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Who owns this house? Protect your interests

The Knox Estate

They picked the wrong house in which to squat: an estate belonging to the heirs of former Davidson Mayor Russell Knox. The family, including his son, current Mayor Rusty Knox, includes lawyers and real estate brokers, commercial and residential.

They know what they are doing in all things real estate, and they got it done fast. Not everyone is so fortunate, Rusty says.

Knox

“The most important thing is that anyone who has vacant property, the No. 1 thing they need to do is check on it regularly. If it is managed by a property management company, they need to make sure they do appropriate vetting of who the prospective tenants are,” he said.

The squatters, who said they were from the “Moorish Nation,” knew what they were doing. Squatters can take up residence in a vacant property, and, knowing our flawed system, can transfer utilities and even get mail in their name at the residence.

In the Knox case, they were able to get in because a door key was hidden on the porch.

Squatters are people who move into abandoned, foreclosed, or otherwise unoccupied homes or premises. Generally, under United States law, the rightful owners can have a squatter evicted for violating loitering or trespassing laws, unless the squatters can establish that they have tenants’ rights, or can gain adverse possession due to the property having been completely abandoned by the owner.

Squatters openly take possession; trespassers break windows and doors to gain entry. Trespassersdo not have utilities and have no furniture. Police are much more willing to eject trespassers.

Fight back in court:

“The most important thing is when this does happen you need to follow up and prosecute to the fullest extent that you’re capable of doing,” Knox said. His brother Michael Knox is an attorney, which helped around legal expenses and a speedy response by the Knox heirs.

It also helped that the Knoxes have literally centuries of history in North Meck, dealing with government back when documents were signed with a quill pen on paper.

Bradford

John Bradford, the owner of Park Avenue Properties, a property management firm based in Cornelius, says one of the challenging issues for rightful property owners is that North Carolina is not a “self-help state.”

North Carolina law states that it is against public policy to evict a tenant by any means other than court proceedings. (NC Gen. Stat. § 42-25.6.) Any attempt to evict a tenant without a court order constitutes a self-eviction or a “self-help” eviction and the rightful property owner can be held liable.

The former District 98 Representative explains that a landlord simply cannot change locks, disconnect utilities and forcibly remove someone.

“North Carolina requires a summary ejection action—aka eviction—where the courts have the authority to grant possession,” he says.

This often takes 45-60 days start to finish, which can have disastrous results for the property involved.

Hiring an eviction attorney is the best course of action.

Bradford has other pointers for those who find themselves with a vacant property, for any reason ranging from a tenant moving out to a death in the family.

• Be cautious about giving a lock box code over the phone to allow self-showings. This means the prospects are unaccompanied and, while unlikely, can possibly move in and take possession unbeknownst to the landlord.

• Check the property regularly to ensure it is secure during vacancy. If you find it occupied call the police immediately.

• Utilize local law enforcement if someone is occupying your property and law enforcement will be able to let you know if they can forcibly remove the trespasser (or squatter) or not.

There are a variety of challenging things that can befall a prudent homeowner besides crabgrass.

Encroachments:

Ckezepis

Encroachments like a neighbor’s fence should be spotted during a proper survey, says closing attorney Justin

Ckezepis in Huntersville.

“The most common situation for encroachment violations we see are fences. A lot of people want to fence in their backyard. When developers develop neighborhoods, part of the process is to determine the setback lines for each individual lot. Without having someone survey the property, there is no way to know the exact dimensions that a fence would be allowable on the property—if at all,” Ckezepis said.

Closings can fall apart over a matter of inches.

“Also, something I have noticed over my years as an attorney, there are some developers who appeared to ignore setback and lot line requirements. Several transactions have involved explaining to buyers and sellers that though the seller did not alter the home they are living in, when the developer built the home they did not follow the required set back and/or lot lines required by the city or town. When that situation occurs, buyers and sellers are left with the option of applying for an administrative waiver from the city or town, terminating the transaction, or accepting it as-is with the understanding that the buyer has no title insurance coverage for the matter,” Ckezepis said.

The same also applies for impervious area restrictions. We all love outdoor living spaces. However, the maximum amount of useable ground area may already be in use. A survey is the only way to know if that is the case.

Beware homeowners insurance coverage:

Disasters await even befall those with excellent homeowners insurance.

The latest hot topic is the treatment of home-sharing exposures. The Insurance Services Office broadened endorsements due to the influx of homeowners renting their dwelling using a home-sharing network like Airbnb or VRBO.

The North Carolina Rate Bureau, the authority that oversees rate and forms for the state’s insurers has adopted new forms effective Jan 1, 2019, clarifying there is no coverage for home-sharing host activities.

Insurance companies will be quick to adopt these new forms and will be including Policyholder Notices with their policy mailings.

Bilodeau

“If these notices follow the trend of flood and earthquake, most policyholders will not take notice,” said Denis Bilodeau, an insurance executive with Hood Hargett in Cornelius.

Insurance company underwriters will most likely vary in their response. “Clearly, if you are taking advantage of the home-sharing phenomena, it’s time to check in with your insurance agent,” Bilodeau said.

Homeowners insurance policies have exclusions if you fail to maintain reasonable heat in an empty dwelling. It has been vacant for more than 60 consecutive days, there is no coverage for vandalism and malicious mischief or any ensuing loss, including a potential fire.

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