FORT MYERS, Fla. - Is it possible to steal a house? It's a question residents in one Fort Myers neighborhood are asking after squatters moved into a foreclosed home on their street.
After someone moved into a home that was vacant for two years, neighbors in one Fort Myers community took notice.
"I was out of town and one of my neighbors told me someone moved in and sent me a picture with the power on," David McCarthy, a neighbor, told WINK.
Another neighbor said she went to welcome the new resident.
"I said well we knew the previous owner and he said well they rented it to me. They saved it from foreclosure. They are renting it to me as long as I keep the house up," she recalled.
But that was news to the previous owner, Daryl Moran.
"One of my neighbors called me and said that someone had rented the old house and you had leased it to him. I said well I don't even own it as far as I thought," Moran remembered.
He reluctantly left the home after declaring bankruptcy more than two years ago.
"We should have stayed there but at the time I thought we were doing the right thing," he said.
When Daryl found out about the situation, he confronted the new tenant. The tenant said he had signed a lease with someone named Daryl.
"It was in the lease. Everything that was in there and at the end there was a signature that was pretty close to mine but it's not my signature. So we called the police and they took my information and his. And the detective said because there wasn't a notary on the lease they couldn't do anything about it," Daryl explained.
"What happens is they'll produce a lease so when you knock on the door and say this is my property you need to leave they'll say, 'Well I have a lease.' And they'll say who with-- Jim. How do you pay Jim? How do you pay? Cash," said local attorney Carmen Dellutri with Dellutri Law Group.
Dellutri says this is a common scam squatters use to take over a home and it's also a growing problem in Southwest Florida.
Recent legal challenges caused many banks to halt their foreclosure processes leaving the houses in limbo. For instance, the bank has filed for foreclosure on Daryl's home but it's not finalized so it's still in Daryl's name. The owner on record has to file for eviction and the squatter is banking that the owner who walked away from the house won't care enough to file.
We tried to ask the people in Daryl's former home if they were squatting. Even though there was a car in the driveway, no one would answer the door. As long as they're still in this home, the neighbors say they'll be on edge.
Sometimes squatters will even go as far as to pay the taxes on the property and according to Florida law after seven years of paying taxes, the home is theirs!
So what do you do if there is a squatter in your neighborhood?
You need to have the owner of record file for an ejectment in court; that way the Sheriff can come and kick them out.
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