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A soldier previously deployed in Afghanistan was surprised to learn that his Florida home had been invaded by squatters who have no intention of leaving.
While currently stationed in Hawaii, soldier Michael Sharkey asked a friend to check up on his house in New Port Richey, north of Tampa, only to find out that "strangers broke in, changed the locks, moved in and they refuse to leave," reports Tampa Bay's WFLA-TV.
Do these squatters have any legal claim to the soldier's home?
The squatters, Julio Ortiz and his girlfriend Fatima Cardoso, have no intention of leaving Sharkey's house, claiming they had an oral agreement to live there "rent free." Assuming there was such an agreement, it wouldn't be likely to hold up in court, as most real estate matters and leases lasting longer than a year need to be in writing to be enforced.
But Lisa Pettus, Sharkey's friend, claims that there was no such agreement. Pettus claims that she had worked with Ortiz to help her "fix up Sharkey's home" while he was away, but never agreed to let the squatters stay in the home, reports WFLA. Pettus discovered the couple living in the home two months after the renovations were complete.
Ortiz and Cardoso are essentially claiming that they had consent to enter and reside on Sharkey's property, which is at least a colorable defense to trespassing. When Sharkey's wife attempted to get a sheriff's deputy to remove the couple from the home, he told her it was a "civil matter," reports WFLA.
Although there are many myths surrounding "squatter's rights," it is true that squatters cannot generally be removed without some sort civil eviction action. Even though it seems ironic, Sharkey and his wife might even face civil charges if they attempt to sneak in and change the locks (i.e., a "self-help" eviction).
Sharkey will need to begin by serving Ortiz and Cardoso with an eviction notice (probably by posting it on the door), giving them time to leave the premises. The soldier can then file an eviction complaint in civil court, asserting the squatters' lack of consent to reside on the property and any damages owed (e.g., unpaid rent or property damage).
Unfortunately, this may mean the squatters will be able to reside in Sharkey's home until the eviction proceeding is concluded. However, without utilities like water or electricity, it's unlikely that Ortiz or Cardoso will be there much longer.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
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