PENN HILLS, Pa. — The owners of a Penn Hills home claim someone keeps putting it up for sale without their permission and 11 Investigates found out that's pretty easy to do.
It's something that seems almost too unbelievable to be true -- someone easily changing the tax records on your home and claiming they own it, even going so far as saying you're a squatter.
Sylvester Ward and his wife, Maresa, have owned their Vantine Street home for more than a decade.
"I was, like, I am Sylvester Ward. I own the home and I didn't put the home up for sale," he said.
The Allegheny County Real Estate website shows the Penn Hills house is owned by a Sylvester Ward, but the owner's mailing address shows a post office box in Charlotte.
"I've never been there, I do not own a post office box. This is my address. This is where I live. This is where all of my mail is supposed to come to," Ward said.
The issues started in June 2017, when another man named Sylvester Ward, claiming to own the house, listed it for sale on Zillow and other real estate websites.
The man has continued ever since, listing the house multiple times before the Wards can take the listings down.
The situation escalated two weeks ago when a locksmith was called to change the locks on the home because someone had opened the door.
"You like to feel safe and secure in your home and, to know someone is over here trying to change your locks, you lose that sense of security," Maresa Ward said.
"That incident led to the Ward family contacting Penn Hills police and filing a criminal complaint.
The police chief confirmed to 11 Investigates that one of his officers actually spoke to the Sylvester Ward in North Carolina, who claimed the Ward family is squatting on his property. Investigators told him to prove it and come to Pittsburgh with paperwork.
That was two weeks ago and they haven't heard anything yet.
11 Investigates tried to find the Sylvester Ward with the post office box in Charlotte, but our calls were not returned.
Now, the Ward family wants to know how this keeps happening and if other families could become victims.
"We hope it doesn't get any worse and that we can get to the bottom of it and things can get better. That way, no one else will have to go through stuff like this," Maresa Ward said.
11 Investigates contacted a spokesperson with Zillow, who said the company verifies the information going on its website through a series of questions it cross-references with public information.
That may explain how this information was still able to get up on the website even though it turns out not to be true.
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