TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. — A local mother was forced to bathe her baby in the sink with bottled water after she and other tenants said they were duped by a squatter pretending to be a landlord in upscale Treasure Island.
Tatiana Carrillo paid a $700 deposit and agreed to pay $700 per month in rent for an apartment in a Treasure Island home, which was advertised as “Beach Living” on Craigslist.
“We thought it was a gift from heaven that we found this place. And we got it for a good price,” Carrillo told I-Team Investigator Adam Walser
A man named Jeffery Nolen claimed to be the property manager, according to Carrillo. He collected their money and signed a year’s lease last summer. On the lease, which the I-Team obtained, Nolen signed his name and listed his title as “Landlord/Property Manager”.
But it turns out Nolen, who also lives on the property, is a squatter, according to police reports.
The property used to belong to an elderly woman who Nolen cared for, but he never moved out after she died last year, according to a police report from October. The I-Team found the property was supposed to go back to the bank, since it was in foreclosure, according to official records sent by a bank and recorded with the Pinellas County Clerk of Court’s Office.
“He was just waiting on the bank to take it, living there for free,” said U.S. Army veteran Katherine Whiitanen, who rents a room from Nolen on the property.
Whiitanen said she had no idea Nolen wasn’t the landlord when she moved in grew suspicious after she found out Nolen was living on part of the property that didn’t have power.
“I had it turned on in my name,” said Whiitanen. “Unbeknownst to me, there was a huge deposit because of his lack of payments.”
Last month, Carillo and her boyfriend Jessie Minor, Jr. learned that the property was in foreclosure when a deputy served a notice.
“I said, ‘Look man, the jig is up. We know what’s going on, so obviously it’s not smart for me to continue giving you money. We’ll be moving out,’” said Minor.
That’s when the family says things turned ugly.
“Our fridge was out. Our heaters were out,” said Carrillo, who called police after Nolen turned off their power.
“They had him turn back on the breakers, but they wouldn’t do anything else about it,” said Carrillo. “They said it was a civil matter.”
Then in late January, Carrillo said the water at the property was cut off because Nolen hadn’t paid his bill.
A Pinellas County official confirmed to the I-Team the shutoff order stemmed from a more than $1,400 unpaid water bill.
“It’s tough,” said Carrillo. “It’s a struggle every day.”
Carrillo said she recycles the bottled water for her baby’s baths to flush her toilet.
Water service was supposed to be included in her lease.
“It gets complicated pretty quick,” said attorney Kirk Eason of the Palmetto Law Group, who specializes in tenants’ rights.
He says a judge could order Nolen to turn on the utilities, but it would be difficult to enforce because Nolen doesn’t own the property and likely doesn’t have enough money to turn the water back on.
Eason says tenants should thoroughly check out any property and landlords before signing a lease.
“If something’s too good to be true, you’re going to really need to dive into it,” said Eason.
A simple background check shows Nolen is an ex-convict, who served two years in prison for battery and burglary. The I-Team found he has been arrested more than a dozen times for charges including trespassing, fraud, battery and drug possession.
When I-Team Investigator Adam Walser went to speak with Nolen about why he was renting out rooms and apartments he doesn’t own, Nolen shut his door on before saying, “I’d rather not say anything, thank you.”
Carrillo, who says she can’t afford to move, is trying to find a new home for her infant daughter.
“We feel terrible because we can’t save her from this situation right now because nobody’s willing to help,” said Carrillo
The city's code enforcement office is now ordering everyone out of the property because there’s no water. Last Friday, they notified the residents to vacate the home immediately. As of when?
Treasure Island Police have been called there three times since October for multiple landlord/tenant issues, including alleged written and verbal threats Nolen made and reports that Nolen disconnected his tenants’ power. Police did not file any criminal charges against Nolen during any of those calls.
After we started asking questions, Treasure Island Police said they can’t comment because it's an ongoing investigation.
The I-Team reached out to Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company, which is the trustee for the foreclosed property, but have yet to receive a comment.
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