I-TEAM: Jacksonville homeowner says squatters refuse to leave her rental; occupants say they can be there

Women living in home claim they were victims of scam

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville homeowner contacted the News4JAX I-TEAM, saying squatters moved into her rental property and never left.

The women living in the home say they were victims of a rental scam, and they say they have every right to be there. Meantime, Patti Peeples, the homeowner, says it’s been a frustrating and costly experience trying to get them out, costing her nearly $5,000 in attorneys fees so far.

“They’re living their best life in my home illegally without any payment,” Peeples said.

She put the Hogan’s Creek home on the market in February after her longtime tenant moved out. There was an offer that she was ready to accept, but she got suspicious when she found dogs at the house and a car parked in the backyard.

“I was going to enter the house, and then it dawned on me that there could be individuals in there and that that might be placing myself in some danger,” Peeples said.

There were two women inside claiming they were renting the property. According to the incident report from JSO, one of them said they found the property on Zillow and reached out. She said the pair signed a rental lease and provided a copy of the deposit receipt to the officer.

She told police she wasn’t able to get in touch with the person who had rented them the house.

When the I-TEAM called the number listed on the police report, the person told us we had the wrong number. Zillow shows no record of the house being listed for rent around that time.

According to the incident report, when the officer asked one of the women for the communications with the alleged scammer, she “began to rush” and said she didn’t have time to continue.

Peeples said the officer told her the women in the house have rights under Florida law, and that they’re allowed to stay in the house for at least 20 days until a judge declares them to be in default.

Peeples is suing to get them out. A civil court clerk signed a default judgment against them, but Peeples said it dosen’t become official until a judge signs it.

“It’s now been 23 days,” Peeples said.

The responding officer wrote that a search of that one occupant’s name revealed that she was listed as a fraud scheme with the exact same circumstances in December at another house nearby.

According to the report for that incident, the two women were living in that house without the owners’ knowledge or permission. Less than a week later, the out-of-state company that owns the home filed an eviction notice against an “unknown occupant” who they say had illegally taken possession of the property.

Records show the eviction was finalized in mid-February. A neighbor says the women moved out at the beginning of this month — around the same time they moved into Peeple’s house.

We spoke with one of those women on the phone. She became combative when we asked her about the police reports and whether she was squatting. She insisted she was scammed.

About the Author:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter