Tuesday, June 18, 2013
On Friday January 14th as I drove home after sketching on Virginia Drive, I was surprised to see a police car parked a block from my home, with its red and blue lights cutting into the night. A Channel 9 News van was parked behind the police cruiser. Several young men stood in the street with large black plastic bags piled near by, their heads bowed.
This McMansion was build in 2008 just before the Housing market crash which sent the country into a recession and resulted in countless foreclosures. After this 7 bedroom, 6.5 bathroom, 4242 square foot home was built, it remained vacant. It is estimated to be worth over $710,400 yet it was never sold. For the last five years the place has been abandoned. The grass turned into tall weeds and the pool became a green sludge. The neighborhood homeowners association seemed to ignore the buildings abandoned state. Then again, abandoned, unmaintained, homes are now a common sight throughout the neighborhood.
Kelly Wyatt moved in last week with her five sons signing a rental agreement to pay $1,800 a month. She paid $1,800 cash up front. The usual rent for a place this big would be close to $4,000 a month. She was told she was getting a deal if she would maintain the place. My wife saw one of the sons mowing the lawn for the first time in years. Dead tree branches were moved curbside for pick up. Kelly majored in the Visual and Performing Arts at Owens Community College in Toledo Ohio before moving to Florida. She is the CEO of Diversity Theater Company and works at Glasshouse Ministries as a chief executive officer.
Kelly called Channel 9 News when the sheriff's office informed her that she had just three hours to leave the home she thought she was renting legally. Her family stayed in the 5501 Bay Side Drive Mansion just four or five nights before she was told she would have to leave. She was the victim of a scam. The real owners, Jody and Monica Mendelsen who live in a humble waterfront home in Plantation Florida, had no idea that anyone was living in their Bay Side home until the Orlando Sheriff's department called.
The scam artist may have created fake identification papers in the Mendelsen's name. The big mystery is how this fake landlord got the keys to the abandoned home. According to Kelly's description he was about 5'10" tall, a bit heavy built, perhaps Indian with slightly grey hair and he drove a silver SUV. It is not clear if all the locks had been changed in the home or if the original home keys had been used. No one has been able to contact the fake landlord. Apparently this type of scam happens often.
Kelly, her five sons, a yellow Labrador and a cat were suddenly homeless. "I feel like I have been robbed." Wyatt said. The family had little in the way of possessions. There were a few suitcases, a couple of computers, a house plant, a box fan and clothes in plastic bags. There wasn't any furniture to be moved. Most of her belonging were still in storage in Ohio. Apparently viewers of the Channel 9 News broadcast started calling the station offering assistance. I don't know if this family has a roof over its head today.
As I sketched the home, I heard loud squeaks coming from inside like the sound of a basketball player's sneakers on the polished floor boards. The NBA finals were flickering onto TV screens across America. I finally realized the sound was of a fire detector with a dying battery. Once again the building was abandoned with no one to replace the battery, a symbol of false hope and greed.