SPRINGDALE, Ohio -- A family in Springdale returned from an out-of-town visit to a dying relative to find someone else had moved into their home of 21 years. Their outrage has now turned into a court battle, pitting them against a man who says he has the court documents to prove the house is now his.
WLWT News 5's Karin Johnson began to investigate and uncovered a dozen cases, all linked to the same man.
Robert Carr went into the home on Springdale Lake Drive, changed the locks and emptied the house. The family said when they confronted Carr, he showed them a document he filed with the Hamilton County Court.
It's called a "quiet title" and lays claim to the property because Carr said the family abandoned the house and gave up all rights.
Family members said they are too afraid to be identified.
"What he's looking for is full title and ownership of the home," the family's attorney, Alison Warner, said.
Carr expects to pay nothing to take the home.
"He's in their home. They don't know when he's there. He can be there now," Warner said.
Johnson discovered 11 houses where Carr has filed the same paperwork. The homes are in Springdale, Forest Park, Fairfield and Hamilton. Seven of the cases were filed on the same day.
Johnson visited the houses, finding some with "no trespassing" signs posted by Carr -- even though he is not currently listed as the legal owner of any of the houses.
Johnson tracked down Carr at a house on Geneva Road in Forest Park for which he has also filed ownership documents.
"When you abandon a property, bam, walk away from it, 'I ain't never coming back. I don't want nothing to do with it,' right? Somebody can come in, 'Oh, mine,'" Carr told Johnson, describing why he believed the properties could be taken.
Carr said he does not do this alone.
"I have a team of people who go out and I say make sure the house is empty. If it's empty, change the locks," Carr said.
Johnson asked Carr, "You can just come in and change the locks and become owner?" To which he replied, "Anybody can."
But the family from Springdale told Johnson this has devastated them.
"I feel violated. (I'm) very scared, you know, because I never know if somebody's going to be here," the homeowner said.
The family attorney told Johnson the legal fight is adding to a painful year for the family.
"This is stress that has fallen on their shoulders out of nowhere, after the death of a loved one and now they're responsible to answer to this," Warner said.
Carr has been charged with breaking and entering in one case of disputed ownership. He is fighting that charge.
Johnson obtained a copy of the indictment, upon which Carr wrote across the front "rejected" and "offer not accepted."
Johnson contacted the FBI, where agents would not comment on this specific case. However, Special Agent in Charge Kevin Cornelius told Johnson the bureau has seen similar cases before.
"They'll come together as groups to receive training, how to conduct some of these schemes from a financial standpoint, to understand what they consider the common law and how they can use that common law for their sovereign purposes," Cornelius said. "I'm not familiar (with) any cases where it's held up in court. I think that it holds up the process of the court's decision."
The family in Springdale called the court fight a nightmare.
"It's really been hard," the homeowner said.