I-TEAM: Court ordering women to leave rental property where owner says they’ve been squatting

Owners say they’ve spent almost $5K in legal expenses

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The News4JAX I-TEAM paid another visit Friday to a home in Hogan’s Creek, where an owner previously said squatters moved onto her rental property and never left.

Following the I-TEAM’s investigation, the court has ordered two women living in the house to get out and return the property to its owners. The occupants claimed they were victims of a rental scam and refused to leave when the owners discovered them living there at the beginning of the month.

Now, the owners say, they’re not allowed in the house, and it will likely take a few days for the court’s order to go into effect.

While there Friday, we witnessed another tense confrontation between the people staying there and the property owners.

What started as a spat on the sidewalk, turned into threats.

“To protect my house, I’m fixing to bear arms,” one person staying at the house said.

But it’s not her house. It belongs to Patti Peeples and Dawn Tiura.

Tiura said she and her business partner were about to the sell the rental property when squatters made themselves at home.

“Your first inclination is, this is illegal, the police will remove them,” Tiura said.

But that’s not what happened. These women have been living there all month.

A woman at the house told Jacksonville police they had signed a lease with a man named Christopher, but could no longer get in touch with him. They claimed he had listed the house for rent on Zillow.

But Zillow shows no rental listing around the time when they moved in, and JSO could find no trace of Christopher.

The officer reported the women turned over a copy of a lease and a deposit receipt, meaning the case needs to travel through civil court to determine who is in charge of the property.

“We were shocked to learn and start reading about all the squatter rights in Florida, that they have more rights than the landlord,” Tiura said.

More than three weeks later, the court determined Tiura and Peeples are the owners and ordered the occupants out.

While one of the people staying in the home claimed Friday that it is her house, another woman, who we’re not identifying because she said she’s not involved, seemed to acknowledge the court’s order to vacant.

The owners say they’ve spent close to $5,000 in legal fees to get to this point, and they’re anxious to check out any damage. They’re planning to relist the house and invest in a high security deadbolt.

One of the women in the process of being removed from that house was also listed as a victim in the exact same kind rental scam in December when she was found living in a nearby house without the owners’ knowledge. She previously told police she was scammed.

No charges have been filed in either case.

About the Author:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter