Tallahassee Woman in Legal Limbo after Bizarre Break In

August 12, 2014
By Julie Montanaro

A judge has issued an order that could speed resolution of a deed dilemma.

It comes just two working days after our story on it.

Court papers say a Tallahassee woman came home from work one day in September 2012 to find a stranger in her house, rearranging the furniture and hanging new pictures on the wall.

Teresa Lessaos was arrested and accused of forging a deed to the house, but court papers say she's been in Florida State Hospital for treatment ever since.

The homeowner has been trying unsuccessfully for nearly two years to regain a clear title to her house.

Today we got word that the judge has appointed a guardian ad litem for Lessaos.

"Now that the judge assigned to the case has appointed an attorney to act as guardian ad litem for Ms. Lessaos the case can move forward," said Richard Santurri, the homeowner's attorney.

By Julie Montanaro
August 8, 2014

Imagine you've lived in the same house for 10 to 12 years and you come home from work one day to find a stranger in your house.

They've tossed your clothes in a dumpster, put your furniture in a backyard shed, and started taking your pictures off the wall.

That's what police say happened to a Tallahassee woman - who nearly two years later - is still fighting to reclaim a clear title to her own home.

It all started September 19, 2012 when a woman came home from work to find a stranger inside her northeast Tallahassee home.

When she and the roommate confronted the woman, police reports say, the intruder insisted the house belonged to her.

"She put all of her stuff in my house, took the pictures down off the wall," the homeowner said. "She told the police that this is her house and she showed them the property deed - the copy of the property deed."

Teresa Lessaos was arrested and charged with burglary. Officers later added charges of forgery, uttering and theft after discovering Lessaos had gone to the Leon County Clerk's Office and changed the name on the deed to "Teresa L. Johnson."

In an email to the state attorney's office, the investigator wrote he was "amazed to learn that anyone can go to the courthouse and fill out a warranty deed on anyone's house and the Clerk's office will record it."

Clerk of the Court Bob Inzer says he cannot comment on this case, but says if folks present the documents required by law, they have to record it.

"We would look at each document and see if it meets the standards of law in order to be a recorded document. If it meets those standards - whether it's valid or not - it's not a determination. We don't have the tools or the capacity, or have the authority," Inzer said.

Lessaos, court records show, has been receiving treatment at Florida State Hospital since soon after she was arrested. The prosecutor and defense attorney both say the criminal case is at a standstill.

So the homeowner filed a civil suit in 2012 to try to "quiet" the title - as they say in legal and real estate circles - but nearly two years later the property tax bill continues to come in the name of "Teresa L. Johnson."

The homeowner's attorney says until Lessaos is deemed competent - or appointed a guardian - there's not much more he can do.

"She was just really the victim of a very unfortunate set of circumstances - a very rare and unfortunate set of circumstances," Richard Santurri said.

The homeowner, meanwhile, continues to work two jobs to pay the mortgage, the utilities and all the other bills that come with home ownership.

She is so afraid the woman will come back that she would only share her story if we did not use her name, show her face, or the home at the center of the whole thing.

'I'm really feeling frustrated and angry because it's not fair," she said. "What they need to do is change the system."

The homeowner says something needs to change if a stranger can walk in and change your deed, but then you need to file a lawsuit to get a judge's order to change it back.

We will continue to follow this case and let you know if and when it's resolved.

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