by Kenneth Cullivan AKA The Free Spirit
It never fails to amaze me how far politicians will go to make life more difficult on the poor and working class in this country, especially in the great State of Texas, where being poor is slowly but surely being legislated into a criminal offense. Recently changes were made to the state law concerning adverse possession. Adverse possession is defined by the previous laws of title and property possession as follows:
“Some one who takes possession of (and improves) a portion of otherwise neglected Real Estate owned by another individual may acquire valid title to this portion.”
For example someone who publicly inhabits a foreclosed house for a certain period of time, improves the property, and pays taxes may claim legal residence. Adverse possession, also known as squatter’s rights, allowed someone who didn’t have a lot of money to take over an otherwise abandoned home that would have fallen into disrepair, and make improvements to the property, as well as pay property taxes on a home that might just sit there for years without adding anything to the county’s tax base at all. All of which helped maintain stable property values in the areas where these homes were located. Everybody wins right?, Wrong.
Enter Senator Jane Nelson, a Republican from Flower Mound, Texas (where ever the hell that is), who introduced House Bill 947 which passed unanimously without debate in the State’s local and consent calendar. The Bill gives prosecutors the right to charge anyone staking a claim for adverse possession with burglary. In order to file a claim for adverse possession an individual was required to file an affidavit and pay a fee of $16 to the county in which the claim was filed.
Although applicants claimed that they were not in violation of the law because Texas State Civil laws allow them to take over abandoned property through adverse possession as long as they agree to maintain the property and pay taxes on it. The law was retroactive, allowing prosecutors to seek criminal judgements against individuals who had followed proper legal procedures to file their claims.
Sen. Nelson, chairwoman of the Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee admitted that she filed the bill in response to reports of individuals squatting in foreclosed or abandoned homes and then trying to acquire title through adverse possession claims. All of which was perfectly legal at the time.
Assistant Tarrant County District Attorney David Lobbinger has obtained around 8 or 9 convictions in adverse possession claims last year alone.
A burglary conviction can result in a maximum of twenty years in prison. Theft of property valued over $200,000 could result in a life sentence, Lobbinger warned.
But these squatters weren’t burglarizing anyone and they didn’t steal anything. David Cooper of De Soto, Texas was sentenced to 90 days in jail, a $10,000 fine and 10 years probation for first degree theft and burglary.
One of the most prominent reasons the bill passed unanimously is that very few people were aware that the law was being introduced and were, therefore, unable to offer any opposition to it. Senator Nelson claimed that many of the homes in question were originally owned by ill, or disabled individuals, who were seeking medical treatment in other cities or states.
Since the public was not made aware that Senator Nelson was introducing the bill on the Senate floor, no one was available to offer any kind of organized argument on behalf of those who had filed adverse possession claims.
Americans need to be made aware of the way politicians like Senator Jane Nelson are abusing the legislative powers of The State and Federal government entities, in such a way that they are literally making it legally acceptable to criminally prosecute law abiding citizens, who are just trying to improve their lives and their communities, not to mention adding to the county property tax base, by paying taxes, and making improvements on homes that would otherwise become unsightly eyesores and, as such cause a devaluation of the property values in the areas in which they are located.
Last month I suggested a march on Washington to make the general public aware of travesties like this, innocent people being charged with felony crimes for following legal procedures. It is high time we made a stand and made our voices heard. Let’s join hands, make a stand and spread the news across the land.
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