Tampa military family gets inside home after HOA rented it to squatters

Sheriff's investigators look into HOA's actions

TAMPA, FL (WFLA) - A military family turned to 8 On Your Side last week after they returned from the Middle East to find strangers living in their home in Tampa's Camden Woods neighborhood. Their homeowner's association was collecting $1,000 a month in rent. "This should be criminal," said homeowner Douglas Tupper. And it might be.

Tupper and his wife, Lori, were shocked to find people living in their home. They abandoned the home years ago because it is filled with toxic Chinese-made drywall that made their family sick. When they were deployed, they decided they shouldn't rent the home because it's not safe to breathe in the fumes.

So they called the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office to report squatters. And they were shocked to find out the squatters produced a lease with their names on it. But the lease wasn't signed and the sheriff's office determined it wasn't real. Here's where the story takes another turn.

Sentry Management, the property management firm for the HOA, found the people living in the home but let them stay. A property manager hand-collected $1,000 a month in rent. A spokesman for the management company told 8 On Your Side that the Tuppers were $6,000 behind on dues and Florida law allows them to collect rent to pay the debt.

But 8 On Your Side took a closer look at the law and found that may not be true in this case. Florida law does allow an HOA to collect rent if a homeowner rents out their house but fails to pay their HOA dues. However, these weren't legitimate tenants, the homeowners didn't know there were there, and the management company admitted to 8 On Your Side that they knew that.

Steve Mezer, an attorney who represents homeowner's associations, says Camden Woods should have never collected the rent. They should have called law enforcement, he said. "They cannot attempt to collect rent from someone other than a tenant," Mezer said.

The association also put themselves at risk to be held responsible for the damage the renters did to the home, Mezer said. Meanwhile, the sheriff's office continues to investigate the HOA's actions.