AUSTIN (KXAN) - Real estate agent Charlotte Aceituno thought the foreclosed home in Pflugerville she was listing was vacant and ready to be shown to potential buyers.
Instead, she found that not only was the property occupied, signs warning would-be trespassers were posted and the person living there was threatening to defend it "by any means necessary."
It turns out that the person making claim had never purchased it. In fact, Aceituno says he has a criminal record and broke the back door to get inside.
"Complete disbelief," said Aceituno. "Disbelief that someone would have the audacity to break into someone else's home and just take it over and claim it as their own."
Even harder to believe is that local law enforcement agencies apparently cannot force the man out, and similar situations have been reported at several other locations in this area, and across Texas.
And that makes every vacant house a potential target.
The modern-day squatter in this case is one-time Michigan resident Norvelle Grimes. He has taken over the Pflugerville property and at least two others in the area 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.
But the paperwork does put Grimes' name and the home's address on a document that is stamped by the county. And that lends something of an official to his claim of ownership.
By filling out the county paperwork and paying a nominal fee, Grimes is apparently invoking 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.
But real estate professionals told KXAN that the doctrine does not apply in the local cases where Grimes has taken over local properties. They said that the properties are legally owned by the banks that foreclosed on them.
There is also a statute requirement to prove what's called "hostile possession" of the home for up to 25 years.
Grimes, for whom records show served time in Michigan for drug charges, has not responded to KXAN's requests for interviews. He was not at the home of the half-million-dollar foreclosed home on Lake Austin to which he has also laid claim.
Local law enforcement agencies are aware of Grimes' activities. The Austin Police Department Burglary Unit is looking into the matter, and the Travis County Sheriff's Office has opened a "white-collar crimes" case.
But no formal action has taken place. Police tell KXAN because it is a first-of-its-kind case in Austin, they are proceeding carefully, but forcefully.
"It's progressing," said APD Sgt. Jeff Crawford. "I know we made some contact with some folks recently that he's speaking with so we're kind of starting to get some of the pieces of the puzzle put together."
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 evicted earlier this month .
Meanwhile, real estate agent Cary Beach said Grimes has taken over a foreclosed home near LBJ High School in Austin by breaking the lock-box on the door, and has rented it out.
"He's collecting money from somebody," Beach said.
"The police tell me it's a civil matter," he added. "And that bewilders me because I can't understand how someone can break and enter and trespass on a property, hang a sign that says "private property" and say 'its mine.'"
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