Alleged house squatters arrested in Atlanta

Four people have been arrested during the past two weeks for allegedly moving into homes owned by someone else, Atlanta police told the AJC.

In one of the recent cases, two people moved in and changed the locks on a home in the Ormewood Park area, Sgt. Paul Cooper said Friday afternoon.

The two also said they owned the home next door and one on an adjacent street and filed phony court documents staking claim to the dwellings, Cooper said.

All three homes are actually owned by a church missionary group. When a representative went to one of the homes this week, she was shown fake affidavits and asked to leave, according to police. The woman reported the alleged squatters to authorities.

Keylen DeSantos, 22, and Ayahme Ford, 38, were arrested, said Atlanta police Sgt. Curtis Davenport.

DeSantos faces charges of burglary, filing false statements and writings, and having fraudulent documents, according to Fulton County Jail records. He was released Thursday after posting $12,000 bond, jail records show.

Ford was charged with criminal trespassing, filing false statements and writing, and forgery, jail records show. She remained in jail Friday night on $6,000 bond.

Atlanta police have seen an increase in squatting crimes; they made another arrest Friday in a separate case, Cooper said.

The offenders "are exploiting the state's adverse possession law," Cooper said. “They go out and find a property that appears to be vacant, kick in the door and change the locks.”

But the state's adverse possession law requires someone be in a residence a minimum of 20 years, Cooper said.

Those arrested in the recent cases were under the false impression that creating their own affidavits and filing them with a clerk's office sufficed as assuming ownership, he said.

"Investigators were familiar with Mr. DeSantos from adverse possession documents obtained from the court clerk’s office," Davenport said in statement released Friday. "Mr. DeSantos was adamant that he was legally in possession of the property and claimed that the law allowed him to ‘assume' the houses."

Police plan to continue investigating squatting cases. They urged anyone thinking about laying claim to a vacant home to reconsider. "It's not something that we're ignoring," Cooper said.