It’s like a nightmare for some New Mexico homeowners after squatters moved into their vacant home, and then refused to leave.
“I felt the sense of hopelessness,” said Willis Johnston.
A mess of a situation is finally behind these Carlsbad homeowners, but it took months of fighting.
“Shock and utter disbelief. I could not believe that someone would stoop so low,” said his wife, Aimee Johnston.
Complete strangers turned the Johnstons’ house into their home, acting like they owned it, even without a deed.
“She said I own the property, I have a tax receipt. That’s their M-O,” said Willis Johnston.
Willis Johnston lived in the house on Oak Street as a boy, and inherited it from his grandmother after she died in 2005.
“One of the great possibilities is, is they’re watching the obituaries in the newspaper,” he said.
The couple, who lives in Oklahoma, admits they got a few years behind on the taxes, but never could have foreseen what would happen when they went to settle everything in order to rent out the property this past summer.
They were told the water was already on, in Elizabeth Samaniego’s name.
“She had rights to this property, instead of us having the rights, being the owners,” said Aimee Johnston.
They then called the tax office. The Johnstons say they were told Samaniego’s dad, Jerry, had paid the taxes.
A window was smashed and the locks were changed. Meanwhile, the police were telling them, there wasn’t much they could do.
“Completely frustrating. I mean, I just kept thinking, there’s got to be something that somebody can do. It seemed like for awhile that everywhere we turned, it was a brick wall. Until we got ahold of our lawyer,” said Aimee Johnston.
The couple says they had to file a lawsuit to evict Samaniego, just like a regular tenant.
Friday at a court hearing, a judge ordered her to leave and pay damages.
“Why? Why would someone want to take advantage of someone else like that?” said Aimee Johnston.
“I just want other people to know what’s going on, because I know for a fact we are not the only people that this has happened to,” said Willis Johnston.
Now, they’re warning others.
“If you’ve got a deceased relative that owned property or had assets, in any community, not just in Carlsbad, follow-up on that, and do some research,” said Aimee Johnston.
The Johnstons say they also found ads on Facebook showing the house was up for rent.
Samaniego has been charged with felony fraud, taking a deposit and first month’s from a prospective tenant.