A Man’s Home is His Castle.

Thomas Graves, a military veteran, knows times are tough. So
when he met another veteran with no place to live, he wanted to help.

“I
just thought, “Well, gee, I have an air-conditioned house and an empty
bedroom, and I thought it would be a good idea to say, ‘Why don’t you
just stay here,’ ” Graves said.

The invitation was for few months.

A
year later, the now unwanted guest was still there. When Graves asked
him to leave, he said he was shocked by the man’s response.

“I
really thought if I asked him to leave he would just leave,” Graves
said. “I think he said something like, ‘You’ll have to have me carried
out of here.’ “

It took six uncomfortable weeks and a court order to kick the man out of Graves home.

Stories
like Graves’ are being repeated across Tampa Bay, police and court
officials say, as a growing number of people – perhaps because of the
sluggish economy – are allowing people to stay in their homes.

They’re finding it’s not easy to get their guests to leave.

Whether
you’re dealing with friends down on their luck or adult children who
won’t leave the nest, the law, at least in the short run, is not on your
side if you’re the homeowner.

Those who call police find that if a
guest can demonstrate a home is the “primary residence” – and that may
just mean the mail comes there – he or she lives there in the eyes of
the law. It doesn’t matter whether there is a lease or rental payments.

The
guest doesn’t have to stay long to claim a right to a home, either,
said Larry McKinnon, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s
Office.

“Once you allow somebody to stay overnight, they put
their toothbrush on the sink, put clothes in the closet, they pretty
much become a resident of that location where they’re living,” McKinnon
said.

So what can you do to take back your home?

If the
guest won’t leave when asked, you can file an “unlawful detainer” at the
local courthouse. This puts the situation in front of a judge, who can
issue an order for the guest to leave.

Then law enforcement will escort the guest off the property.

Tampa
attorney John McMillan said he’s never seen a case in which the judge
didn’t side with the homeowner. But be prepared to wait.

“It doesn’t always happen quickly,” McMillan said.

A check of Hillsborough County court records shows how pervasive the problem is.

Every year since 2005, the number of unlawful detainers filed has gone up.

In
2006, when the economy and housing market were strong, 16 unlawful
detainers were filed in the county. That compares to 75 in 2009, 91 in
2010, and 64 through eight months of 2011.

The court files tell stories similar to Graves’.

They
also tell of homeowners who invited in love interests then change their
minds and of parents, struggling to get adult children to move out.

McKinnon said deputies have heard it all.

And he advises against taking matters into your own hands.

Some people have grown so frustrated they change the locks and move the unwanted guest’s belongings to the curb.

They think, McKinnon said, “This is my house, and I can do this.”

Some have been shocked when deputies require them to change the locks back and let the person back in.

“Law enforcement typically does not have authority to remove people out of a house without a court order,” McKinnon said.

So he offers one last bit of advice.

“Be very careful who you allow to stay in your house.”

I post regularily, normally my own thoughts, now you can follow me on Kindle.

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