Woman claims squatters took over her Fort Washington home

A Prince George's County woman is fighting to get her home back from what she claims are squatters.

The house on Everhart Place in Fort Washington was supposed to be empty, but when Essence Wallace showed up, she found a family had moved in.

Wallace and her sister Ebony White have owned the home since their mother passed away. She called police, but officers could not force the family to leave. So Wallace has gone to court to try and evict them.

In the meantime, they are in her home and she can't get inside.

"They have some of my pictures hung on the wall," said a frustrated Wallace. "They have their own furniture as well as mine and they are utilizing it all."

Prince George's County property records list Wallace's sister as the owner.

Police paid the family a visit, but Wallace said the officer could not do anything because it appears the family may have been victims of a real estate scam.

The family told police they have a lease with a realtor.

Wallace asked them to leave and showed them her deed, but the family refused.

"About ten cars full of family members pulled up and jumped out and they were acting like, ‘Who are you? What are you doing here? What do you want? This is our place now,'" Wallace said.

A man who lives in the house tells FOX 5 he gave the realtor a security deposit and paid his rent. He has called the realtor, who claims the property had been foreclosed on and the deed just hadn't been updated in property records yet. Now, the realtor has stopped returning his calls.

"It's like he disappears weeks at a time, and then I call, ‘Oh, hi! How are you doing? This is what's going on. Don't worry about that. Everything is fine,'" said the man at the home.

Police say tenant disputes and issues with squatters is not a criminal matter, but a civil matter for the courts.

Wallace filed for eviction on March 29, but that could take months. Homeowners can also file a legal complaint against squatters for what is known as "unlawful detainer" to have them removed for trespassing. Police and the sheriff's department would then enforce any court ruling.

The family living in the home is now trying to find another place to live, but denies being squatters.

"I don't understand where this homeowner comes from," said the man currently living at the home. "If the realtor has the stuff, I don't know, so we're caught in between. So we don't know what's going on."

Wallace just hopes this will soon be over. The family's 30-day notice of eviction is running out.

"I'm not being paid rent yet I have a mortgage on the property," said Wallace.

In Maryland, there are no so-called squatters' rights except if someone has occupied a property for 20 years. Homeowners must still go to court in order for police to remove squatters for trespassing. However, this case is not clear cut because the family did not appear to knowingly move in without permission, but instead appeared to be victims of an unscrupulous realtor.

FOX 5 recently helped another homeowner get his house back from squatters living in the home. Homeowner Steve Swann got his Bowie house back from squatters after police served legal papers Saturday morning forcing them from the home. The squatters are being charged with burglary and trespassing and can no longer enter the home -- even to get their belongings.