SPRING LAKE, Mich. (WZZM) -- WZZM 13 is uncovering a bizarre chain of events that forced a Spring Lake homeowner from her house while another woman continued living in it.
The homeowner says she invited a woman to stay as a favor, not knowing she'd soon have legal rights as a permanent resident under state law. WZZM 13 is learning that the guest has a history of evictions.
An act of kindness should never lead to this: a woman unwelcome but unwilling to leave until she was forced out of the house by a deputy. WZZM 13 is not identifying her because she's not charged with any crime. However, photos from inside the house show cat feces on the window sill and garbage scattered on the ground.
"Has wrecked my house, thousands of dollars worth of damage," says Michelle Rosso, the homeowner.
Just a few weeks before the eviction, WZZM 13 met homeowner, Rosso, who at the time was without her home.
"I'm staying with my mom and my boyfriend," says Rosso. "While a stranger is in your home," asked WZZM 13's Alex Shabad. "Exactly," said Rosso.
Rosso says the woman in her home was an acquaintance of someone she knew. In late June, the woman was in need of a place to stay.
"I thought, well, I'll be nice just for a couple days. I didn't realize it would turn into this nightmare and this mess," says Rosso.
During the first few weeks, Rosso says her guest was in and out of the hospital.
"She got a bill that came to my address with her name on it and I went, 'Uh oh, I'm probably in trouble,'" says Rosso.
By August, Rosso says she tried to get the woman to leave, but she refused.
"I asked the cops what I can do; there's nothing I can do as long as she established residency with an address. She is now considered a legal resident in my house," says Rosso.
"When you hear or see this story, it should be a cautionary tale," says Ross Reuterdahl, Rosso's attorney.
Reuterdahl says he had just dealt with the guest in a similar eviction case in Grand Haven.
"She is becoming what I would consider a professional tenant, she knows the process, she knows her rights, and uses those more as a sword than a shield," says Reuterdahl.
So WZZM 13 did some digging and found the woman was evicted at least four times in the past five years in Ottawa County. According to Grand Haven police records, a previous landlord complained that she had stolen an air conditioning unit but decided not to press charges. Court records also show she was convicted of check fraud in 2005. In the latest case, however, there are no criminal charges pending.
"I'm very grateful you are shining light to this issue," Rosso told Shabad.
"You need to know who you're inviting into your house, because once they start staying there, they can go from a guest to a tenant, and all of a sudden they are entitled to certain rights under Michigan law," says Reuterdahl.
Then, you may have to go through a long eviction process like Rosso did. She filed the paperwork on September 4. After court hearings and a judge's order, she finally had her house back on October 17.
However, Rosso says she's now taken an unfortunate lesson home with her.
"I will never help anyone again or let them move in," says Rosso.
WZZM 13 tried several times to speak with the guest. On the phone on Monday, she told WZZM 13 she was asked to stay at the home by the landlord and that she did things for the landlord such as babysitting and buying groceries.
WZZM 13 checked with the Michigan Attorney General's office and they gave us a few things you should know.
First, allowing someone to stay at your home carries legal risks, if that so-called guest later refuses to leave. Also, be aware that the person is not considered a squatter and is not trespassing or breaking the law if you've given consent for them to be at your home. There was a recent law to make squatting a crime, but that's only if the person moved in without the owner's permission.
The Attorney General's office also recommends reviewing the tenants and landlords manual created by the Michigan legislature. To learn more about your legal rights as a landlord or tenant click, on this link.