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WEST BOUNTIFUL — When Heidi Shippen bought a West Bountiful house as a rental property she promised the former homeowner she would find good renters, that the neighbors would like. But after closing on the house, she and her husband went on a 10-day trip to Florida.
On Tuesday they stopped by the house to meet with a painter who was going to do some touch-ups before she listed it. That's when things got weird.
"(We) found a couple of cars in the driveway," which seemed strange to Shippen. "We thought that's kind of odd that somebody would park in the driveway. We haven't been here for a couple of weeks. We just assumed it was neighbors needing an extra place to park."
She found out in a hurry it wasn't neighbors. She heard dogs barking in her backyard, then movement in her garage.
"She said, 'I live here,'" a voice yelled out from the garage. "I said, 'You don't live here — this is my house. Who are you?'"
It was squatters — a group of five people, including a newborn baby.
"The story just kept getting crazier and crazier and crazier, so we called police," who initially told Shippen they couldn't help.
"The police came and just said basically, you know, until we can figure what's going on, this is a civil matter and you'll just have to contact your attorney," she said.
Generally speaking, squatters cases are civil cases, which means you have to start a case, get an attorney and file a formal complaint. The process can take months — all while the squatters live in your house, free of charge.
So Shippen and her husband went to West Bountiful City Hall where they found out the scam had started in mid-February and they say a man had forged Shippen's name on legal documents. Police say the documents were enough to serve a search warrant. It didn't go smoothly, with officers ultimately kicking in the door and arresting three men. A woman and her newborn baby were allowed to go to a police-provided hotel for the night.
"During this investigation, documents were produced and we ended up seeking search warrants for the house and ended up removing the people that were living inside," a police officer said.
"All my keys, nothing works anymore. I don't have any keys that work," Shippen said.
It was an emotional night for her.
"I started to cry, for lots of reasons," Shippen said, adding it was sad to watch a new mother with a crying newborn get kicked out of a home, regardless of the circumstances. She's also mad.
"They've been doing this for several weeks," Shippen said. "They've been planning this and strategizing, and figuring out how to do this. I was out of town for 10 days, so I didn't know this was going on."
But the accused squatters did. And she said she's going to be a lot more aware from here on out and hopes others will be, too.
"We've just got to watch out for each other. If you see something weird, tell somebody."