NBC 5 Investigates

House Sitter, Guest Removed From Chicago Home They Don't Own

After a nearly year-long ordeal, the Chicago case raises questions about when a house guest is no longer a house guest and becomes a legal resident

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Two men who established residency in a Chicago home they did not own have been removed from the property, the homeowner said.

Cook County sheriff's deputies on Monday came to the residence and enforced the eviction notice, taking 20 minutes to get the men out of the North Side home, owned by Todd Woolman.

Woolman told NBC 5 his troubles began last October, when he returned to his Kenmore Avenue home after two months away caring for a sick relative.

Upon his return, he said he learned that the man he had asked to house sit the previous August had brought in another man while he was away.

"They established residency while I was gone," Woolman said. "Which means they had their addresses changed to my address."

Editor's Note: Todd Woolman is a former staffer at NBC 5. He is now out of the news business.

Woolman said he was unhappy about the fact that his house-sitting friend, Alex Gonzales, had invited the second man, Matthew Dibilius, into his home. And he asked them to leave.

But they wouldn't.

"They said 'we live here'," he said.

Woolman says because of the pandemic, and the arrival of colder weather, he tried to give the two time to find another place.

"At first it was okay because they were contributing and keeping things fairly clean," Woolman said. "But then it started to deteriorate. One was drinking a lot."

But deadlines came and went, he said, and the two still wouldn't leave.

Neighbors told NBC 5 they agreed with Woolman, and said they had become increasingly uncomfortable with the men in their building. One, Lee L'Hote, said he grew tired of hearing shouting matches between the two.

"I lose sleep two or three nights a week because of constant yelling and fighting," L'Hote said. "We have a right to live safely and peacefully, not like we're afraid to walk through the hallways of our building."

Condo board president Melody Miller called the pair a "huge problem."

"They've been belligerent to all of us," she said. "Because they for some odd reason believe they have a right to be in the building."

Ironically, especially during the pandemic, even unwanted house guests have attained rather sizable rights. If there is what is termed, an "indicia of residency," police are hesitant to remove anyone unless there is a formal proceeding in court.

Woolman says he learned that in a big way when he changed the locks on his condo and called police.

"They made me give them keys," he said.

In April, matters came to a head as Woolman moved out, leaving the two in his home, as he went to court seeking eviction proceedings. After a trial, Judge Regina Mescall granted his request for an emergency eviction May 18, giving the two a week to vacate the premises before sheriff's personnel physically removed them.

"Defendants engage in conduct that constitutes a direct threat to the health and safety of others," the order states, noting that "Plaintiff would barricade himself in his room at night in fear of Defendants."

In the interim, Woolman said he let his electric bill lapse, leading to the shutoff of electricity. He had gas service terminated as well.

"They've run extension cords out the window," he said.

When NBC 5 visited the property last week, that extension cord was evident, running to an outlet on the exterior of the building. Woolman said some of the residents had cut the cord.

Inside the darkened unit, clutter was everywhere. The microwave oven had a series of dents. Something, apparently plastic, had been melted in the oven. A pedestal sink in a bathroom was broken.

On Monday, after the two were removed the property, the home was found to be in even further disarray.

"We are all afraid that they are purposely destroying his unit," L'Hote said. "But we are afraid that they are going to do something that's going to cause physical harm to us as well."

Woolman and the neighbors expressed impatience as they waited for the eviction order to be enforced. But in a statement, the Cook County Sheriff's office insisted they were moving with all due haste.

"The eviction of the squatters in Mr. Woolman's home was scheduled immediately upon the order becoming enforceable," the statement said. "Our office prioritizes these exceptionally difficult cases."

The order was filed with the sheriff's office May 28, and a spokesman said it is expected to occur "within the next seven days, barring further litigation."

Neighbors suggested it couldn't come soon enough.

"I want them evicted as soon as possible," Miller said.

Gonzales and Debilius did not respond to NBC 5's requests for comment.

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