ROGERS PARK — The couple arrested for moving into and fixing up a vacant home they didn't own has retained an attorney, who plans to take legal action to recoup damages after the couple was evicted from the home by its rightful owner.
"I absolutely intend to work on their behalf," said Kelli Dudley, a Chicago attorney who concentrates on eviction and foreclosure cases. "Even a squatter has eviction rights."
Michael Donley, 46, and Carmilla Manzanet, 43, who face trespassing charges, were thrown out of the home at 1527 W. Birchwood Ave., with their belongings locked inside, after property owner Invitation Homes learned they'd moved in unannounced.
After friends were allowed into the home last week to collect some of their stuff, Donley said a camera, a laptop and a pet turtle were missing.
"We're definitely going to seek litigation in response to damages and losses," said Donley, who, along with longtime partner Manzanet spent $3,000 on repairs inside the vacant home before moving in furniture, a record collection and other belongings in early April.
He said he had hoped to live in the formerly bank-owned home for at least a few years. But the plan went sour when a locksmith came to change the locks and found Donley and Manzanet inside. Her teenage son and daughter also spent time in the house.
Although Donley said he was able to recover his family's pet cat since they were evicted, Manzanet's pet turtle, a birthday gift from her kids, was left behind and might have been released in the home's backyard.
Donley said he had yet to sort through all of their belongings, which are now split between the Birchwood home and a storage facility on Howard Street.
"Even though we were squatters, we do have rights," Donley said. "The attorney said she's very passionate about the turtle."
Dudley, the attorney, said under Illinois law the couple could be entitled to damages of up to $1,500 plus the cost of the animal if the turtle had been abused.
If the animal was released outside, she said, there would be a reasonable expectation it would die.
Dudley also said "squatting is a new phenomenon" in the court of law and court claims faced a hurdle because there's a preconception that the occupants were wrongfully there.
Nonetheless, she said, due process in all evictions should to be followed. And in Donley's case, it wasn't, she said.
"That was a completely wrong way to evict them," she said. "I want to offer them representation."
Eric Elder, a spokesman for Invitation Homes, said he hadn't heard that the couple was taking legal action, and could not comment.