Thursday, May 9, 2013

California Man Close To Acquiring Marketable Title To Home Through Adverse Possession Claim After Maintaining Continuous Physical Presence On Premises & Paying Taxes For 5+ Years; Heirs Of Dead Owner Of Record Have Not Been Heard From

In Oakland, California, KTVU-TV Channel 2 reports:

  • Imagine moving into a vacant home and owning it without ever paying the mortgage. That's exactly what Steven Decaprio did. He found the ultimate fixer-upper in a 109-year-old, two-story duplex in West Oakland.

    "When I first walked in here, it was basically full of debris, trash and dead animals," said Decaprio.

    The sign on his fence now says, "No Trespassing," but 13 years ago, some might say that's exactly what Decaprio did. He said the front gate was chained when he first found the property.

    Once inside, Decaprio spent years fixing the abandoned home. He installed new drywall, a kitchen, and new floor. But he also started doing something else.

    "Yeah, we paid all the property taxes on the property," said Decaprio.

    So far, Decaprio paid thousands of dollars in property taxes. Alameda County records show Decaprio has continued paying them for the last seven years. According to the Assessor's Office, the owner of record is the Estate of Henry Curry, a man who died in the early '80s.

    But Decaprio says the house was empty long before then and insists the law is now on his side.

    When asked if at any point did anybody contact him to say he was on their property. Decaprio said no. "If you pay the property taxes and occupy the space for five years, you have adverse possession," said Decaprio.

    Adverse possession is an old law, with roots in California dating back to the Gold Rush, where someone can obtain title to a property without paying for it.

    Palo Alto real estate attorney Julia Wei believes Decaprio is the owner of the property and appears to have met key requirements of adverse possession under California law.

    He has paid the property taxes for more than five years. He had a continuous physical presence on the land. And the previous owner has never contacted him about it.

    "He went to the assessor's office and recorded a grant deed. He's added his spouse to the title. He's doing all of the things, short of a court action, to demonstrate he is the owner of the property," Wei said.

    Without that court action, Decaprio won't be able to sell or borrow against this property, now valued around $300,000.

    And he's had trouble getting the county to recognize his ownership. While Decaprio has running water, his house is still not hooked up to the grid. All of his electricity comes from solar panels on the roof.

    Decaprio hasn't always been so successful. He was arrested while trying to occupy another property in Berkeley in 2004. "Once you have a hostile neighbors and a city government working against you, it doesn't matter what the laws say," said Decaprio.

    Once homeless, Decaprio is now preparing to take the bar exam and runs a group called Land Action, educating others on a variety of issues, including what he calls foreclosure defense.

    Since the housing market crashed, there are more abandoned properties that might seem ripe for the taking.

    "People don't realize there's a lot of sweat equity that goes into it," added Decaprio.

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