Squatter’s Rights = No Rights

February 9, 2017 § Leave a comment

In February, 2009, Acey Huey deeded property he owned in a subdivision to his daughter, Fillisa.

On August 7, 2009, Acey signed off on a document entitled, “Repairing and Renting Agreement.” Acey and his brother Tom were named in the document as “Landlords,” and Tom’s daughter, Tommie, was denominated as “Tenant,” of the same property that had been conveyed to Fillisa. The agreement, which was prepared by Tommie’s godmother, provided in part: Tommie would pay rent of $150 per month and repair the property at her sole expense; the Landlords could not raise her rent or evict her without cause; if forced to leave for any reason she would be reimbursed for the labor and material she expended on the property, and for moving expenses and “pain and suffering.”

Filisa did not become aware of the agreement until 2012. In June of that year, she sent Tommie notice to pay rent or vacate, demanding $400 a month in rent, plus a $400 security deposit.

On July 25, 2012, Filisa conveyed the property to LeMorris Strong.

On July 27, 2012, the 2009 “Repairing and Renting Agreement” was filed in the county’s lis pendens records, attached to a “Notice of Subordination, Attornment and Non-Disturbance Agreement.”

On August 14, 2012 Strong recorded his deed from Filisa.

In November, 2012, Strong made written demand for Tommie to cancel the lis pendens notice, including a form to do so, as well as a copy of Mississippi’s Litigation Accountability Act (LAA), MCA 11-55-5.

In 2013, after Tommie had vacated the property, Strong filed suit to remove clouds from and quiet title to the property. Tommie counterclaimed. The chancellor granted Strong the relief he requested, and dismissed Tommie’s counterclaim. She also awarded Strong $3,917.14 in attorney’s fees and costs, ruling that the filing of the lis pendens notice and refusal to withdraw it constituted a violation of the LAA.

In Huey v. Strong, decided December 13, 2016, the COA affirmed with a unanimous opinion by Judge Fair, James not participating.

You can read the opinion for yourself. The point I want to make here is that you need to stop and think before you leap. I don’t know who filed that lis pendens notice for Tommie, but I hope it was the godmother who prepared the original agreement, and not an attorney. When you file a lis pendens notice you may be slandering title unless what you have filed is true, accurate, and has a basis in law. Tommie had a chance to withdraw it but did not, which ended up costing her nearly $4,000 she does not have, judging from the recitation of facts in this case. Here the COA holds that filing a false lis pendens notice can be a violation of the LAA. Damages were relatively small in this case, but they could have been huge.

Years ago, as a young lawyer (and before there was an LAA), a breathless client demanded that I file a mechanic’s lien notice against a subdivision developer only to learn soon after that the client had misrepresented the facts to me, and wanted it done as a vendetta because the developer had elected to begin using another contractor. I notified the client that I was withdrawing the lien and he could file one or anything else in his own right, but that I was not going to participate. My bad for leaping before looking and demanding some documentation or proof of the claim. Had that lien notice botched a sale, I might have been on the hook with my client for damages.

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