Police are investigating whether a family allegedly squatting in a million-dollar Coral Gables house forged a lease they turned over to city officials Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the owners of the rambling four-bedroom house at 601 Sunset Dr. face a $500-a-day fine unless they secure the house and properly register the vacant house, said Craig Leen, the attorney for the city of Coral Gables.
Since September, when police were called to the house by a tenant renting a room, city officials have suspected the family was squatting in the house. The house had been empty and in the midst of a foreclosure after the owners divorced five years ago. Owner Damian Echauri said his wife was given the majority of the house in a settlement and was supposed to sell it, but when she couldn’t, she stopped paying the mortgage.
In November, Echauri said he discovered Robert Ramos, 33, his wife Ana Alvarez, 52, and Alvarez’s son, Jonathan, 27, living in the house when his son spotted an ad on Craigslist listing a room for rent.
Never miss a local story.
Echauri called police and confronted the family at the house. But police were unable to determine who rightfully belonged in the house and told Echauri to seek eviction.
Frustrated and worried over spending money on a house that was already in foreclosure, Echauri said he didn’t know what to do.
“I don’t want to evict people when I know they’re trespassers,” he said. “Why should I go to the expense?”
But Leen said if Echauri comes to the city and proves the family is trespassing, the police can take action.
“If he can show they have absolutely no right, no lease, he can come to the police,” Leen said.
The house’s murky ownership is furthered complicated by a deed recorded with the clerk of court in March 2012 by a partnership, Prescott Rosche, indicating Echauri sold the house to the group. Echauri said his signature on the deed is forged. A spokeswoman for Chase, which paid the 2012 tax bill for $20,460.15, said Wednesday that bank records indicate Echauri is still the property owner. A foreclosure action has been started, she said, but has yet to conclude.
When contacted by Code Enforcement Officer Michael Kattou Tuesday, the family living in the house vowed to produce a lease. But the document they turned over Wednesday to the city included signatures belonging to Echauri and his wife, Nadia Casamayor, that do not match those on notarized records, Leen said.
The city assigned a Coral Gables detective to investigate the lease late Wednesday, said acting Police Chief Scott Masington.
The family living in the house, who has insisted they were duped by a landlord they cannot name, told Kattou they planned to leave by the weekend, Leen said.
In addition to Echauri, the city served notice of the violatiions to Chase Home Finance, Citibank, Prescott Rosche and U.S. Bank National Association, which have all shown up on various documents as having a stake in the house. Echauri has five days to clear up the matter before the fine kicks in, Leen said. The city is also looking into possibly citing the banks and Prescott Rosche, Leen said.