CHICAGO - One woman is able to open a children's community center after an I-Team investigation. County officials say she was tricked into paying for a "zombie property" from a man who wasn't the rightful owner.
"Zombie properties" are buildings and homes that are abandoned and then sold by people who don't really own them. If you buy a "zombie property," you will have no legal rights to it. A local pastor says she was a victim - until the I-Team got involved.
Prayers have kept Pastor Lillie Taylor-Young hopeful. Her children's community center in the Pullman neighborhood is finally opening after a yearlong battle to gain her ownership rights to the property.
"I'm just so grateful. I'm grateful to God and I'm grateful to the I-Team," she said.
On Saturday, Taylor-Young held her grand opening fashion show for children.
"We want to help them by bringing them off the street and bringing them here, in fashion, give them self-esteem. Let them feel good about themselves, let them know that they can make it," Taylor-Young said.
Taylor-Young had paid Ralph Schrader $5,000 for the space and was supposed to pay him $15,000 more. But then she discovered through the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office that Schrader was not the rightful owner - meaning Taylor-Young would never own it either.
"The deeds which he has are the equivalent to junk/dummy deeds. The documents that he has don't follow the chain of title," Mario Reed, of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds, said in September.
Last year, the Recorder of Deeds obtained what customers said was Schrader's list of homes for sale. The I-Team confirmed that 18 of 57 properties on that list are also on the city's demolition list, making them "zombie properties."
Schrader said he's doing nothing illegal and owns all of the properties he's selling.
Knowles: Can you show me the documentation that shows you really own this? Schrader: I don't have to show you the documentation.
But after the I-Team's story, the real owner of Taylor-Young's property came forward and agreed to sell it to her. She's paid $2,500.
The Recorder of Deeds Office said both parties recently created a land contract which will give the pastor true ownership once the outstanding water bills are paid in full.
"I am so happy. I just love you all, amen," Taylor-Young said.
In a text this week, Schrader said he rightfully purchased that property from the owner. That original owner did not return a message left by the I-Team.
The Recorder of Deeds office is standing by its records, saying Schrader never had valid ownership.
The best way to protect yourself from buying a zombie property is to go through a licensed realtor.