Retired NBA Star to Pay for Year-Long Squatting Stint
Like many professional athletes, former NBA All-Star Chris Gatling lived large in his retirement. The problem was that he didn’t always do it in his own house.
According to police reports, the one-time power forward broke into an unoccupied, furnished home in the ritzy Phoenix suburb of Paradise Valley in July 2010. He stayed there until August 2011, during which time he obtained an Arizona driver’s license with the hijacked home’s address.
After squatting in the four-bedroom home for a year, Gatling decided he would try to rent it out, posting a craigslist ad that was bound to generate suspicion:
“$800/4 br – EX NBA – Paradise Valley Home for rent with Pool & Utility included. … Going back to Miami, Mexico City, Italy for a year or 2 need someone to watch my home here in PV and what a great place, close to everything and Very Very Quite! Really looking for a Woman, but guys can feel free to contact as well … (Just Like a Women’s touch).”
This steal of a deal caught the eye of Stacey Ezel, who contacted Gatling. Ezel signed a lease and wrote Gatling two cashier’s checks for $800 each to cover the security deposit and first month’s rent. But when Gatling failed to turn over the keys, Ezel looked up the property on the county assessor’s website and found that it belonged to Priscilla Jones, who was living in California.
Ezel called Jones, Jones called the cops, and eventually Gatling agreed to plead guilty to one count of forgery and one count of theft. He will be sentenced Oct. 4, when he’s expected to get supervised probation and be ordered to pay restitution to Jones and Ezel.
Owner’s Away, Squatters Will Stay
Jones sold her Paradise Valley pad after Gatling moved out, but she might have avoided the whole ordeal by arranging for someone to keep tabs on her home-away-from-home.
Attorney Ramsey Bahrawy says homeowners have long been able to post “no trespassing” signs and stake fences to assert their property rights, but recent technological advances offer a much better solution.
“I believe a better proactive defense is an elaborate Internet-based home monitoring system,” Bahrawy said. “It allows a homeowner to monitor the activity or lack of activity in a home. If activity is detected, the homeowner can immediately call the local police and have the squatter removed as a criminal trespasser, before the squatter has time to claim he or she is tenant by virtue of the improvements made to the property.”
Squat Your Way to Success
If Gatling hadn’t slipped up by trying to rent the property out, who knows how long he could have flown under Jones’ radar? If he held out for a whole decade, there’s a chance he could have convinced a court to sign the house over to him.
In many states, squatters can legally take ownership of a property through a process called adverse possession. There are four criteria for adverse possession under Arizona law:
- The squatter must enter and occupy the property continuously for 10 years
- The occupancy must be “open and notorious”
- The claim must be “hostile” — the squatter cannot have the owner’s permission to stay
- The occupancy must be “exclusive” to the squatter and his party
These factors vary by state, particularly the required length of occupancy. In Massachusetts, where Bahrawy practices, a squatter would have to continuously occupy a property for 20 years before filing a claim.
“An adverse possessor would argue that he or she should be rewarded for making productive use of land while the actual owner should be penalized for sleeping on his rights,” Bahrawy said.
Have you ever taken legal action against a squatter on your property? Tell us about it in the comments section below.