By Yelena Dzhanova
A Florida couple who got into a city dispute over an elaborate holiday lights display they put on annually at their house had been allegedly squatting in that home for 15 years, investigators said.
Mark and Kathy Hyatt never bought or took out a mortgage on the five-bedroom home, located in Plantation, Florida, that became nationally recognized for its extravagant lights every holiday season, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported .
After a nearly seven-month probe, investigators with the Broward Property Appraiser’s Office are seeking nearly $35,000 in back taxes for a homestead exemption that they say should never have been granted in the first place.
Investigators said the Hyatts allegedly put together fake deeds to claim ownership of the home, according to the Sentinel.
The investigation was launched after Kathy contacted the office of Marty Kiar, the county’s property appraiser, late last year, saying she had information about the 2005 deed “resulting in the Hyatts’ unlawful ownership of the subject property,” a memo from an attorney hired by the county said.
She said in a deposition that she and Mark had been looking for a home in the 2000s when they were married and came across the house while driving around the Plantation neighborhood. The house looks “vacant” and “abandoned,” according to Kathy’s deposition, as reported by the Sentinel.
The original owner, former Miami Dolphin Brett Perriman, said he’d sell the house to the Hyatts for $900,000. Perriman and his wife had left the house in 2004, and Mark, a mortgage officer at the time, learned Perriman did not have a valid deed to the house. But an investor had bought the home off Perriman, planning to flip it.
The couple broke into the home, Kathy reportedly said in her deposition, and created a fake deed using “cut and paste.” Then they changed the locks and threw out the investor’s belongings.
“We never paid any money to occupy,” Kathy said. “We were squatters.”
“Everybody was squatting back then,” she said.
Kathy and Mark evaded questions about the home for years, showing anyone who asked the fake deed Kathy said they had drawn up.
Around Christmas time every year, the house would get decorated with ornate lights and holiday paraphernalia, receiving coverage from national news outlets, as well as falling into contention with the City of Plantation. The City in 2014 sued the Hyatts, saying their elaborate lights could cause an accident due to the amount of traffic it generated, the Sentinel reported.
The Hyatts divorced in 2017, and Mark died in 2020.