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Florida realtor faces prison time for housing the homeless

By R. Francis Rubio     Nov 12, 2010 in Business
For the past year, a North Lauderdale businessman has been locating foreclosed homes, fixing them up and renting them out to needy low income families. The only problem is that he doesn't own them.
Florida - Mark Guerette, owner of Save Florida Homes Inc. has been using an obscure 1869 Florida statute to take possession of foreclosed homes, and after a few renovations, he would rent them out to families in need.
The statute that Mr. Guerette is banking on says that the properties he and his company seized will be theirs in seven years as long as they maintain the property, pay the taxes and utilities and not claimed by the owners.
Guerette explained that he would drive around working class neighborhoods in Palm Beach and Broward counties looking for homes with a large orange sticker on them reading "public nuisance," then he would file a claim. Mr. Guerette said the sticker would let him know that the owners were out of touch and the city was unable to reach the them.
The 47 year old mortgage broker told The New York Times, "There are all these properties out there that could be used for good," and considers his efforts, doing good for society, although the North Lauderdale authorities see it a different way and believe he is a crook.
Set for trial in December and facing fraud charges Mr. Guerette could recieve up to 15 years in prison, but still insists what he's doing is legally and morally right.
Guerette has use this method to claim nearly 100 abandoned properties, then chose 20 of them that needed the least renovations and sent letters to the owners and their banks to alert them of his plans. Florida law does not actually require notification but at least in Guerette's case, it didn't really matter, 19 out of 20 letters he sent garnered no response.
The New York Times profiled one man and his family which greatly benefited from Mr. Guerette's creative venture.
Fabian Ferguson, along with his wife and two children now live in one of the two bedroom homes Guerette and his company acquired. Previously homeless and desperate the family found refuge in the relator's efforts, seeing Mr. Guerette as a savior.
Save Florida Homes Inc. receives a mere $289 a month in rent from the family, on the condition that Mr. Ferguson make some minor repairs to the home and takes responsibility for the upkeep of the property.
Not only does the arrangement greatly benefit Mr. Ferguson and his family, it also comes as a delight to their neighbors which expressed some concerns about the house being abandoned.
Rawle Thomas, the Ferguson's next door neighbor said, “I like them, and I’d much rather have someone in there than the house empty."
Although many legal scholars say this is not a new concept, and admit it's unknown exactly how many possession cases like this are out there, some believe this and a few other cases around the country will determine the future of the practice, and potentially set new standards in mortgage foreclosures.
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