Buyer finds squatter in newly purchased home

Home buyer says man changed locks, turned electricity on

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's a surprise a Jacksonville woman never expected to get when buying a new home.

Lisa Rountree said days before closing, she found out someone was squatting in her property, claiming it was his.

The home is on the Westside and was bank owned. Police said a 31-year-old man believes it's legally his, claiming adverse possession, even though he hasn't paid a penny.

Rountree was set to buy the home on Friday but found out Monday the man had gone into the home, changed the locks and turned the electricity on in his name. Rountree called him and he told her it was his house.

"I was shocked. I almost dropped my phone," Rountree said. "Seriously?"

She thought it was her dream home -- five bedrooms, four baths on an acre of land.

"It's just so upsetting to think that somebody could just come into this home and live for free and thinks it's OK and they have a right to do it," Rountree said.

She was upset when she tried to turn on the electricity and water and found out it was already on in someone else's name. And then she couldn't get in.

Rountree tracked down the man who said it was his. She said he told her the home was vacant and, according to Florida statutes, he could have it.

The man hasn't been arrested and police are investigating.

"Now we are going to be in limbo because we are not going to have a home to move into," Rountree said. "My mom and dad have already sold theirs and they're living with me right now. My house is getting ready to close."

The man told News4Jax he was trying to obtain the home through adverse possession because he thought he could legally do it and it was his right. But after News4Jax told him it was doing an investigation on it and police have looked into complaints, he said he was no longer interested in the home and won't go back to the property.

"You would be committing a criminal act if you are going into somebody else's property," said Barry Ansbacher, a board certified real estate attorney.

Ansbacher said there are a number of misconceptions about the so-called "homesteading law." He said this kind of squatting is against the law.

"Whether you thought you could get away with it and in seven years then win the lottery, I think it's an awful risky way to get into real estate investing, and there are a lot safer ways to do it," Ansbacher said.

Rountree hopes it is true that now after News4Jax's story the man is no longer interested in trying to take her home. Police have told the man he's not welcome on the property and if he comes back he could be arrested.

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