A soldier says that while he was deployed to Afghanistan two years ago, squatters moved into his Florida home, changed its locks, and refused to leave.
Michael Sharkey and his wife are now in Hawaii, where he was stationed after his tour of Afghanistan, but they want to move home to New Port Richey, reports Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA.
However, the strangers moved into their house, Sharkey said, and the Pasco County Sheriff's Office told him and his wife that they could not make the squatters move out until they were ready to go.
The couple, Julio Ortiz and his girlfriend, Fatima Cardoso, did not apologize for staying in the home, even though they know Sharkey does not want them living there. Further, Ortiz insisted they were not doing anything wrong, because they had a verbal agreement with a friend of Sharkey to fix up the home in exchange for living there.
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WFLA News Channel 8
He also claimed he was going to fix up the house and work things out with Sharkey to rent the house, which the homeowner denied, as he said he's never seen or spoken with Ortiz.
In an update Wednesday night, WFLA reported that the couple was moving out
of the house after the stories about the squatters hit the news and local veterans' organizations stepped in.
Lauren Price, of Veterans Warriors, had told WFLA that she has heard from veterans around the world who want to help, and describes Ortiz as a criminal, not a squatter.
Meanwhile, she and another veterans group found an attorney to handle the eviction process for free, and veterans say they will keep a close watch on the home to make sure it is not vandalized.
If they hadn't moved out, Sharkey's supporters had planned to hold a motorcycle ride on Sunday to head to the house, the station reported.
The situation started after Sharkey's friend, Lisa Pettus, offered to care for the house while he and his wife were away. She said she met Ortiz through a friend and he agreed to help her fix up the home, but that he and his girlfriend were never left alone in the house. But two months later, after the work was finished, Pettus says she found the couple living in the house, but she never gave them permission to stay there.
The sheriff's department said that the verbal agreement makes the matter a civil issue, meaning Sharkey would have had to file a formal eviction because the couple has established residency in the house.
"I don't think I should have to pay hundreds of dollars and go through that aggravation," Sharkey said. "I work hard, long hours, and these people never had permission to live in my home."
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