Strange things happen

~a column by Colleen O’Brien

A woman I know in Florida has gone through about $6,000 and six months of bewilderment, frustration and anxiety because of “guests” in a rental house she owns.

“This was the worst time in my life,” said Lucilla. She is 82 and her husband of just more than 60 years died in October. Both of these facts compounded the dastardly behavior of a couple of “friends” of her son. This is a true and scary story of the false accusation and subsequent jailing of her son, the takeover of her property, the selling of all her furniture and goods, the trashing of the interior and the yard, and the expense of a lawyer who promised a lot, knowing he could do nothing.

Lucilla was grieving deeply the death of her lifelong love when her Colorado daughter sent her a ticket to spend a couple of months in a place with a different view. While there, her 61-year-old disabled son in Florida invited friends to his house to stay for a bit because they told him they would help him in any way they could – there were things he could not do because of a severe sciatica problem.

His house was a bungalow his mom and dad bought so he, as a partially disabled person, could have a place to live with dignity. His parents bought the place; he paid the utilities and kept the property up. He was handy with slight repairs and he could usually mow the lawn; he lived comfortably, had friends, saw his parents and the sister and nieces who lived in town.

Then while his mother was out of state, the set-up happened. He invited new friends to stay with him awhile and help him out while they looked for a place to rent. Once in, they picked a fight with him, hit him and abused him. He called the cops, the male “friend” marked up the woman so she was the one who looked battered, the cops came, believed the story that my friend’s son had hit her and hauled him off to jail.

And the new “friends” had a house to live in.

Lucilla returned home and first off hired a lawyer to get her son out of jail; the lawyer couldn’t do anything but kept the upfront money. She then attempted to talk to the “squatters” and got nowhere. Law enforcement told her they couldn’t help her because the son had invited the people in, had gone to jail on one count of battery, and the “injured” woman had filed a court complaint to which a judge issued a “no-contact” order.

And meanwhile, the two new acquaintances had possession of the house, invited other friends of theirs in, began selling furniture out the front door, including a toilet they set on the curb with a for sale sign on it, and from evidence after the fact, were doing and selling drugs. Neither the son nor his mother were allowed to talk to the woman or anybody else who now occupied her house.

Of the several maddening situations that plagued Lucilla throughout this travesty, the worst, she said, was that she owned the place and she paid the taxes, but because of the law, she couldn’t get in there, and she couldn’t get them out; her hands were tied.

“What about my rights?” she demanded of a sheriff’s deputy.

“Sorry, Ma’am,” he said. “The courts will have to decide.”

After weeks of crazy-making, the time limit on the no-contact order expired, and Lucilla was allowed possession of her house. She went with the sheriff’s deputies, and the people had fled. They were now on the wrong side of the law. Because they had been invited into the house by Lucilla’s son, they were considered guests, not even technically squatters as they took over the place. Because of their shenanigans in making the son look like the batterer and getting him arrested, they were able to operate within the law.

These people knew what they were doing and are no doubt off in some other county or state doing it again.
The house has been cleaned out and scrubbed, the windows boarded, the littered yard picked up and the for sale sign is in the ground.

This happened in Florida and is not uncommon, for many snowbirds live there for only six months at a time, going north in the summers, leaving their southern homes empty. This works two ways, of course, because houses in the north are empty for six months during the winter. Most of these kinds of situations are “squatting,” however, in which people just sneak in and live until they get caught. Lucilla and her son’s woeful tale was a case of a practiced con.

Know your state laws, Lucilla was told. And beware the “friends” you invite to your home.
Makes for suspicion all around, doesn’t it? And makes you realize that the hazards of life can spring from any side, at any time and can be stranger than you could have dreamed.
As if we didn’t have enough weird stuff to put up with at this time in history.


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