TAMPA - Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is warning residents of the potential for new, illegal neighbors during the RNC.
"They're trespassing," said HCSO Spokesman Larry McKinnon. "They're breaking into these homes that don't belong to them."
McKinnon's office studied prior conventions like the swift-approaching RNC, and noticed several trends resulting from thousands of protestors invading towns across the country.
Despite the energy of daytime mobs, protesters will need a place to sleep, and HCSO believes they may take refuge in vacant homes, buildings, or overgrown backyards.
"Thousands of dollars of damage they can do to someone's property and be gone before they even know about it," McKinnon said.
It's damage, however, that's not new to areas like Ybor City, expected to be a hot spot during the RNC.
"Someone actually stole a 400-500 lbs cast iron bath tub," explained contractor Mark Etting. "I don't know how you could do that."
Etting fixes up vacant homes in the historic district, and adds an illusion to keep squatters out. His "windows" appear to be glass from far away. Up close, they're painted wood. If the fake windows don't keep trespassers at bay, Etting will take care of it himself.
"I intend to stay here just to protect the property," he said.
For some, though, the RNC protestors may bring welcome attention.
Pete Johnson, a neighborhood activist, admits RNC protesters may aggravate the blight he's fought for years, like graffiti and crime. Still, he doesn't think the result will be entirely negative.
"If you're going to be an anarchist, you don't care where you live, you just need a roof over your head," Johnson said. "I hope the city finally takes notice of the amount of abandoned, vacant homes and secures them, regardless if the RNC is here or not."
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