Housing

Family sues rental company after it mistakenly cleaned out their home

At first, the family thought their home had been burglarized and called 911. But after police investigated, they said it was a civil matter.

Family sues rental company after it mistakenly cleaned out their home
New Port Richey Police Department / Scripps News Tampa
SMS

Moving can be stressful, but imagine moving your belongings into your new home and returning a couple of days later to find your locks have been changed and all of your personal items are gone. This nightmare was Victoria Swearinger and her family’s reality.

The Florida family moved some boxes into their new rental home on June 8, 2023, the day their lease took effect. Swearinger said on June 10, she and her family returned to the home to find the locks had been changed and the home was empty. 

She told Scripps News Tampa some of their belongings were found sitting in a pile by the street. But the rest of it was gone. 

“This is the hard part, stuff that I've had since my daughter was 2 years old, my grandma died. It's gone," Swearinger said, holding back tears.

Swearinger's daughter-in-law, Britanny Cromer, said she also lost sentimental treasures, including her grandmother's ring, her grandfather's dog tags and keepsakes she inherited from her late uncle.

“I immediately burst into tears because of all those things that I know I had in here,” said Cromer.

At first, they thought the home had been burglarized, and called 911. But after officers with the New Port Richey Police Department investigated the suspected burglary, they told them the case was actually a civil matter. 

Sylvan Homes, the property management group that owns the home, said its vendor mistakenly removed the family's personal property and changed the locks at the home, but that Sylvan “would not be liable for damages,” according to court documents. 

After Sylvan Homes refused to reimburse them for their losses, the family said they decided to sue the Georgia-based company, which manages rental properties throughout multiple states. The family is seeking more than $10,000 in damages.

In the lawsuit, they accused Sylvan Homes of violating Florida law by removing their property and changing the locks.

The family showed Scripps News Tampa a work order that indicates Sylvan scheduled the cleaning and re-keying to be completed by June 10, two days after their lease went into effect.

The company filed a motion asking that the case be dismissed. A judge ordered mediation for Feb. 13. 

Sylvan Homes did not return Scripps News Tampa’s repeated calls, and their attorney refused to comment on the case.

This story was originally published by Jackie Callaway at Scripps News Tampa.