MANSFIELD — At the corner of St. Mark and St. Matthew drives in an upscale Mansfield neighborhood, the devil's in the real estate details.
The owner lives in another country. When his agents came to list the vacant home for sale, a man surprised them at the door.
"A gentleman cracked the door about that wide," said agent Sue Sistrunk. "He asked who I was. I told him I was the Realtor, and I had come to put the house on the market. He said, 'I live in the house now.'"
Sistrunk tried to have him evicted.
"The only way he could have gotten into the house was to break in," she said.
To her surprise, the man came to court with a lawyer and blocked the eviction.
He produced a claim called "adverse possession" that had been notarized and filed with the Tarrant County Clerk. It's based on a Texas law from the 1800s designed to settle homesteader disputes.
"Adverse possession" means an actual and visible appropriation of real property, commenced and continued under a claim of right that is inconsistent with and is hostile to the claim of another person. — Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code, Title 2, Subtitle B, Chapter 16, Sec. 16.021
For a $16 filing fee, a man named Paul Roper settled into the quarter-million dollar house back in August. He even posted "no trespassing" signs.
It happened one month after we reported on another man, Kenneth Robinson, who did the same thing at a luxury home in Flower Mound.
"At this point, because I possess it, I am the owner," Robinson told News 8.
Claims of adverse possession are suddenly spiking. At our request, the Tarrant County Clerk checked the files and found 20 cases last month alone.
No one answered when we visited the house on St. Mark Drive, but while we were there, someone drove by and took our picture.
The car was registered to an address a few miles away, where a man came out to greet us. He introduced himself as Minister Tony Brown. He said he knows about adverse possession, but doesn't use it.
"We help homeless veterans get a place to live," Brown said. "I don't know anything about [the house on] St. Mark."
Constables say utilities at the home on St. Mark Drive are registered to American Vet Services. Brown told News 8 he "originated American Vet Services."
Records show Brown listed his non-profit with the Texas Secretary of State a few weeks before power was turned on.
"I doubt if it was turned on in the name of my organization, and I certainly didn't give permission to do so," he said.
Additionally, he said he did not know Paul Roper, the man who moved into the vacant home.
Records show Brown also registered Believers in Faith International Ministries on Aug. 11. That filing came one day after a woman listing herself as a minister also filed adverse possession on the home on St. Mark Drive.
"I want the world to know what's going on," said Realtor Sue Sistrunk. "That if you leave your home for a few months, someone can move into it and take it and you've got to spend money to get it back."
She's filed an appeal to get roper evicted.
Tarrant County constables posted "no trespassing" signs on the house. They say they'll arrest the squatter if he returns.
"It's pretty brazen for someone to just go take over somebody's house and claim it as their own," said Constable Clint Burgess.
Authorities are now trying to determine whether the case is part of an organized attempt to take control of vacant homes through adverse possession.