Tarrant DA steps in to stop squatters

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by JIM DOUGLAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaajdouglas

WFAA

Posted on November 7, 2011 at 8:03 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 8 at 9:17 AM

ARLINGTON — A $400,000 North Arlington home that used to be owned by former Texas Rangers slugger Juan Gonzalez is now the home of a man who claims he legally snagged it for $16.

David Cooper says he simply filed an affidavit for adverse possession when he found the residence was empty.

It's the latest in a string of such cases exposed by News 8, and one of at least 60 such cases filed recently with the Tarrant County Clerk.

"This house was abandoned," Cooper asserted. "It was abandoned."

He said the property was trashed, inside and out. In fact, the homeowners' association has been trying to identify the legal owner, who disappeared and let the property fall into disrepair.

The HOA president said the property is not in foreclosure, and neighbors seemed to know little about the former residents.

Cooper has been fixing it up. But Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon said that doesn't give Cooper the right to file a claim and move in.

"It's kind of a scam that's been going all around," Shannon said, adding that squatters could be committing several crimes.

"We want to send the word that we're serious about doing something about this," Shannon said.

Last month, Minister Tony Brown was charged with burglary after he used adverse possession to claim his Arlington neighbor's house while she was out of town. The owner said he also stole her television sets.

Brown founded Believers in Faith International Ministries. Officials said another of his enterprises, American Vet Services, paid for the utilities at a vacant Mansfield house commandeered by another man through adverse possession.

David Cooper said he doesn't care what the district attorney says — he said he's just following the law.

"It's no fraudulent claim. It's been a law since the 1800s," Cooper said.

Adverse possession is a long-recognized law, but the district attorney says it doesn't protect what squatters are doing.

On Monday, Shannon told the Tarrant County Clerk to stop accepting adverse possession claims.

Ironically, the Dallas County Clerk's office said it just received clearance from the DA last month to start accepting them.

It's not over yet.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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