Kenneth Robinson of Texas used an obscure law known as adverse possession to get the rights to a $340,000 home in an upscale Dallas suburb for just $16.
Bank of America wants possession after foreclosing on the home last month, and a judge on Monday gave Robinson until Feb. 13 to appeal or move out. Rather than wait to be evicted, Robinson slipped out before sunrise Monday, skipped a morning court hearing and refused to say where he was moving next.
“It’s been a huge learning experience,” he said in a phone call with reporters.
On his website, Robinson describes himself as a savvy investor who’s part of a “paradigm shift” in which people have taken over abandoned homes. In his “adverse possession” claim filed in court last June, he promised to pay taxes and homeowners’ association fees while living in the house. He kept the lawn outside mowed, and the front clean.
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Adverse possession statutes can be found in most states, said Brian C. Rider, a real estate lawyer and professor at the University of Texas. Someone who has openly taken charge of abandoned land for an extended period of time — using a driveway on a neighbor’s property, for example — could try to claim that land later, he said.
But it takes a long time to establish those rights, typically 10 years in Texas. Until then, anyone trying to stake claim to a piece of property owned by someone else is just a squatter, Rider said.
Arlington, Texas real estate attorney Grey Pierson said the law is often used to resolve disputes between homeowners over driveways, lawns or other property with shared boundaries — not to take someone’s house.
It’s not clear how long the home in Flower Mound was empty before Robinson moved in. Its last owner, William Ferguson, bought the house for $332,000 in 2005 and appeared to run into trouble making payments about three years later, according to county records. Ferguson did not have a listed phone number, and the records don’t indicate where he moved.