taking over a residential property without purchasing or leasing it caught local law enforcement flat-footed. Detective Billy Petty, who is part of a property crimes task force, said he had never heard of this type of action.
The home in question was across the street from LBJ High School, on Rio Pass. Grimes and several other people, including children, were living there.
Beach showed KXAN inside the home. There were holes in the walls, condom wrappers, medical bills, and food stamp receipts everywhere. Dog feces still covered the floor, and the filth and stench were nearly unbearable.
"There was dog feces all over the place," said Beach, who had tried for months to sell the property and said he lost lost hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars because of the situation. "We'll have a crew come in here and clean it now," said Beach.
According to KXAN's investigation in February, Grimes had taken over area properties by filing what's called a UCC Financing Statement with the Travis County Clerk's Office. The document is basically something a contractor would file if he was not paid for work he did on a home.
That paperwork put Grimes' name along with the home's address on a document that is stamped by the county, which could add credibility to his claim of ownership.
By filling out the county paperwork and paying a nominal fee, Grimes apparently invoked the doctrine of "adverse possession," a legal term that can allow someone to assume control of a parcel of real estate without paying for it.
Similar problems elsewhere in Texas
Several instances of adverse possession have been reported in Texas in recent months, including one in the Fort Worth suburb of Mansfield and another in Denton County north of Dallas. In the Denton County case, the squatter even wrote a book and launched a website explaining how he came to own a foreclosed home worth $340,000 by filing a $16 claim with his local county.
The man was later evicted.
KXAN has made several attempts to speak with Grimes. He declined them all, but did send an email asking that his constitutional rights not be violated.
Meanwhile, local law enforcement officials are continuing their investigation and their pursuit of burglary charges related to the several area properties that Grimes is accused of taking over. Given that he faces more serious charges in Ohio, it remains unclear when those charges might be filed.
But the whole matter has made local authorities more familiar with the concept of squatters taking over homes, which in theory could happen in any neighborhood that contain foreclosed properties.
"It's something we do know how to deal with now," said Detective Petty. "We think that we have a viable framework in place for dealing with this kind of issue if we're faced with it again."
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