In 2007, Jeff Cote bought a condo in the Little Tokyo Lofts in downtown Los Angeles, Two years later, he lost his job and could no longer make the payments on his loft. Thinking it would go into foreclosure, he packed up and moved out. Cote left it locked and empty.
But a few months ago, Cote found out his loft, which did not go into foreclosure, is not empty. A stranger is living in his home and has been for three years.
"Memorial Day weekend, I found out a squatter was living in my loft," Cote said.
Cote said the alleged squatter is Johnathan Glover, who Cote said changed the locks, painted a wall and won't leave.
Court records obtained by Eyewitness News indicate Glover was evicted from his last two residences. One of those residences is the loft right next door to Cote's.
"He was evicted from 311 and he moved right into my loft, which is 312," Cote said.
When Cote found out about Glover, he asked him to leave. Glover said he would and even signed an agreement to move out in August. Cote thought the matter was closed and listed his loft as a short sale. That was several months ago. Since then, the squatter has refused to leave, Cote said.
Cote filed a police report claiming Glover is a trespasser, but was told there was no evidence a crime had been committed, so there was nothing law enforcement could do.
Dennis Block, an attorney who specializes in evictions, said by law the rightful owner cannot remove a squatter by force. In most cases, the homeowner has to file a civil action in court, prove it's their property and evict the squatter. That process can take months or even more than a year.
"I think they're tantamount to being thieves, it's as simple as that," Block said. "Somehow the law doesn't look at them like that, they deem this to be a civil dispute and make a landlord file a civil lawsuit. But it's clean and simple, they're stealing."
Adding to Cote's problems, no one has been paying the homeowner association dues on his loft and he recently received a bill from the association. The bill is nearly $36,000.
Grant Beuchel is an attorney and a licensed locksmith who happens to live in the loft next door to Cote's, the very same one Glover had been evicted from. Beuchel claims he doesn't work for Glover.
"I am an attorney, but I'm not his attorney," Beuchel said.
However, Eyewitness News obtained a fax with Beuchel's letterhead stating his office is representing Glover in an attempt to buy Cote's loft in a short sale.
I went to the Tokyo Lofts to interview Glover. I called him on his cellphone and he admitted he still lives in the loft. He had only this to say on the record about Cote:
"He bought a bunch of properties he couldn't afford and I've been made to be the villain" Glover said. "He's basically blaming me, so I'm going to remove myself from the situation. That's basically the only statement that I have."
Glover denies he is a squatter because he claims he makes monthly rent payments of $2,150 to another landlord.
When asked for some proof of the payments, Glover said he always pays with cash or a money order, not checks. He also said the rent was last paid in June.
A copy of Glover's rental agreement was given to us by Beuchel. The agreement states the payments are to be made to a Thomas Marx with Countrywide Property Management in Citrus Heights near Sacramento. But when Eyewitness News tried to contact Marx, his cellphone number didn't work and his email came back unanswered.
If you have a vacant property, a second home, or plan on taking a lengthy vacation then here are some suggestions for preventing squatting:
- Make sure the property is securely locked.
- Give the appearance of a resident. One way to do this is to put lights on using a timer switch.
- If a property is going to be vacant for a period of time, let your neighbors know.
- Put up "no trespassing" signs.
- Visit the property regularly and look for broken windows or forced locks.
"The squatter claims he is going to be out about mid month," Coter said. "He told me that via text, although he has told me a lot of lies."
Over this past weekend, an Eyewitness News producer spotted Glover outside the loft and asked who he was. He denied he was Glover, but later confessed to his identity. Eyewitness News followed him into the loft. He said he was in the process of moving out after three years of living there.
This week, Cote finally got his loft back and his first task was to get the locks changed.