A Hawaii-based soldier who fought to get rid of squatters in his Florida home is speaking out here for the first time.
Army Spc. Michael Sharkey thought his home was in good hands when he was deployed to Afghanistan, but two squatters took it over and authorities couldn’t do anything about it.
“I was shocked that someone could do this,” said Sharkey. “Just literally break into my house and live there.”
Sharkey currently lives in Hawaii. He is a helicopter mechanic stationed at Wheeler Army Air Field and a 1989 graduate of Radford High School.
He also has a home in New Port Richey, near Tampa, Fla. It was vacant when Julio Ortiz and his wife moved in and changed the locks.
Ortiz claimed he had an agreement to live there rent-free in exchange for renovating the house. Sharkey said that’s not true.
But when Sharkey’s wife called deputies to help take back the house, they told her it was a civil matter.
For a while, it looked like Sharkey would have to go to court, but his Florida community rallied in his support and, under the glare of television cameras, the couple moved out Wednesday.
Dan Oyasato is an attorney in real estate law and a former deputy city prosecutor. He told KHON2 that the same situation could happen here.
“It happens all over the place,” Oyasato said. “This is not an uncommon scheme.”
Oyasato says if the home is vacant and a person moves in without attracting too much attention, the homeowner could run into a problem.
“The individuals are actually in possession of the house. They’re in the house, they’re living there,” said Oyasato. Oyasato says even though the homeowner pays the mortgage and the utility bills, squatters could claim “that they have some kind of agreement with you to be able to stay in the house.”
Oyasato says the courts are placed with the responsibility of determining who has the legal rights in a given situation. “The police can (help), but they are opening themselves to liability and legal exposure if they choose to take a side,” he explained.
A Honolulu Police Dept. spokesperson says police officers are able to respond and make a case for trespassing, but Oyasato says that might not get rid of the squatters.
“Maybe we should take a look at some of the laws and find out because I guess the people who were living in the house had more rights than I did,” Sharkey said.
Oyasato has the following tips for homeowners who find themselves in a similar predicament:
- If someone is looking out for your home while you are away, have that person call police and alert you to the situation.
- Have police make a report so there is documentation.
- If police officers are unable to remove the person, call an attorney and work up a summary possession case.
- Have the attorney file a complaint in court.
Watch KHON2’s unedited interview with Spc. Michael Sharkey below: