Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pasco jury convicts man who rented homes he didn't own

DADE CITY — When Stephen Bybel decided to rent out a home he didn't own, he looked for specific criteria.

Was the lawn out of control, 3 feet or higher? Newspapers piled outside? Was there still electricity? Did it seem like someone left in a hurry?

With these visual factors met, Bybel headed to the courthouse to file a notice of "adverse possession.'' He just wanted to help the neighborhood and people "in a pinch," he said, providing a service while capitalizing on an opportunity.

"I understand how people feel about (losing a home)," said Bybel, who in 2008 filed for bankruptcy after a bank in New Jersey foreclosed on his $1 million home. "It's very traumatic. You lose a big chunk of your life's earning."

Bybel, 52, of Land O'Lakes made his comments in a courtroom Wednesday, defending himself against allegations of fraud. It didn't work. A jury of four women and two men deliberated less than two hours before finding him guilty of the third-degree felony.

After the verdict, Bybel spoke to Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa in the open courtroom.

"My intent was never to hurt anybody," he said. "I was trying to help."

Siracusa sentenced Bybel to five years in prison and ordered him to pay more than $2,000 in fees and costs, with an option for the state to file for restitution.

"You really don't think you did anything wrong, and I get that," Siracusa said. "I think your intent was to make some money off the mess. You took advantage of those people. You changed the locks on people's homes."

Authorities said Bybel set up a company in 2009 called Real T Solutions LLC and found 72 homes that fit his criteria. He drafted leasing agreements on 31 of those homes and allowed the unsuspecting tenants to forego first- and last-month payments and deposits.

"I saw it as a business opportunity for myself because of the mess that was going on in Florida a few years back," he testified. "The foreclosures and the walkaways, the bank fraud. It was just a crazy time."

He got the idea, he said, going to short sales and talking to property owners. He talked to lawyers and said he was told adverse possession was a legal "gray area."

"I 100 percent believed it wasn't illegal," he said. "I sent every single property owner a letter. Some got them and some didn't."

The legal premise Bybel used requires that a person occupy the property for at least seven years and fulfill other legal requirements, such as paying taxes on the property.

He started collecting rent in January 2010, he said. He felt like he needed to "start the process" in order to ultimately own the home.

His lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Marie Mabry, said it was simply a case of "good intentions gone wrong."

Assistant State Attorney Stacey Sumner took issue.

"What made you think you had the legal authority to own these homes?" she asked.

Bybel said it was based on his understanding of the law.

"Where did you graduate from law school?"

"I didn't," he said.

"Did you attend law school?"

"I didn't."

Sumner said there was simply no excuse for what Bybel did.

"It's not up to him to go out just because something isn't lived in and take it for his own," she told the jury. "That's a crime."

Pasco jury convicts man who rented homes he didn't own 06/12/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 10:17pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Winner and loser of the week in Florida politics

    Blogs

    Winner of the week 1: 'Liquor wall’ proponents. Gov. Rick Scott’s veto of a bill to allow Walmart, Target and other big box stores to sell liquor was a victory for an array of groups, from smaller merchants and Publix (which has stand-alone booze shops near its stores) to those who feel the hard stuff …

  2. Review / photos: Sunset Music Festival brings Major Lazer, safety upgrades to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa

    Blogs

    Somewhere beyond the barricades and mountainous LED stages of the Sunset Music Festival, there had to be worry. There had to thousands of parents in parking lots and empty kitchens, anxiously distracting their minds, every now and then checking their phones.

    Major Lazer headlined the Sunset Music Festival on May 27, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
  3. 24-year-old man charged with murder in shooting at Andrea Cove Motel

    LARGO — Pinellas sheriff's officers arrested a 24-year-old transient man Saturday in connection with a homicide at the Andrea Cove Motel in unincorporated Largo.

  4. Photo gallery: Calvary Christian rolls to state title

    Blogs

    View a gallery of images from Calvary Christian's defeat of Pensacola Catholic 11-1 in six innings Saturday night at Hammond Stadium in Ft. Myers for the Class 4A title.

    Calvary Christian players circle up on the field before the FHSAA class 4A baseball championship against Pensacola Catholic on Friday May 27, 2017 at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers, Fla. Calvary scored 6 runs in the first inning, and had 7 hits.
  5. Two girls found safe after being reported missing in New Port Richey

    UPDATE: Both girls were found safe Saturday night, police said.