Suzanne Keller-Becker says she offered an old friend a place to stay to help her get back on her feet. It was only supposed to be for a few days. But then the friend’s boyfriend, a convicted felon, showed up, and the pair refused to leave.
Keller-Becker says they started using terms like “established residency” and claimed the Tampa home was now their home, too. The boyfriend whipped out an identification card with Keller-Becker’s address on it.
“It’s like living in hell in your own home,” Keller-Becker said.
She called Tampa Police but once they heard the couple’s story, they called this a civil matter and said Keller-Becker would have to take the matter to court in order to evict the unwanted guests.
But since Keller-Becker is renting the home, she called her landlord. No good news there either. The landlord said she was now in violation of her lease for having extra people in her home. The landlord said he could evict the squatters, but he would also evict Keller-Becker, who lives in the home with her husband and 15-month-old baby, because of the cost to evict.
So she tried to co-exist with the squatters and convince them to leave.
The pair stashed a few blankets and pillows, a basket of clothes, and their cat on the porch. They slept on the floor. They ate the family’s food – and worse. Keller-Becker says she tried various things to pressure the squatters out, including removing the toilet paper.But what did the squatters do? They started using the family’s coffee filters.
“It has been crazy,” Keller-Becker said. “I can’t believe this can happen.”
She was finally at the end of her rope. After nearly a month, she called 8 On Your Side.
When the female squatter, Erisan Seibert, came home last week, our cameras were there. She would say only she was not on the lease and her friend told her she could stay. When asked why she and boyfriend Kyle Cooke won’t leave now that she’s been asked to go, she ignored the question, grabbed her cat and left.
None of this is surprises Tampa real estate attorney Joseph Kalish.
“It’s the way it is,” he said. “If you don’t enforce your rights, they’re going to be able to stay.”
The way the law is written, if you let someone stay in your home, and they claim to have established residency, the only way out is to file for eviction.
Kalish says the law will help, but it takes time. Homeowners, or tenants, can force out unwanted guests by filing a lawsuit called an “unlawful detainer.” It’s similar to an eviction but different because squatters don’t have a lease. This court action would take at least 30 days, but probably longer.
In the meantime, you could be stuck with squatters. Kalish recommends being extra careful about who you allow inside your home. If they won’t leave, police likely won’t force them to go, especially if the guests are there longer than one week. Keller-Becker says police even told her that if she changed the locks, she could be forced to let her squatters back in.
This is the third high-profile squatter story reported by 8 On Your Side in recent months.
Often, law enforcement says their hands are tied because they must recognize verbal agreements. If it’s unclear whether someone is supposed to be in a home, police often say it’s a civil matter and let a judge figure it out.
Legislator Amanda Murphy represents Pasco County, where two of the squatters claimed residency. She says the law needs to be strengthened to prevent squatters from taking over.
“We’ve reached the point that something needs to be done,” she said. “This is a very complicated issue, but we have to come up with new legislation to protect people. This could happen to anyone that tries to help someone by opening their home.”
After questions from 8 On Your Side and a call to the boyfriend’s probation officer, there was a change of heart. Keller-Becker says the pair showed up Sunday night, packed up and left.