WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - When a home or apartment is going to the auction block for an unpaid mortgage or taxes, the court notifies the owner or tenant, but those tenants don't always get notified when the property is sold to the highest bidder.
Kathy Murphy returned home after a few days away and found an unwanted guest moving her out of her rented apartment.
“I saw a man had a car backed up here with my personal belongings in the trunk of his car and my house was in shambles,” said Murphy.
Inside, she says several valuable items were missing including electronics like her computer and her Wii gaming system.
“I couldn't believe what was going on,” said Murphy.
She snapped photos so she had proof of what was taken and began planning her next move so she wasn't homeless.
Murphy reached out to the Consumer Watchdog on Facebook .
“I’ve watched you helping other people and that was my last option. That's all I ever do is see you help people in the community,” said Murphy.
We found the apartment Murphy rents was sold at a tax sale. The winning bidder told the Consumer Watchdog that he sent his maintenance man to clean out the place and change the locks because he thought the apartment was abandoned.
The Consumer Watchdog spoke with real estate attorney, Michael Posner to find out what happens if someone gets the property at a tax sale and then comes and changes the locks.
“We refer to that as self-help and self-help remedy which is illegal in Florida,” said Posner.
While it's illegal, Posner said it's not always intentional.
“Sometimes the new owners don't know the process. But in other cases you sometimes have an aggressive landlord who would like to get a higher market rate for the rent or don't want to deal with a certain type of tenant and try to bully some of the tenants to move out,” said Posner.
Within minutes of the Consumer Watchdog’s phone call to the new owner, everything changed for Murphy.
“I received a call from him a little while ago stating that he changed his mind and wants to meet with me and compensate me for the things and give me more time to find a place to live,” said Murphy.
Murphy says she received money for the items taken and she also got moving expenses.
You should take pictures of your items to protect yourself and your finances and keep a copy of your lease outside of your apartment so you can prove you have a right to live there if someone else takes over ownership of the building.
Posner provided a timeline for eviction based on business days.
1. Three Day Notice (3 days from receipt)
2. Service of Process (2 days, 3 tries)
3. Initial Complaint (5 days from date served as to Count I and 20 days to Count II; if no answer go to 4, if yes go to 10)
4. Default Count I Filed With Clerk (2-5 days)
5. Final judgment for possession sent to judge (2-5 days)
6. Order for possession sent to clerk (1-3 days)
7. Writ of Possession issued by clerk and sent to Sheriff (1-3 days)
8. Sheriff posts writ (1-3 days)
9. Sheriff removes tenant (1 day)
10. Motion to strike answer plus demand for money paid to court (2-5 days)
11. Court either grants motion or sets hearing date (2-5 days; go to 4 if tenant doesn't pay)
12. Fifteen Day Notice for Damages (30 days from receipt; sent after tenant is removed)
13. Default Count II Filed with Clerk
14. Final Judgment for Count II Entered by Court (2-5 days; may be delayed if premises are damaged)