‘Serial Squatters’ Leave Landlords In The Lurch

By Mark Ackerman

BROOMFIELD, Colo. (CBS4) – They’ve been called the “Serial Squatters,” a couple who has figured out how to live rent free for years. Now, in Colorado’s hot rental market, one landlord has a warning: be careful who you rent to.

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Debra Kuzemchak (credit: CBS)

Debra Kuzemchak thought she had the perfect tenant for a four-bedroom home in Broomfield that she has been renting for the past 20 years.

That tenant was Heather Schwab, who arrived alone for the initial showing.

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Heather and William Schwab (credit: CBS)

“She was a Texas girl with a nice slow drawl,” Kuzemchak remembered. “She was in a hurry to move in before the holidays.”

Heather and her husband, William, signed a two-year lease, agreeing to pay $2,350 per month.

From day one there were problems. The bank wouldn’t cash their very first check saying the account was closed.

Kuzemchak quickly returned to the property as the Schwabs were moving in.

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(credit: CBS)

“I’m sure that a mistake has been made,” Kuzemchak recalled telling Schwab. “Let’s fix it and move forward.”

But again, no money. Month after month, no payments.

“It was every story that you’ve ever heard about somebody not being able to pay rent,” Kuzemchak said. Then, she was forced to start eviction proceedings.

That’s when she learned there was much more to the Schwab’s story.

“I just hung my head,” when she saw the series of reports filed by our sister-station KTVT in Texas.

According to the KTVT reports, the Schwabs were evicted more than 20 times in Texas, failing to pay rent at Kristi Merril’s Texas home.

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(credit: CBS)

“I think it’s criminal to move into a house knowing you have no intention of paying rent,” Merrill told KTVT’s Cristin Severence.

Each time, they used the same excuses for non-payment including sick relatives and bad banks.

In Carrollton, Texas, the Schwabs failure to pay rent almost forced Dustin and Arlene Harrison into foreclosure.

“It was the worst feeling in the world — like we were paying the mortgage on a home that they were just squatting in,” said Arlene “These people are chronically just victimizing and no one is holding them accountable.

“I like to call them the serial squatters. That’s what they do,” said the Harrison’s attorney Mark Girling.

Last month, CBS4 tried to get some simple answers from the Schwabs outside of a Colorado courtroom.

“Why do they call you the serial squatters?” CBS4 asked. “Why don’t you just pay rent like the rest of us?”

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(credit: CBS)

“Oh my God,” said Heather, who seemed surprised her past had followed her to Colorado.

The Schwabs did not provide any answers.

On April 5, Thornton police arrested Heather on a fugitive theft warrant out of Texas.

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Heather Schwab (credit: CBS)

A judge let her out on a personal recognizance bond even while facing eviction at a second Colorado home on East 139th Place in Thornton.

“They’ve been doing this for over 10 years,” said Kuzemchak. “There must be some sort of thrill that they get.”

She said the Schwabs got through her credit company’s check by impersonating a relative. According to authorities, the Schwabs use different aliases including “Jenkins”, “Rayes” and “Ruybal.”

“I like to think I am a fairly good judge of character, but I was completely off the mark there,” Kuzemchak said. She is now vowing to check every tenant herself.

“They would have not been in that house,” she said. “Lesson learned. Hard lesson learned.”

The Schwabs are now out of the Thornton home as well. Heather is due in Adams County court May 11 for an extradition hearing to Texas.

Mark Ackerman is a Special Projects Producer at CBS4. Follow him on Twitter @ackermanmark


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