Man fights to keep home he lost in a real estate deal

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It is a simple cinder block home on Packard Drive, but it belonged to Donald Phelps' parents and his mother gave it to him for $100. Now Phelps is fighting to keep his house.

"I feel like I am getting shafted, man," said Phelps

In 2009, Phelps, 50, was behind on his property taxes and turned to a lady for help. Phelps said the woman whose name is "Sue" took him to an investor.

"I thought I was getting a loan," he said, "I'm illiterate, I can't read, that's why I signed my house away. I thought I was getting a loan to pay the land taxes."

Attorney Rusty Collins is now representing Phelps pro bono. Collins said his client thought he was getting a mortgage.

"Why would he sell his home for $13,500 when it was valued three times as much?" he asked.

"He was misled," said Collins. "He trusted someone for a loan. Cases say just because it was a deed
they're going to default to a mortgage."

The former closing agent, who handled the real estate deal in 2009, testified in the hearing there was never a question about Phelps' understanding.

"I did not remember any conversation to me that Mr. Phelps cannot read," she said.

The first case was never resolved. It is in court again because the property has changed hands again.

The new owner filed an action to Quiet Title, basically a lawsuit against Phelps to establish his ownership.

Glen Conley is the new owner and said a title search showed the seller as the proper owner, not Phelps.

"I had no reason to believe, other than this gentleman was squatting on the property," Conley testified.

Collins filed a motion for the judge to dismiss the lawsuit: it was denied. Now he waits on a final decision and remains optimistic.

"The message is know what you're doing when you do a contract or a transaction," said Collins, "Get some counsel. Mr. Phelps was relying on someone he trusted."


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