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Squatters took over a home in an Orlando neighborhood. Getting them out took months.

Trevor Fraser, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Home and Consumer News

On a hot Thursday in July, the house at 5536 Kingswood Drive in Orlando was empty. Deputy Jacob Snavely of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and a contractor from property owner Sylvan Homes put back into place the front doors, which the deputy had helped remove the night before to make sure no one would be there in the morning.

For months, residents of Kingswood Manor say squatters turned this house into an ongoing party, a high volume of cars coming and going at all hours, trash strewn about the property and loud gatherings on the front lawn that shattered the peace in one of Orlando’s oldest subdivisions.

Experts say people illegally moving into vacant housing is a growing issue in Orange County, one that can become a major headache for neighbors, a problem compounded by empty investment homes and hard-to-reach landlords.

“Squatter houses are definitely something I’m dealing with a lot,” Snavely said. “This is a big problem in Orange County. And with foreclosures going up and rental prices going up, it’s definitely expanding.”

‘Casing the place’

Natasha Jenkins, who lives next door to 5536 Kingswood, first grew suspicious when she saw the same man parked in the driveway of the empty rental home every day for a month.

 

The home was bought last October for $381,000 by Sylvan Homes, a national investor in single-family rentals. After extensive renovations, Sylvan put the property up for rent on Feb. 16 for $3,731.

That’s when the mysterious car started showing up.

At first, Jenkins thought the driver might be interested in renting the house. “I’m thinking maybe he wants to rent it but he just doesn’t have the deposit right now, so he’s watching to see if anyone else takes it,” she said.

In retrospect, Jenkins said, “They were casing the place.”

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