How to claim property when you don’t hold the title

By Keri Mitchell, Founder + executive director
Dallas, Texas | local government, education, civic issues, investigative and enterprise reporting

August 20, 2020

South Dallas

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When South Dallas residents don’t hold the title to the property they own, it can cause all kinds of problems. 

Without a title, the property can’t be sold and isn’t eligible for government-funded home repairs or homestead exemptions that give a property tax discount. 

It’s a financial problem, definitely. It’s also a legal problem, says Jessica L. Paige, community ambassador for the University of North Texas Dallas College of Law.

“Most people do not know they have a legal issue when they’re facing the unknown,” Paige says.“People who have inherited land from family members and don’t know what to do with it or where to start or how to make use of that land, they have a legal issue.”

Paige and another community ambassador, Jeffrey M. O’Neal, will lead a virtual workshop this Saturday, Aug. 22, 1-2:30 p.m. to assist southern Dallas residents with title clearing. 

Jessica L. Paige
Jeffrey M. O’Neal

The community ambassador program “harnesses the energy of our law students and connects them with nonprofits in the community,” says Angela Downes, UNT Dallas College of Law professor of practice. 

Paige, a social worker in her second year of law school at UNT Dallas, is paired with Southern Dallas Progress Community Development Corporation, a co-host of the event.Its mission is to create wealth in the southern sector, Paige says — “social, economic, educational.” The corporation confronts barriers in these communities and “meets them with solutions,” she says. 

Vacant lots, abandoned properties and unclaimed properties all cause community issues, Paige says, such as generating unwanted activity and preventing economic growth. 

O’Neal is a business analyst studying the law to couple his financial knowledge with legal knowledge to help aspiring business owners. He is partnered with Frazier Revitalization, a nonprofit focused on South Dallas’ Frazier community that “gives out information, tools and resources people need to better their lives,” O’Neal says. Frazier Revitalization is another event co-host and also home to one of UNT Dallas’ two Community Lawyering Centers.

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Saturday’s webinar is the result of Paige and O’Neal’s brainstorming with their nonprofit partners about ways to remedy community issues.

“Our purpose is to help educate the people in the community,” O’Neal says, so that “if they do face legal issues, they know their remedies and can identify resources to further assist with those remedies.”

Some people may have the option to petition to be the rightful owner of a property without having to go through a lengthy court process, he says.

“Most people know, ‘My family has land, they passed away, and I don’t know what to do at this point,’ ” Paige says. “If there was or was not a will, there are different remedies for both scenarios and we can give them some next steps on, ‘What do I do now?’ ”

Vacant lots are prevalent in southern Dallas, says James McGee, president of Southern Dallas Progress. In the Frazier community alone, 37% of lots are vacant, he says, and many of these lots need their title cleared. The webinar will allow for different breakout groups to help people with different needs, he says, whether that’s a homestead exemption or an affidavit.

Register online to participate via Zoom.For those who don’t have reliable internet access or a technological device, the event hosts are providing a community hubat For Oak Cliff4478 S. Marsalis Ave., where people can sit safely distanced and wear masks to participate in the webinar.

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