ATLANTA — For more than two years, Channel 2 Action News has covered issues with stolen deeds impacting homeowners across the metro Atlanta area.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Ashli Lincoln spoke with an Atlanta woman whose home’s deed was stolen and then her house was torn down.
In November, Lincoln reported that Linda Willis’ home was targeted due to its prime real estate location in the Old Fourth Ward near the end of 2021.
Now, a South Fulton state lawmaker is introducing legislation that could make it harder for someone to steal a home in court.
To do so, Rep. Mandisha Thomas’ bill would require people to use photo identification when buying or selling real estate, including when recording or modifying deeds for a home or other property.
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The proposed change comes after Channel 2 Action News reported on how Willis home was taken in Fulton County court.
While not referenced in the legislation, the challenges Linda Willis faces were tied to a lack of photo ID proving someone was related to her when allegedly stealing her home right out from under her, then having it bulldozed.
Linda Willis’ home used to be in the heart of the Old Fourth Ward on Ralph McGill Boulevard.
This is the kind of law that Willis says she has been begging for over the last few years.
“I was trying to get politician to do something and they were like they had never heard anything,” Willis said.
She previously told Channel 2 Action News that a woman named Cencera Willis had hired a crew to demolish the home in November 2021.
“Right now it’s just the wild, wild west, anybody can go down there you don’t even have to show who you are,” Willis described.
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However, as previously reported, the problem, according to Linda Willis, is that she never put her home up for sale and had no idea who Cencera Willis was.
Lincoln obtained documents from the Fulton County Probate Court showed Cencera Willis filed to be the administrator over Linda Willis’ property in 2021, appointing her deceased mother who just so happened to have the same first and last name as Linda Willis.
Records from Fulton County Superior Court show in April 2021, Cencera conveyed the property by acquiring an administrator’s deed.
Probate court documents showed Cencera Willis’ signature on the administrator’s deed paperwork.
That’s when the Cencera had a crew come to destroy the house and clear the lot, even though Linda Willis still lived there.
Cencera didn’t have to prove being a relative of Linda Willis with her photo ID. Instead, the court took her at her word that she was the right person. Linda Willis lost her home as a result.
During previous coverage, Channel 2 Action News and Lincoln tried to get a comment from Cencera Willis but she didn’t respond.
Now, Thomas’ legislation, House Bill 888, could close the gap in the process and require photo ID to prove relation when trying to change who controls a deed, or other documents related to real property and real estate.
Under her proposal, HB 888 would allow the clerk of court to require someone presenting a deed or other document to produce a government-issued photo ID to continue the process.
Records provided for this step would be available to the clerks’ office but would not be available for public inspection or copying, due to current Georgia public records laws, the legislation says.
Additionally, should HB 888 pass, it would allow the Georgia Superior Court Clerks’ Cooperative Authority to adopt rules to implement the new requirements, meaning they could potentially set rules and other regulations for deed transactions and other real estate processes.
Currently, the legislation is still going through committee reads in the Georgia House of Representatives.
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