Fringe group of squatters lays claim to Bywater property

Updated: Feb. 15, 2016 at 5:45 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A Bywater homeowner said his house has been hijacked by squatters. So far, there is nothing anyone can do about it.

Neighbors told the FOX 8 Defenders they believe they are being terrorized by the group, who one neighbor said he watched break into the house. He is a homeowner at wits end.

"It's anger, confusion, and seems unfair that a property owner would have to go through something like this," said resident Frederick Hines.

Hines is trying to sell his home in the 3400 block of North Rampart St, but he says squatters have moved in, changed the locks and abused his realtor.

"What normally would happen is you snatch them out and put them on the street," Hines said.

But so far, police have not done that, even though one neighbor said he witnessed a crime.

"I live next door. It was a week before Mardi Gras that they broke into the house. They jumped the fence, kicked in the door, and settled there," neighbor George Bishop said.

The squatters have put up a no trespassing sign and a notation indicating they are part of a group called the Washitaw Mu'ur Nation.

"They had a story saying they were the owners. They told police, now they want to say they own the land," Hines said.

It is a group that claims ancient land rights in Louisiana, and they have been investigated by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"My thought is these people performed a criminal act, and the police department refused to support the neighbors or the homeowner," said neighbor Thomas Houghton.

They say they feel threatened.

"It's terrorized us, we're afraid to leave our homes," Houghton said.

"It's scary. I live next door and they just barged in and took over the house," Bishop said.

The homeowner has tax records which he says proves it is his home. He just paid a tax bill of more than $5,000 to the city, and has filed paperwork in civil court to try and have the squatters removed.

"I have to go to court, and then once I get a decision, they will get them out, and that's what we're going through now," Hines said.

Meantime, Hines cannot sell the house he says he legally owns since squatters will not let him in.

The New Orleans Police Department said their investigation is ongoing, and that "they are working to gather as much evidence as possible to make a determination on this case."

FOX 8 also reached out to the city to see if there is anything they can do on the homeowner's behalf, but have so far not heard back.

You can reach the FOX 8 Defenders at 504-483-6397. Members of the National Council of Jewish Women and volunteers will try to help answer your questions.

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