A Tampa family paid thousands of dollars to lease a house, but they said the owner refused to leave or even give them their money back.
And they later learned that house was in foreclosure.
Now the homeowner is suing the family saying they backed out of the agreement.
“We were going to move in here with three children,” said Joezette Hite, who saw a rental listing for a South Tampa Home on Zillow in June.
She says she called for an immediate showing, then quickly signed a year-long lease.
“We needed to move in by the 29th at the latest, because were closing on our house on the 30th. And I asked him could we move a few days prior and he said absolutely,” Hite said.
The house is owned by Tampa attorney James Lee Clark and was marketed by Florida Recovery Property Solutions, Llc.
The Hites paid a total of $7,000 for a deposit and first and last months' rent.
But when they tried to move in, she says Clark was still there.
“The person living in the master bedroom walked out of the bedroom, woke up, picked up his dog, went back into his room and barricaded himself in there and wouldn't come out,” Hite said.
Hite took several photos of lots of belongings left in the house when she tried to move in.
She had to rent three storage units to store her own belongings, then stay in a hotel until she could find another place to rent.
But she says Clark refused to return her money.
“They have sent their certified letters as undeliverable back. I have showed up at James Lee Clark’s office because he's an attorney here in Tampa, but the people there say he hasn't been there in weeks,” she said.
Hite later learned Clark's house received a final foreclosure judgment two days after she signed a year-long lease, something she says Clark and Florida Recovery Solutions never disclosed.
“They received a letter from the court that it's going to be auctioned off in a couple of months,” she said.
The current auction is scheduled for October 19.
Tampa attorney Marsha Moses specializes in real estate law.
“Certainly it raises some red flags. It sounds like they're trying to conceal that information to try to induce you to sign the lease agreement without your full disclosure of what's going on with the property,” Moses said.
Moses says Clark is also bound to honor his lease agreement under Florida landlord-tenant law.
“You can't just hang onto somebody's security deposit and not let them move in,” Hite said.
Clark declined an on-camera interview but sent the I-Team the eviction lawsuit he filed last week against the Hites and Florida Recovery, claiming they violated the lease.
He says he didn't know that the family arranged to move in early, but still made preparations for their move, and then they refused to move in.
Now the issue will likely be resolved in court.
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