WEST RIDGE — A woman was evicted from a West Ridge home last week after police determined she had rented it from a man who didn't own it and had no legal right to lease it, authorities said.
The foreclosed home in the 6600 block of North Richmond Street was supposed to be vacant. But early this month, the real estate firm trying to sell it discovered the woman living there — and the home's "For Sale" sign tossed in the backyard, police said.
News that she had rented from someone who didn't own the home came as a surprise to the 48-year-old renter, who told police she plunked down $1,500 to rent the three-bedroom, three-bathroom Georgian, police said.
“I feel bad for her, I don’t know what the situation is, honestly,” said Helen Oliveri, the Realtor trying to sell the home. “I know that I have it for sale. It’s vacant. We check on it every week, and we got a phone call about someone moving into the property. The police were inevitably called, and unfortunately, they told her if she didn’t move out, she was criminally trespassing.”
According to a police report, on Jan. 6 an agent from Oliveri's real estate firm went to check on the property and called police after finding the "For Sale" sign was gone.
When he knocked on the door, the woman answered the door and said she lived there, the agent told police.
“We had been there about a week before, and it was vacant,” said Oliveri, the firm’s principal agent. “So it was a very recent thing."
The renter told officers she had a lease agreement and other documents for the home, which the real estate site Zillow estimates is worth $278,000. She supplied the agent and officers with the documents she said were given to her by the building's purported owner.
The real estate agent countered by giving officers the deed to the property in Fannie Mae’s name and said there was no agreement to rent the home. Police determined the woman's documents were illegitimate, according to the report.
Police officers called the man who rented the house to the woman — and he told them he was claiming possession under a legal theory of adverse possession," which gave him the right to rent it out, police said.
But the man had not owned the home at the time it went into foreclosure, and had no claim to it, said Andrew Wilson, a spokesman for Fannie Mae.
"It does not appear he was the previous mortgage holder on the loan that was foreclosed on, and that would mean he doesn’t have any rights to the property as the previous mortgage holder," said Wilson. "I don’t know if there was any kind of involvement on the property prior to that.”
"Adverse possession" is a form of so-called "squatter's rights," in which people claim common law gives them the right to own vacant property after a certain amount of time has passed.
But police weren't buying it.
Officers, talking to the supposed owner by phone, told him he had turned the renter into a criminal trespasser, and she could face charges if she didn't pack up and leave. They also asked that he show up and pay back the $1,500 she gave him, police said.
He refused, however, and hung up, police said.
Police now are investigating the case, and the man could face charges.
The woman, after being told she had been the victim of an apparent fraud, was escorted off the property by officers. She wasn't charged with a crime, police said.
The house’s plumbing — which was winterized to protect the pipes — had been tampered with and damaged, according to Fannie Mae. The woman living there told officers she had called in a plumber after she had been unable to get water from any of the faucets, police said.
“Somebody knew they were doing something wrong here because the property was legitimately winterized,” said Oliveri. “So there was no running water in the place, but they somehow connected it. They jobbed the piping, jobbed around the winterization, and somehow checked into the water line. I don’t know what they did, but it’s a mess and it’s going to require some work to restore it back to its original condition on Fannie Mae’s behalf.”
In addition to the plumbing issues, police noted numerous holes in the ceilings and damage to an entry door and said door locks had been changed. The real estate agency has since changed them.
Fannie Mae said it did not have a damage estimate. While the house has been taken off the market, Fannie Mae plans to put it back up for sale soon.
“This is one of the reasons we have our brokers or real estate agents regularly inspect and visit the properties that we own,” said Wilson. “It’s also one of the reasons why we work to try and sell these properties as quickly as we can.”
Oliveri said the incident is a first time she's seen someone lease out a home that wasn't his to rent.
“I’m just baffled by all of this,” said Oliveri. “I’ve sold between 1,500 and 2,000 homes in my career, and we’ve never had this happen. We’ve never had someone move into a vacant property and claim they had rented it.”
The man who rented out the house did not return calls seeking comment.
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