Danielle Cruz Chicago landlord powerless after squatter with fake lease takes over her Chatham home and is now forced to go through a lengthy eviction process.
It’s every homeowner’s nightmare. And it has happened to Danielle Cruz who came to find while putting her Chicago area home on the market that someone moved in overnight and instead of finding recourse from police will now have to go through housing court to remove alleged squatter. A process that can take up to 18 months in heavily backed up eviction system.
The startling discovery came while Cruz and her husband were preparing their three bedroom Chatham home to be put on the market, when a contractor arrived to make some final repairs to the vacant home, only to find a stranger having taken over the home and all the locks changed.
Cruz told ABC 7 she immediately called police only for the ‘nightmare house guest’ to pull out a fake lease, claiming that they had paid $8,000 upfront in rent, leaving cops powerless to kick her out, she said.
‘They said, unfortunately, they couldn’t prove she was trespassing,’ Cruz told the station, explaining that the presentation of a lease has forced her to go to court and follow the formal eviction process.
The homeowner said she is stunned that law enforcement considers it a civil matter, due to tenants’ rights laws in Chicago’s Cook County.
‘I definitely do feel violated,’ she said. ‘I own this house, and it feels like if anyone can just break into your house and kind of take over, that’s a scary feeling.’
According to Cruz, she and her husband had just moved out and were finishing a renovation on the family home, which they had listed for $175,000.
‘We honestly thought he was joking,’ Cruz said. ‘So, we show up with the cops, and there’s a young woman in there with all of her belongings.’
The alleged transgression according to local real estate attorney, Mo Dadkhah is becoming increasingly common, as more and more squatters have begun breaking into homes in the area in recent weeks and taking advantage of afforded tenant rights- without having to necessarily be legitimate tenants.
Unscrupulous individuals can simply print out a fake lease and present it to cops — or change the locks and pose as a landlord renting out the place, according to the lawyer.
‘If somebody gets into the property in the middle of the night, nobody sees them get in the property, they have a lease in hand. Well, a police officer can’t determine — they’re not a judge — (if) that’s a fake lease, or that’s a fake signature or it’s forged,’ Dadkhah explained.
Compounding matters, the attorney said that in most cases, as in Cruz’s situation, police will refer homeowners to the eviction courts — which are currently backed up in Cook County.
‘The process could take six, 12, 18 months,’ he told ABC 7.
The Chicago Police Department said the woman living in the couple’s home had met with a mystery man, who claimed to be the landlord of the residence.
He allegedly presented a lease for her to sign, took her deposit money, and gave her keys to the house, police said.
The identity of the alleged mystery man posing as the landlord has yet to be validated. Which is not to say hypothetically, that the unknown man could have broken into the home while Cruz was away and presented the home as his own to an unwitting renter. Or that the individual who broke into the home is the current resident, posing as a legitimate tenant.
The episode has left neighbors frazzled.
‘No one wants to come back [home] and someone is living on the property,’ said neighbor Quintara Smith. ‘It’s frightening. I mean, that can happen to anybody.’
Adding, ‘it’s stealing.’