(CBSMiami) — Michelle Pinder’s life has been shattered ever since strangers moved in and took possession of a vacant property she owned, her childhood home, which she had up for sale.
“I want them out of my house. I want to get the sale of the house over with and I want peace back in my life,” Pinder said speaking to CBS4 Chief Investigator Michele Gillen.
Problems with Pinder’s childhood home at 751 NW 39th Court began soon after her mother passed away. Pinder and her brother inherited the home and had it up for sale when a group of strangers derailed those plans.
Pinder says if her mother were still alive, it would be enough to send her into shock.
“I am glad she’s not here to see this,” Pinder said as she blinked back tears. “She would be appalled. She would be appalled.”
Driving by you’d never think a nightmare is being played out here. It has the appearance of home sweet home, as this woman and this man who somehow moved in nearly two months ago- she welcomes her daughter off the school bus each day…and luxury cars often line the driveway and friends visit.
“For you this is your home and there are strangers in it living there?” Gillen asked Pinder.
“Yes, you feel like you are being violated above anything else,” Pinder said.
Realtor Brittany Barreto and her team were excited to sell the house. But on the eve of the closing she showed up to do one last walk through of what was supposed to be an empty house.
“I show up and there are people outside and the door is open and I’m like what’s going on? Why are people in this house? I go up to them and ask them excuse me who are you?” Barreto said.
Barreto was face to face with Ibet Flores Castano who showed her a receipt for a cash payment she says she made to rent the house.
“As far as I’m concerned, this is a fake lease,” Pinder said.
According to it, Castano paid cash to the property’s owner, supposedly named Aurelio Hernandez.
His listed phone number rings at a Little Havana shop where no one ever heard of him.
For months, CBS4 Investigates has been documenting cases across South Florida where police and or banks have been notified that people living in foreclosed or vacant homes or apartments allegedly don’t legally belong there.
Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff is in the trenches documenting the problem.
“That’s what these squatters do. They gain possession. They change the locks. They act as if they have justifiable reasons for being there,” he said.
“Unfortunately the police are ill equipped to deal with this because if someone shows a document, a quit claim deed, a lease, the police treat it as a civil matter. And then you go before a judge; you are months, weeks, sometimes almost a year away to get a person out that doesn’t belong in the property.”
In some cases, families move out and disappear in the middle of the night. In one case, a family grabbed all their belongings out of a Coral Gables home, just before an eviction notice could be served, leaving behind cats.
Coral Gables Commissioner Ralph Cabrera says it’s not simple for owners to stop squatters.
“It’s shocking when it happens in your own community and it’s shocking when it happens here in Coral Gables, but it’s happening everywhere.”
Pinder says she has had to hire an attorney to begin eviction proceedings against the people who have taken up residence in her home.
“Here this is my house that I own and that I am paying taxes on and I am the one having to go to an attorney. I mean I don’t understand the system. I just don’t, something has to be done about it,” Pinder said.
CBS4 News attempted to ask the folks living in Michelle Pinder’s house about their refusal to leave. Matteo Mari who had previously told police he only spoke Italian answered the door. But refused to answer questions posed by CBS4’s Michele Gillen.
“I don’t speak English,” he said.
Days later, Pinder’s realtors return and, again, call police, this time wanting to file a burglary report for their missing for sale sign and a broken lockbox.
Castano continues to tell police she’s the victim and that she’s paid her rent.
“It’s a mother and child. Even the owners wouldn’t want to kick them out. I don’t think anyone even the owners would want to put this family out on the street,” Sgt. Freddie Cruz told CBS4’s Michele Gillen.
Pinder expressed her frustration saying, “I want them out of my house.”
That’s not going to happen for at least another 40 days. A judge ruled Wednesday that the legal owner and the folks living in her home are both victims and giving Castano 40 days to move out. Miami-Dade’s water and sewer department have already shut off the water. To the shock of Pinder, the judge asked her if she would put it back on if she was given a security deposit.
Meanwhile, the new buyers are ready to walk away.