I-Team

House sitting horror: Locked out

CREATED Feb. 20, 2014 - UPDATED: Feb. 20, 2014

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PLEASANT PRAIRIE - You can compare the past few months for Mark Dupey to a crossword puzzle. It’s been difficult to find the right words to describe what he went through.  Since 1989, Dupey has lived in a simple ranch house on 8th Avenue in Pleasant Prairie. But in December 2013 the homeowner found himself locked out of his house.

“I go to open the door and the door is locked. So I try my key the key won't work. I go to the front door and ring the doorbell and they're standing in the living room staring at me,” said Dupey.

Dupey wasn’t dealing with thieves or foreclosure, Instead his step son, Daryl Zierk and the step son’s family refused to open the door. Back in July 2013 Zierk and his entire family were invited by Dupey to stay at the house rent free.

“We never talked about rent,” explained Dupey.

Zierk’s entire family moved in with Dupey. A few weeks later Dupey headed to Colorado for work. He spent four months away while the step-son’s family stayed.

“I suppose I should have had him sign a lease but I didn't because he is family,” said Dupey.

Dupey said the two sides did agree to “house rules”. Those rules said Zierk would only play utilities. When Dupey returned home in December 2013, that’s when he found himself locked out and police called on him.

“Officers came out with the rules of the house, and they considered that a lease. They had three deposits slips for utilities and that was it. I said this is my home where am I supposed to live?” explained Dupey.

In this situation is completely legal. Dupey became a landlord and Zierk, the step-son was legally a tenant. While Dupey fought to get back inside his home he slept at his neighbors. He also spent hundreds of dollars on lawyers.

“The law protects squatters,” said Dupey.

But Zierk told the I-Team he was not a squatter.

Jermont: Did you refuse to leave?

Zierk:” No I didn’t he came back early. Our agreement was until April first. He came back early and want us to leave early. He violated the lease, not us.”

Jermont: Was there an actual lease?

Zierk: “Yes, there was.”

“Tenant agreements do not have to be in writing,” said Mark Silverman with Legal Action.

Silverman said despite never paying rent Zierk became what’s considered an “at will” tenant under Wisconsin’s landlord tenant law. He added it’s something he sees often within families.

“I say it can happen because people often don't put their agreements in writing and they will initially trust the other person,” said Silverman.

After going through the legal process the step-son’s family was evicted. But Dupey questions who is really protected under the law.

Zierk says he has receipts showing he paid both utilities and rent. He admitted he changed the locks only because he feared for his family’s safety. He insisted there was a lease.

But as it turns out under the “at will” tenant agreement a written lease isn’t necessary. Legal experts suggest always put something in writing, especially with family members.