A local state attorney’s office has launched an investigation after two men took over a Maryland home in the process of being closed on buy its new owners.
The couple, who wants to remain unidentified, is excepted to close on the home this Thursday, but they are now considering backing out because it has been occupied by alleged squatters.
Melea King, the real estate agent managing the sale of the five-bedroom house in Clinton, Maryland, said her clients paid all the required down payments and fees and signed a contract with the bank last Thursday. The wife drove to the home hoping to get some measurements for renovations and was surprised to see a U-Haul truck in the driveway.
“She immediately called me and I called the listing agent who ensured us that the bank had the paperwork and everything was finalized,” King told Atlanta Black Star.
King said her client called Prince George’s County police, but one of the men showed the officer a rental lease. The police acknowledged the lease did not appear authentic and asked the men to leave. They refused and the officer said it was a civil dispute.
The men put up a “No Trespassing” sign the next day, King said.
King argued that it could take months for the legal process to be complete, and local courts are already facing about a four-month backlog. Moreover, the realtor thinks the cops could have done more because the men were still moving in their belongings.
Prince George’s County State Attorney Aisha Braveboy says she will investigate to determine if something criminal has occurred.
“They can file a criminal complaint, which is what I suggest because then we will conduct a criminal investigation along with the police department to determine whether or not crimes have been committed. If they have been committed, then we will pursue court action to provide the owner with the appropriate remedy,” Braveboy told WUSA9.
Braveboy said a man in the home claims to also be a victim in the dispute. Investigators went to the address listed on the lease and found an office with black paper on the windows. No one answered the doors, Braveboy said. She told WUSA9 that criminal charges could come for multiple parties. The execution of a fraudulent lease could lead to up to 15 years in prison.
“The renter will also have a criminal process that they can avail themselves of if they believe that they’ve been duped or defrauded into believing that they have the right to lease a property,” she said. “You cannot lease property that does not belong to you.”
King said she found the foreclosed home, worth about $500,000, for her client on MLS.com. The couple won a bid on the home for $375,000 and are expected to dish out more dollars for repairs and renovations.
“There’s a water heater in there that could explode any day, so I am not sure how someone is actually living in there,” King told Atlanta Black Star.
King said the lease has the previous owner’s name listed as the landlord, but US Bank previously took possession of the house, so it is invalid.
The realtor said her client first noticed something was awry three days before the U-Haul confrontation when a lockbox with the key to the house went missing. She called the listing agent, who assumed that it was removed by someone from the bank. The lockbox requires a code that only real estate agents can acquire, King said.
King said her clients are anxious and concerned about what could happen to the home that they spent months working to finally make theirs. The bank has offered to stop the sale with no penalty, but King hopes the men would have “some compassion” and “move out.”
“Buying a home is one of the most expensive purchases you can make. We just want them out of there, and they have to deal with their consequences later,” King told Atlanta Black Star.
“They just need to have respect for other people’s belongings. You said you’re renting and it is not your property, and you just need to get out of there,” King said of the suspected squatters.
King’s clients are not the only ones who have fallen victim to squatting in the Maryland area. A Greenbelt woman sent a video to FOX 5 in April of a strange man and woman sleeping in her apartment after she returned home from vacation. The pair removed all of her belongings and furniture except her bed.
“He details how he loved my bed so much. And I’m like who are you? And he says my name,” the woman recalled. “He’s like you didn’t pay your rent. I’m like what are you talking about? I paid my rent.”
The woman told FOX 5 the man tackled her to stop her from calling the police and then he walked her through the various ways someone could enter her house. The apartment complex allowed the woman to break her lease, but she lost about $50,000 worth of personal belongings.
Las Vegas mother and daughter Donna Edmonds and Jen Larsen’s new home was trashed by squatters after they filed eviction papers. Larsen and Edmonds purchased the home in March 2022, and another woman moved into the home within a week of the new owners’ move-in date.
“Full of trash, full of clothes, just garbage everywhere… There is rotten food everywhere, dirty diapers, poopy diapers, there is feces, urine all over the house,” Larsen told KVVU-TV during a walkthrough.
A woman who said she signed a lease for Danielle Cruz’s newly renovated home that she planned to put up for sale in June voluntarily moved out of the home in September, leaving Cruz with minimal damage and a feeling of relief.
According to McKenna & Vane Property Management, a Maryland homeowner must file a wrongful detainer complaint with a county district court to remove a squatter. If the court rules in the owner’s favor, the county sheriff would then execute the order.
King said the state needs to reform laws to better protect property owners. However, in the meantime, she said homeowners and realtors should consider putting up “No Trespassing” signs on properties up for sale.
McKenna & Vane recommends keeping the vacant properties secure and hiring a property manager to monitor them regularly.
Chicago real estate attorney Mo Dadkhah told ABC 7 that homeowners can also offer squatters cash to move out.
“And although it’s a difficult pill to swallow to give money to somebody who is unlawfully in your property and refusing to leave, you have to think that $1,000 or $2,000, or whatever that number is that makes them leave, is less expensive in the long run,” Dadkhah said.