Squatters Seize Homes

Squatters target The Heights, moving into vacant homes and claiming ownership

Squatters target The Heights, moving into vacant homes to claim them

440 17th St. in the Houston Heights squatters October 2013
A Heights bungalow on the 400 block of W. 17th St. has become the target of squatters. Google Maps
No Trespassing Violators will be prosecuted sign on fence
A group of people are using an obscure-but-legitimate legal process to gain possession of more than 60 Houston homes.(File photo) Pauldorpat.com
440 17th St. in the Houston Heights squatters October 2013
No Trespassing Violators will be prosecuted sign on fence

A ring of squatters has been busy across the Houston in recent months, filing mountains of county paperwork in an effort to gain legal control dozens of area properties.

KPRC Ch.2 uncovered the wily group after reporting on a pair of women who moved into a vacant Heights home just blocks from the 19th Street shopping district.

Dorothy Lowe owned the small 1915 bungalow on W. 17th Street for decades before her death at age 88 in September 2010. Lowe was long estranged from her family, and her home sat empty for more than two years with Lowe's turquoise Ford Focus parked in the carport.

But earlier this summer, neighbors began spotted two women coming and going from the home on a regular basis. Soon enough, the locks were changed and the car disappeared for good.

"They're trying to take control of property that doesn't belong to them." 

KPRC's Jennifer Bauer, who discovered that the women filed a motion to take ownership of the property, managed to enter the house with a cameraman to find signs of people living among Lowe's old possessions. 

"They're trying to take control of property that doesn't belong to them," says Harris County Precinct 1 constable Alan Rosen, who is prepared to file criminal charges against the women once Lowe's will is located.

According to the Harris County Appraisal District, the home is valued at $258,000. Roughly $15,000 in back taxes remain unpaid.

Adverse Possession

The lady schemers are not the only people attempting to secure "adverse possession" — an obscure legal technique similar to "squatter's rights" through which potential owners maintain a property for a period of time and eventually claim legitimate ownership.

The economic downturn and foreclosure crisis has brought about a spike in recent "adverse possession" claims throughout the county and the state. Rarely do cases result in a full transfer of title. 

Area attorney Lisa Mathews tells KPRC she has discovered a local team of people using the law to gain possession of more than 60 Harris County properties. The same lawyer and notary are listed on each filing.

"Adverse possession is there in the statute for a reason, it promotes the use of property," she says. "But it's not there to unfairly steal people's property and that's kind of what I feel like these people are doing."