Judge rules against man who wanted to claim Texas McMansion through adverse possession

Last July, I wrote about a Texas man who claimed he could occupy an abandoned McMansion and then claim possession of the home after a certain amount of time. His “adverse possession” case has moved forward as a judge ruled that the bank can indeed remove him from the home:

Anyone who was rooting for the man who used Texas’ adverse possession law to snag a McMansion for only $16 will be bummed to hear that he’ll be forced to leave the home after Bank of America claimed ownership of it. Drat!

Kenneth made waves in Flower Mound, Texas in July when he claimed the right to take over a $340,000 home in suburban Dallas, after filing a simple document and paying $16 to the city. He cited a law which said he could legally take possession of the house after living there for three years. His neighbors grumbled while he watered the lawn and paid utility bills, and now a judge says he has to move by Valentine’s Day.

The Associated Press says Bank of America can boot Kenneth, as they hold the lien on the house. Foreclosure was completed last month, says BOA, and now it’s time for Kenneth to vacate the premises…

“I’m just thankful for Flower Mound and Denton County for following the proper lawful procedures,” [Kenneth] said. “I went in doing this strictly by following a lawful process.” And now that the process has played itself out, he says, “I’m neither happy nor disappointed.”

I would venture to guess that Bank of America and some other people paid special attention to this case in order to forestall efforts by others who might be interested in using adverse possession to claim homes.

It would be helpful to have more information here:

1. Are the neighbors now happy that the home has officially gone through foreclosure? Did Kenneth make peace with any of the neighbors?

2. Does Bank of America have a quick timetable for moving this house to the market and selling it or will it be another home that languishes while the bank decides whether to accept offers?

3. Has Flower Mound changed its rules yet, like perhaps upped the $16 application fee, in order to avoid cases and attention like this in the future?

4. Where will Kenneth live next?

When the South’s top-ranked community for quality of life is full of McMansions

I think there is some annoyance in this article that On Numbers named West University Place that top suburb in the South for quality of life. How do I know? The reference to McMansions is a hint…

What makes a suburb an awesome suburb? If you said McMansions, refreshing homogeneity and a proximity to a Chili’s restaurant, then have we got a suburb for you.

Houston’s ritziest city-within-a-city, West University Place, was named the ‘burb with the best quality of life in the South by On Numbers.

On Numbers, a Business Journals publication, looked at more than 1,100 cities, towns, villages, municipalities and otherwise census-designated places with populations greater than 10,000 from Maryland to Texas, and graded them on 20 criteria, including household income, poverty rate, length of commute, percentage of professional workers, the percentage of homes that were built after 1990, and the rate of adults that have advanced degrees.

I don’t know if West University Place has a lot of McMansions but this comment seems fairly pointed. The McMansions are tied to bland suburbia, full of homogeneity (race? social class? attitudes and beliefs?) and chain restaurants.

For the record, On Numbers argues that they chose this community because of its high education levels:

Many streets in the Houston suburb are named after colleges, authors or poets. Rice University is located nearby. And 85 percent of West University Place’s adults hold bachelor’s degrees, the highest percentage in any Southern community.

This strong educational background is a key reason why West University Place ranks No. 1 in On Numbers’ quality-of-life standings for the Southern United States.

This is a wealthy community – a median household income of just over $180k and a median house value of over $660k – so it makes sense that it has a high quality-of-life.

The negative comment does raise some questions about quality-of-life measures. Should it include something like community atmosphere or history? Should a community be knocked down the list if it full of mass culture? Can you pick up on something like this from 20 statistics? Without a visit to the community, it would be hard. Additionally, the ratings privilege a more recent housing stock (homes built since 1990) and big houses (percent with 9+ rooms). New does not necessarily equal quality.

In order to put rankings like these together, you have to have a certain idea about what Americans want in their communities.

Looking for sidewalks in Tyler, Texas

A “news app developer” who moved to Tyler, Texas has found that it is difficult to walk around the community due to a lack of sidewalks and development that revolves around the automobile:

Several people insisted I couldn’t live without a car in Tyler–and they were absolutely right. When I landed at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport I hadn’t driven a car in four months. Since I landed, I’ve driven nearly every day. (Mostly ferrying my son to school and various activities.)

I very carefully selected the house I’m renting–an eccentric, hundred-year-old single-story in the Charnwood neighborhood–so that I can get to as many things as possible without driving. It’s within a mile of:

  • 2 parks (Children’s Park and Bergfield Park)
  • 2 coffee shops (Brady’s Speciality Coffee and Downtown Coffee Lounge)
  • 2 hospitals (Trinity Mother Frances and East Texas Medical Center)
  • 1 bookstore (Fireside Books)
  • 3 bus lines (the red, green and blue)
  • Tyler Public Library

Interestingly, it seems like the city knows about the problem. But addressing the issue won’t necessarily be easy:

Now that I’ve been out and walked the streets of Tyler, I have to say I think the plans laid out in Tyler 21 are impressively on-target. Tyler needs to build a lot more sidewalks. However, I also foresee a few challenges that just building more sidewalks won’t solve:

  • Tyler’s downtown is a food desert. It is impossible to live within walking distance of a grocery store. Getting a green market as a downtown anchor should be a very high priority.
  • The lack of pedestrian signals makes travel on foot unsafe. Front and Broadway have some of the longest continuous sidewalks in the city, but crossing either one on foot is nearly impossible. (The tunnel under Broadway at Hogg Middle School is a notable exception.)
  • Too many bus stops lack shelters. Nobody wants to stand on the corner and look lost. If there isn’t a shelter, there effectively isn’t a bus stop.

