Published: Aug 14, 2011 9:58 PM EDT
Updated: Aug 14, 2011 11:55 PM EDT

LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. - A Lehigh Acres family says their landlord threw out all of their belongings while they were out of town. Family members showed up earlier this month to find the duplex unit completely empty, and a "for rent" sign in the yard.

"What was thrown out? Everything that was there," Amelia Rivera said. "She had pictures all over, she had clothes, everything!"

Rivera said her son, Hector Mendez, and his family were wiped out while out of town. The grandmother says she was watching their Lehigh Acres home during that time - but showed up earlier this month to find the place empty.

"Look at what happened," Rivera said, "the house is empty, empty, empty, like no one ever lived here."

Rivera said her son gave her a rent check to put in the mail before they left. But the landlord said that check never turned up - and threw out all of their and their children's belongings after a neighbor suggested they had moved.

"He said, I threw everything out. What you had there was garbage," Rivera recalled.

The family has been gone for about a month after citing a family emergency. They also say they called the landlord shortly after discovering their stuff had been thrown in the garbage to clear everything up. But it was already too late.

"The legal question is, did they intend to abandon that property," Fort Myers Attorney Spencer Cordell said.

Cordell said the case could be turned into a he-said-she-said matchup in court. But also says there are also laws in place to protect tenants from being tossed out without their knowing.

"It's not uncommon for landlords to dispose of property," Cordell said. "If it was abandoned, that's the question. Was the property actually abandoned?"

We did talk to that landlord who said he unsuccessfully, tried to call the his former tenants. Meanwhile, that family said they don't know when or if they'll be able to come back to Southwest Florida.