In 2001, Angela McClain bought a Twinsburg home for her and her four children. It was nothing fancy — a little aluminum-sided place on an 80 x 115 ft. plot. “I wanted to have property of my own,” says McClain, an inventory control clerk, “and somewhere for my kids.”
But while she’s still making mortgage payments on the $99,000 house, it turns out that what she bought is barely property of her own…
Three years ago, Summit County officials informed her that a portion of her purchase —about a quarter of the house, plus its driveway — were on somebody else’s property, bisected by the neighboring land plot.
The county’s surveying maps tell the strange story clearly: Where McClain had believed she was buying the two thin plots that contained the house and driveway, she had actually bought land containing a little bushy area and three-quarters of the house. It’s completely different from the diagram for the title McClain purchased, which shows the house as squarely within her plots.
The result of this weirdness was paralyzing for McClain. Because it’s somebody else’s property, she can’t build on that portion, and she can’t sell the house. And if the rightful owner of that plot demanded rent money, McClain would be obligated to pay.
The original deal-makers have done nothing to rectify the situation. The couple she bought the house from, Terence and Phyliis Willis, “have fallen off of the face of the earth,” McClain says. And Reliance Title Agency, which handled the sale, has denied responsibility—even though it’s Reliance that contracted the false surveying diagrams. According to their website, Reliance “suspend[ed] operations” in May, 2007. The company to which the site funnel inquiries, Stewart Title Guaranty Co., did not return Punch’s calls.
McClain maintains that the only helpful party has been, oddly enough, the rightful owner of the contested land. Donald Williams told McClain in a phone call that he had contacted Reliance when the property was first put on the market, but that the title company had dismissed him, saying their information showed the house sitting on the right plots.
Now, McClain wants nothing more than to be rid of her purchase. Three of her kids, aged twelve and eleven, are too big for the present set-up. “They need their own rooms,” says McClain, “and I can’t move from the property or add on to the house.”
She’s hired lawyer Pamela Harris, and they’re suing the long-gone Willises, who may have to be tracked down by a private detective. “I characterize this as fraud on the part of the sellers,” says Harris. “They knew when they sold it to her there was a problem, and they didn’t disclose it. Also, I believe that the title company knew that there was a potential problem, and they had a duty to look into it before closing.”
McClain’s most pissed at the title company. “They’re acting like this is my problem,” she says. “They should be the ones that have to sell this thing.” – Gus Garcia-Roberts