Couple behind world-famous Christmas lights exposed as 15 year squatters in posh home

Famous Extreme Christmas House Decorators in Florida Were Actually Squatters!

After dazzling the nation with their over-the-top Christmas display for over a decade, an investigation revealed this couple unlawfully occupied their home for an estimated 15 years.

How Did This Happen?

The Sun Sentinel released the alarming facts about this case in mid-November, shocking readers across the country. You might wonder how anyone could remain in a home without paying a mortgage or rent for that long. And I’m right there with you! To start at the beginning, we have to go back to 2005.

Kathy Hyatt revealed in court that she and her husband, Mark, tried to purchase the home from former Miami Dolphin player Brett Perriman, but then things went a little off the rails. 

Mark Hyatt was a mortgage officer at the time, and he discovered a problem with the deed. The property’s ownership was ambiguous at best, which meant it couldn’t be easily sold to a buyer. 

When a private investor looking to flip the property for a quick profit bought the home with a $50,000 down payment, he was given a quit-claim deed. What he needed was an assignment of mortgage, and here’s where the paper trail becomes even more jumbled.

According to Kathy, Mark created a fake deed for the property using what he knew about real estate. Then they waited for the investor to leave the home, broke in, threw out all of his belongings that were in the property (even food from the refrigerator), and changed the locks.

When the investor returned incensed by their claims, Hyatt showed him the fake deed. The investor called the police, and yet they advised it was a civil matter and left.

The investor took the Hyatts to court, but nothing came of it for him. Their documents were enough to get them in, and they stayed there for over a decade.

While it is astounding the couple lived in the property for so long without being discovered as frauds, they are now facing a fraud case.

Quit Claim Deed vs. Assignment of Mortgage

Brett Perriman was the owner before the Hyatts took over as unlawful occupants, but his ownership became ambiguous at some point after he bought the home. 

In 1998, Perriman bought the home for $400,000. Unfortunately, he couldn’t pay off the mortgage and took out a second mortgage on the home for $585,000 before defaulting on the loan and moving to Georgia with his wife in 2004.

When the Hyatts drove by the home in Plantation, Florida, they claimed it appeared vacant which is where their misguided idea of ownership seems to have arisen.

The investor, who bought the property before the Hyatts, had a quit claim deed from the sale. For those of you paying attention to your paperwork, here’s where he went wrong. Investopedia defines a quit claim deed as a legal document used to transfer ownership or interest in real property from one party to another

These are often used in situations where the two parties know each other very well, family members for example. They can also be used when the property is gifted. However, having this document does not guarantee a clear title to the property. Mark Hyatt recognized that and took advantage of the opportunity.

What the investor needed was an assignment of mortgage. This refers to the transfer of the security instrument (your home) that underlies your mortgage loan. This is crucial for retaining legal ownership and rights to the property.

What Did The Hyatts Pay?

Kathy Hyatt testified in court, “We didn’t live there for free.” She claims they purchased the mortgage notes for $900,000 in 2007. And yet, there was still no clear assignment of mortgage. 

Investigators have looked into her claims. Vivian Gallinal at the Property Appraiser’s office admits they have yet to produce proof the Hyatts purchased or paid the mortgage notes on the property.

While it is astounding the couple lived in the property for so long without being discovered as frauds, they are now facing a fraud case.

The statute of limitations is 10 years for most of the alleged crimes…

Legal Proceedings

The Hyatts came into the spotlight in 2014 when the city of Plantation sued them claiming their extravagant Christmas light display could cause a traffic accident.

Kathy and Mark fought against the accusations in court, and in 2016, the case was closed because the judge could not prove their home display created a public safety issue.

In 2017, the lights went out for good when Kathy and Mark divorced. During their case over child support and the alimony that Kathy owed, the evidence of their fraudulent homeownership was uncovered.

Kathy Hyatt told the court their deed was a fake, and they never owned the home. Now, Kathy Hyatt and Mark Hyatt’s estate (he passed away in 2020) are facing $109,000 in back taxes including $34,724.68 for a homestead fraud lien. The couple had claimed a homestead exemption on their property taxes for seven years. Since they weren’t the rightful owners, that’s considered fraud.

Surprisingly, not much can be done for most of their unlawful occupancy. The statute of limitations is 10 years for most of the alleged crimes, so the courts can only look back to 2013

The case appears to be ongoing, with much of the evidence having been brought to investigators’ attention by Kathy Hyatt during the divorce proceedings. 

The property is off themarket at the moment and is estimated to be worth $1.72 million according to Zillow estimates.

If you somehow find yourself facing new locks and strangers in a home you’ve bought, investigate the title!

How to Ensure Your Properties Are Safe from Squatters

What can you do with these recent revelations? Check your deeds for one thing! 

You would think it’d be harder to fly under the radar of tax and mortgage authorities nowadays, but who knows? This couple was in the spotlight literally for years because of their extravagant holiday light displays, and no one looked twice at their right to ownership.

Read up on your state’s laws for homeownership, including definitions for squatting. Don’t let misguided notions of possession derail your investment portfolio. 

In future investments, ensure you have a clear deed delineating prior and current ownership of the property. And if you somehow find yourself facing new locks and strangers in a home you’ve bought, investigate the title! Mark Hyatt kept the title from being cleared for years, so no one would discover their lies. Don’t let it happen to you!

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Gina Soldano

Gina Soldano

Gina Soldano is a professional writer with seven years of experience writing online. She has written articles, blog posts, social media copy, email marketing, and ghostwritten for others on a wide range of topics including writing, health, real estate, and more.

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