This sounds like the sort of place James Howard Kunstler would love to visit so that he could bemoan its unfriendliness toward pedestrians. As this writer points out, Tyler would have to undergo some major changes to make it truly walkable. The infrastructure of sidewalks needs to be there but there also need to be places for people to want to walk to. Building the sidewalks doesn’t necessarily lead to a street culture. Can a regional center like this effectively revive itself through building sidewalks and encouraging businesses and residents to take advantage of these new public spaces?

Second, isn’t the bigger issue here who is going to pay for all of this? Perhaps Tyler has some money set aside for this but this could be expensive and particularly in an era of economic crisis, some would argue that the money could be spent elsewhere. (To be fair, some people could always argue that the money could be spent on something more necessary than sidewalks.)

I don’t know much about Tyler, Texas but wouldn’t this plan also involve convincing people to move back into the denser parts of the city rather than living on the fringes in typical suburban neighborhoods? What would be the selling point?

On the whole, it sounds like there is a lot of work to be done.

A unique way to acquire a McMansion: “adverse posession”

Amidst many foreclosures across the country, one Texas man believes he has found a way to acquire a suburban McMansion for $16. The move involves invoking “adverse possession” to take possession of the $300,000 home:

“This is not a normal process, but it is not a process that is not known,” he said. “It’s just not known to everybody.”

He says an online form he printed out and filed at the Denton County courthouse for $16 gave him rights to the house. The paper says the house was abandoned and he’s claiming ownership…

But, Robinson said just by setting up camp in the living room, Texas law gives him exclusive negotiating rights with the original owner. If the owner wants him out, he would have to pay off his massive mortgage debt and the bank would have to file a complicated lawsuit.

Robinson believes because of the cost, neither is likely. The law says if he stays in the house, after three years he can ask the court for the title.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out as it would require someone, the true owner, the bank holding the mortgage, or the government, to move this guy out. It is funny that the neighbors seem to be the ones leading the charge against this guy: are they simply jealous that he was able to acquire a home for this little money?

But perhaps this story hints at a positive side effect of the foreclosure crisis: states and other governmental bodies get a chance to review all sorts of laws regarding mortgages, foreclosures, and housing possession.

Texas population trends, the “demographic revolution,” and comparing Chicago and Houston

Census data regarding Texas has been released and there are several demographic changes underway:

1. Texas is growing, particularly compared to some other areas of the country:

The first results of the 2010 Census were released in December, showing that Texas’ population grew more than twice as fast as that of the nation as a whole, to 25.1 million.

As a result, the Lone Star State will gain four additional congressional seats, more than any other state.

2. The cities are growing as our minority populations:

Texas’ largest cities grew larger and more diverse, as did many suburban counties, part of what Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg calls “this accelerating demographic revolution.”

“The number of Anglos is falling more rapidly than one would expect, and the number of Latinos is rising more rapidly,” Klineberg said.

Latinos accounted for 35.3 percent of the total [population growth in Houston] — 41 percent in Harris County alone — while the number of Anglos dropped to 39.7 percent.

African-Americans made up 17.3 percent of the metro area’s population, while Asians made up 7 percent…

Statewide, the number of Anglos grew by just 4 percent, according to Rice sociologist Steve Murdock, a former director of the Census Bureau.

The number of Hispanics, African-Americans and Asians grew exponentially more rapidly.

“I don’t think most of us expected the absolute amount of Anglo growth would be so low,” Murdock said.

3. Shedding light on my question from a few days ago about what Chicago’s population drop looks like compared to Houston’s growth or loss, here is the answer:

The city of Houston’s population grew to 2.1 million, up 7.5 percent over the past decade, and the metropolitan area — which now encompasses a 10-county area — surged to 5,946,800 people. The area’s incorporated cities are included in the count.

Chicago’s population dropped by 7 percent, but it remained well ahead of Houston at 2.7 million and No. 3 in the national rankings.

4. This will affect what Texas suburbs look like in the coming years:

And if the lessons of the 2010 Census are any indicator, the new residents will be a diverse lot.

“The idea of predominantly white suburbs” no longer holds true, Murdock said.

Texas’ growth has some similarities and differences compared to the rest of the country. The main difference is the overall population growth. The similarities are that the population growth is being driven by immigrant and minority populations and the urban areas, particularly the suburbs, are becoming more diverse.