What to Know
- A Long Island woman is scrambling to find a new home after she was evicted from the house she thought she owned
- Juliette Devonish had a deed and spent tens of thousands of dollars renovating the house -- it turns out the deed was worthless
- Legal experts say you can avoid the same problems as Devonish if you hire your own attorney and title company to do the property research
Juliette Devonish is scrambling to find a place to live after the Long Island woman received an eviction notice for a house she thought she owned.
“It’s so nice now you got a yard to play in,” Devonish, of Freeport, told her 4-year-old granddaughter as she rode her scooter on a recent sunny afternoon.
Devonish says she signed a deed in May 2017 with Ramel Smith, also of Freeport, who presented himself as the owner of the house. She says she gave him at least $40,000 as a down payment.
“The house was a mess. I was told it was empty for eight years,” said Devonish. “I thought, okay I’ll fix it up.”
Devonish says she spent tens of thousands of dollars renovating the house -- it needed sheetrock and floors. She began to work on the kitchen when she started receiving papers from banks with other people’s names on it. She also wasn’t getting mortgage or tax statements so she asked Smith.
"I took him the papers and he said, 'Don’t worry about it, everything will be okay,'" Devonish recalls.
But Devonish soon learned the deed was worthless and the house was in foreclosure. Devonish acknowledges her single biggest mistake was not using her own attorney and letting Smith handle all the paperwork.
“What she got from Ramel Smith is a quitclaim deed. It’s sort of a non promise or a non guarantee of anything,” explained her new attorney, William Durcan of Freeport. “Because Ramel Smith did not own the property it’s essentially a worthless document.”
Smith declined to speak to the I-Team. While it’s not certain it’s the same man, our investigation has uncovered several properties in Nassau County with the name Ramel Smith on the deeds. Two of those homes are in foreclosure. A third home, which in a deed signed in 2010 granted Smith the house from its owner, was involved in a civil lawsuit. A judge ordered that deed be nullified because it was a fraudulent transfer. Smith did not respond to the lawsuit.
The Nassau County clerk, Maureen O’Connell examined our documents and said she will begin an investigation. She says the clerk’s office has no legal obligation to check if a deed is real.
“We do check when the deed is recorded that the section, block and lot number which identifies the property is accurate,” said O’Connell.
O’Connell says there is a new service homeowners can register for that will alert them anytime a document is filed for their property.
Durcan is fighting to keep Devonish in the house as long as possible. She recently underwent heart surgery and is having trouble finding a place for her and her granddaughter to live.
“I feel really duped,” said Devonish. “I feel duped, stupid, everything.”
Freeport police say they turned the case over to the Nassau County district attorney’s office in April 2018. The DA’s office says they are investigating. Legal experts say you can avoid the same problems as Devonish if you hire your own attorney and title company to do the property research.