Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Vegas-Area Adverse Possession-Claiming Crackpot Gets Off w/ Hand-Slap; Cops Guilty Pleas To Seven Felonies, But Dodges Prison Time, Gets Up To Four Years Probation, $1,000 Fine

In Las Vegas, Nevada, the Las Vegas Review Journal reports:
  • A former real estate agent accused of breaking into Las Vegas valley homes he didn't own and renting the properties to unsuspecting tenants was given probation [...] on seven felony charges.

    Eric Alpert staked claim to what he believed to be abandoned houses and defended his actions under what's known as adverse possession, a centuries-old method of obtaining title to property. His defense attorney argued the case should have been handled as a civil matter, but prosecutors said Alpert was warned about his practice in the past.

    Nevada law allows someone who maintains and pays taxes on property for at least five years to claim ownership.

    Initially charged with two dozen felonies as far back as 2009, Alpert reached a deal with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to seven felonies. He was sentenced [] to probation on one count of obtaining money under false pretense s and one count of offering a false instrument for filing or record. On Tuesday, a judge ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine and serve probation on five felonies: two counts of burglary, one count of theft and one additional count each of obtaining money under false pretenses and offering a false instrument for filing or record. His probation would not exceed four years, judges in Alpert's cases ruled.

    Under the plea, Alpert agreed to "never engage in or attempt to engage in the use of adverse possession or any related property law as a mechanism to obtain title or interest in any property."

    Defense lawyer, Josh Tomsheck, said he would ask that Alpert be allowed to serve out his probation in Hawaii, where he now lives and runs a scooter rental business.

    Tomsheck said the criminal charges were "financially devastating" to Alpert, and that he suffered a heart attack last year while awaiting trial.

    "He always felt this was a civil matter," Tomsheck said. He said the criminal charges were unprecedented, and no one facing similar allegations in Nevada had been convicted.

    But prosecutors said Alpert did not follow Nevada's adverse possession statutes before he started renting out four North Las Vegas homes. They argued that Alpert should have known he was doing something wrong after he was fined and his license was revoked by the Nevada Real Estate Division in 2004.

    Court documents named several victims who paid Alpert rent and deposits, only to have the owner or an agent from the bank show up to evict them.

    Tomsheck argued that the charges are equivalent to a property owner requesting the arrest of a neighbor over a property line dispute. The defense attorney said Alpert paid taxes on dozens of other properties for years. Prosecutors disagreed.

    Adverse possession laws, which differ by state, ensure that privately owned land remains productive. Typically it takes years of occupation before the title legally changes hands. That protects people who have trouble making mortgage payments, as well as those who take extended vacations, from coming home to find their home occupied by a stranger.

    In April 2009, a North Las Vegas homeowner called police after he found his place occupied by someone who had signed a lease with Alpert.

    Alpert told authorities that when he found homes that appeared to be abandoned or in foreclosure, he would post a notice on the door, giving the owner 15 days to contact him. If he did not receive a response, he would change the locks.

    "I go in and clean up the house, take pictures of the house, and then I basically rent out the house," he said, according to court records. The neighbors appreciated his efforts, he said, "because it's an eyesore, so I do a good thing for the neighborhood."

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