Military Family's Move to South Florida Turns into Housing Nightmare

The Wagners said their troubles began when they opened the door of their Florida City rental home

By Willard Shepard
|  Saturday, Jan 12, 2013  |  Updated 4:35 PM EDT
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After Army soldier Josh Wagner returned from Afghanistan to his base in Tennessee, he was stationed in South Florida. NBC 6 reporter Willard Shepard interviews Wagner.

After Army soldier Josh Wagner returned from Afghanistan to his base in Tennessee, he was stationed in South Florida. NBC 6 reporter Willard Shepard interviews Wagner.

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After Army soldier Josh Wagner returned from Afghanistan to his base in Tennessee, he was stationed in South Florida.

His wife found online what looked like a wonderful home in Florida City. But the Wagners’ troubles began as soon as they opened the door.

“None of this was fixed. I mean, this in itself is a fire hazard,” Wagner said, pointing to an open electrical socket.

After the Army helicopter mechanic came back to the U.S. from Afghanistan, he got a job in the Florida National Guard, gathered his family and pets, and headed to Florida City. But his rental home had all the electrical socket covers broken, no smoke detectors, hanging electrical wires, infestation of roaches and other violations, inspectors ultimately found.

“Absolutely. Absolutely without a doubt we were had,” Wagner said.

His wife, Misty Wagner, found the rental.

“They told us that they loved to rent to military families and they had a beautiful home for us to stay in, and everything would be ready when we came down here,” she said.

She said she saw an ad to rent a home with pictures of the rooms and what looked like a nice backyard. The owner's wife even wrote, “I am sure you will like the home an (sic) you will love it.”

The Wagners signed a lease and said they give the security deposit and two months’ rent in advance, totaling about $3,300.

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The owner's wife, Romina Jelves, sent them a copy of her driver’s license along with her driver's license photo, the couple said.

“We got copies of their licenses, their IDs, their work information, verified their bank information, and we thought it was completely legitimate,” Misty Wagner said.

But she quickly told the Jelves in an email that she was shocked when she first walked into the house.

“The pictures you listed on the ad did not come close to representing the true condition of this home,” she wrote, in a message from her and her husband.

The Wagners said that when they started complaining about the conditions of the property, the owners told them they could simply leave, but that would mean forfeiting the $3,300 that they had put down upfront.

The Wagners said they were burglarized this week, and lost their computers and televisions.

Court records show the bank moved to foreclose on the homeowners two months before the rental agreement was signed.

“They took our money and they left us with their issue,” Misty Wagner said.

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The couple that rented the property told NBC 6 South Florida they did nothing illegal. They said in an email that they offered to refund the security deposit – which the Wagners dispute. The owners said they did not want to provide any more information, told NBC 6 not to contact them again, and hung up.

“Do not ever rent sight unseen,” Misty Wagner concluded.

Florida City’s mayor said he will try to help, and the bank and service provider that took back the home are investigating how to bring how to bring it up to code, and clear up the Wagners’ financial and living mess.

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