Area man accused of fraudulently claiming ownership of unoccupied homes

He filed affidavits of adverse possession, county auditor’s office claims, trying to gain ownership

jpawloski@theolympian.comApril 26, 2013 

A local man is accused of fraudulently claiming ownership of two unoccupied homes – one in Olympia, the other in Yelm – by filing “affidavits of adverse possession” in the Thurston County Auditor’s Office. He is accused of going to the homes, changing the locks, and trying to rent one of them to a woman who lost $500 after signing a fraudulent rental agreement with him, court papers state.

Lee Van Nguyen, 31, has pleaded not guilty in Thurston County Superior Court to charges of residential burglary, attempted first-degree theft and obtaining a signature by deception. He is out of custody after posting bail. Nguyen’s attorney, Alexander Frix, declined to comment on the pending case when reached by telephone Thursday.

An employee in the Thurston County Auditor’s Office, Heather Hirotaka, confirmed that Nguyen recorded two affidavits of adverse possession on March 21 for the two properties. But she said that just because her office records a document, that doesn’t make it legally binding. Hirotaka added that in her 14-plus years in the auditor’s office, “this is the first time I’ve seen an affidavit of adverse possession.”

Thurston County Chief Civil Deputy David Klumpp said there is a legal process for claiming a property under adverse possession. However, Klumpp said, a person has to possess or use the property for at least 10 years before filing an adverse possession claim. A person making an adverse possession claim on a property must also pay the taxes on the property, he said.

Also, Klumpp said, “the owner should know that you’re attempting to adversely possess the property,” which he added, does not appear to be the case in Nguyen’s situation.

According to court papers:

Thurston County Sheriff’s deputies arrested Nguyen on April 2, after a real-estate agent reported a suspicious person inside a residence she was selling in the 3400 block of Forrest Parse Lane in Olympia. The agent said she was in the process of selling the home to a buyer for $615,000.

Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the residence, and Nguyen gave them an affidavit of adverse possession, which he claimed were papers showing that he owned the property. Sheriff’s deputies “determined that Nguyen did not have authority to be on the property.”

The woman in the rental agreement with Nguyen was sleeping at the property when sheriff’s deputies arrived. She also had moved her belongings there. She told deputies she paid Nguyen $500 and signed a rental agreement. She was upset and had to call someone to move her belongings out.

The same day, sheriff’s deputies learned Nguyen also had filed the adverse possession affidavit for a home on the 15000 block of 100th Avenue in Yelm. He had changed the locks at the unoccupied home, and had gone around the neighborhood identifying himself as the new owner. A deputy learned that the real owner is a service member stationed in Alaska. The owner said he was selling the home but had not sold it to Nguyen or given him permission to be there.

In an unrelated case, Nguyen has a pending felony charge of malicious mischief for allegedly kicking and breaking a door and shattering ornate glass at Fujiyama Japanese Steakhouse in Olympia. According to court papers, he was angry because of an automatic gratuity on his bill.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5445

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