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Kicking strangers out of your home may be harder than you think. Just ask the Army Soldier whose Pasco County, Florida home was invaded by a couple of squatters while he was away serving his country. Two complete strangers moved into the Soldier’s home, changed the locks and refused to leave. If that wasn’t distressing enough, the Pasco County sheriff’s office told the Soldier that police could not do anything to remove the squatters.
Before his deployment to Afghanistan two years ago, the Soldier asked a friend to keep an eye on his home. The friend enlisted the help of one of the squatters to renovate the home while the Soldier was gone. Two months after the work was completed, the friend discovered the squatters living in the home, much to her surprise.
The squatters claimed that the Soldier’s friend agreed to allow them to live in the home rent-free in exchange for performing the renovation. Although the friend denied that such an agreement existed, the squatters’ claim was enough to place the matter outside of police intervention. In other words, the case was now a civil matter.
Therefore, the Soldier’s recourse was to file an unlawful detainer action, a type of lawsuit that is governed by a summary procedure that expedites the litigation. Filing an eviction complaint would not have been the proper remedy because evictions are for removing tenants with leases, and a squatter is not a tenant.
Compared to the slower pace at which most civil actions proceed, unlawful detainer actions should move quickly through the courts. A response to the complaint is due within five days after it’s served, and a judgment often issues within three to four weeks.
Fortunately, the Soldier did not have to seek legal redress. His story struck a nerve in the community whose overwhelming support of the Soldier apparently pressured the squatters to move out of the house on their own. But not everyone who is faced with situation like the Soldier’s has the force of the community to remove a squatter from their home. You may need the help of a Tampa real estate lawyer because the police are often unable to do anything about squatters who claim they have a right to be in your home.
AM Tampa Bay – 970 WFLA interviewed attorney, Jeff Lieser on how to protect yourself against squatters.