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Landlord Loses Thousands of Dollars to Get Squatter Out of Rental Property

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Des Moines landlord Bill Moyer says he's spent the past two months and lost thousands of dollars trying to evict a squatter from one of his rental properties.

Moyer says he doesn't understand how someone can break into his property, live there for months, and he has to pay the price for it.

Moyer says it all started in may when Jody Engstrom came into his office, looking for a place to rent. He says he told her he has a place on Merle Hay Road but it wasn't ready to move in yet. He says Engstrom asked if she could look at it anyhow.

"I never thought any more about it. I thought she'd drive by and look at it and, uh, next thing I know I come out here about three days later and she's moved in," Moyer explained. "I told her 'I 'm telling you to get out of my house now.' And she just looks at me and says 'Evict me. Evict me.'"

Moyer did, but the whole process took two months and cost him thousands of dollars in clean up costs, lost rent, and fees to get Engstrom out. "It's like $85 down there to even start the deal. And then you gotta have the sheriff serve this thing four different times. And that cost me each time. It cost me anywhere from $30-$40 a time," Moyer said.

Polk County Sheriff's Department Captain Jana Abens says getting someone out of a rental property -- even someone illegally squatting there -- can be a long and expensive process.  "There is a lengthy legal process that people have to go through. There is paperwork that has to be filed and that paperwork, once it's signed, does have to be served to the person that we believe is living here," Abens said. "There are fees and of course the removal of any property that has been brought to a home such as this."

While removing Engstrom's property, police seized drug paraphernalia found inside the home and a BB-gun that looks a lot like a real gun.

We found Engstrom staying at a local motel. She says she had an agreement with Moyer to stay in the house in exchange for doing some cleaning up, although she says the deal was not in writing. She says she knew Moyer wanted her out. She got the written warning. But she says she had nowhere to go.

"I just got myself in a tough situation," Engstrom said, "When you live paycheck to paycheck and you have to spend all your money on food because you don't have anything to refrigerate and anything to cook with it, yeah it's really expensive to be broke. I, um, it's embarrassing."

An online check of court records shows this isn't the first time Engstrom has been in this position though. She's been sued at least 15 times since 2003 for not paying rent or to be evicted. Moyer says Engstrom preys on landlords, and the law does more to protect her than it does to protect her victims.

"The whole deal that happened from the beginning is just unbelievable," he said.

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