SMITHVILLE, Texas (KXAN) – Jacqueline and Ron Howard’s life changed in 2018 when they were given the opportunity to become homeowners.
They said for nearly 40 years a close friend owned two adjoining plots of land on a secluded gravel road in the Smithville countryside and offered to sell the lots to them for $ 500.
It was an opportunity they couldn’t refuse.
“This is where we were going to build our home forever,” said Jacqueline Howard.
Shortly after finalizing the purchase of their new land in 2018, the Howards began working with Titan Factory Direct Homes, where they would eventually purchase their manufactured home.
For the next two years, until their loan was approved, the Howards say they spent weekends camping on their land as they worked tirelessly to clear trees, brush and vegetation. thick in view of where they would eventually have a home.
“There was nothing there – no electricity, no water – just God’s land,” Ron Howard said.
They purchased their new home from Titan Factory Direct in July 2020 and have filed all necessary paperwork with Bastrop County to begin next steps, according to Bastrop County records.
The first step was to have a field study carried out. Records obtained by KXAN confirmed that the investigation was completed in August 2020 and provided to the Howard, as well as Titan Factory Direct and its contractors.
Over the next three months, Bastrop County approved building permits for the house. The local water utility approved a new water meter and septic tank, and the electrical utility approved the installation of a utility pole at the remote location.
The Howards House was installed in November 2020 and the family was able to begin the next chapter of their life – one home improvement project at a time.
‘Home forever’ more
This chapter came to an abrupt end nine months after living in their “forever home” when a man they said they had never met knocked on their door.
“Your house is on my property,” said the man to the Howard’s.
When questioning the man, the Howards said he showed them a map of the Bastrop County Central Assessment District (CAD), indicating that the two plots of land they owned were in fact at next to where their house was built.
The Howards’ house, water, utilities and the septic tank were all placed on the wrong property.
KXAN spoke with the man, who confirmed the events described by the Howards and requested that his name not be used.
To make matters worse, the couple said the man informed them their home crossed a second property line owned by someone else.
Placement of the house
Frightened and feeling like they didn’t know where to turn, the Howards reached out to KXAN.
KXAN obtained records filed with Bastrop County, the Manufactured Housing Division of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA), as well as the survey that was conducted on the property.
These records, including the survey, show the Howard’s own lots 283 and 284, but their home is currently on lots 281 and 282.
Jacqueline Howard told KXAN that she visited the property with the previous owner three years ago and was shown the land where the house was ultimately built. KXAN spoke with the previous owner listed on the notarial deeds. She confirmed this account and added that she never knew it was the wrong property.
Two years later, in August 2020, a survey was carried out in order to move forward with the development. According to the Howards, no one other than the surveyor was present when it was conducted. The investigation found the appropriate plots of land, but everything continued to be built and installed on the wrong property.
Who is responsible ?
KXAN has contacted the prefabricated housing division of TDHCA, the state agency responsible for regulating the prefabricated housing industry in Texas, to find out if such a situation is within its jurisdiction.
TDHCA’s attorney said the agency “… has no jurisdiction over this matter” and cannot “regulate the placement of a manufactured home”.
“I’m concerned that there is nothing in our law that requires the installer to cross-check deeds or property records,” wrote Amy Jones, general counsel for TDHCA. “In fact, prefabricated houses are often installed on a property that does not belong to the owner, ie a rented property. “
KXAN contacted Bluebonnet Electric and Aqua Water Supply, the companies that installed the utilities on the property, as well as Bastrop County Development Services and Titan Factory Direct.
According to the Bluebonnet Electric website, the process of installing electrical service may require a land deed for the easement. In the case of the Howards, a new easement was not required and therefore a deed of land ownership was not required to install electricity. KXAN spoke with Will Holford, a spokesperson for Bluebonnet Electric, who said “there is an easement for the power lines feeding Mohawk Drive. Bluebonnet replaced an existing pole and installed an electric meter and security lighting at the site at our member’s request.
According to the Aqua Water Supply website, a survey plaque with field notes of the property is required to begin service. Jacqueline Howard said Aqua Water Supply received the platform’s investigation, which KXAN confirmed in easement records filed with Bastrop County. KXAN spoke with Dave McMurry, Managing Director of Aqua Water Supply, who made the following statement:
“Jacqueline and Ron Howard’s property is located in a flat subdivision in which the developer has installed the necessary hydraulic infrastructure. For this reason, the connection to the water service did not require road drilling, line extension, etc. and was just a simple set of counters. In this situation, Aqua considers the client’s deed as proof of ownership but does not seek ownership with the county. Aqua’s customer service then provides the customer with a meter stake to place in a location where they would like the meter to be placed on the property. Aqua installed the meter there. Aqua does not make a survey to install the meter and without further reference, relies on the customer’s knowledge of the location of his property.
In addition, as requested by Bastrop County Development Services, proof of ownership and a copy of a survey or plaque are required to begin development, construction or septic installation on the property, but it is not clear whether it has additional procedures to confirm the location of services prior to installation. KXAN has spoken with a representative from Bastrop County Development Services and is awaiting a response to consider the matter.
The Howards said they asked Titan to confirm the location of their land before setting up their home and were reassured that surveying was all they needed.
When reached by phone, Titan’s general manager told KXAN they are working with the owners but declined to provide further comment.
Future of property
The Howards said Titan came to their property last Thursday and confirmed the problem, but did not have an explanation as to how it happened. According to the Howards, Titan is currently working with the actual owners to see if the property swap is an option, so they don’t have to uproot their lives.
Meanwhile, the Howards have halted home improvement projects and hope they can stay on the land they’ve taken years to improve.
“We have spent so much time and money on this earth,” said Jacqueline Howard. “We don’t want to move.