A couple behind a world-famous Florida Christmas lights display have been exposed as squatters who faked a deed to take over their upmarket house.
Mark and Kathy Hyatt were widely praised for the over-the-top holiday decorations which spread festive cheer at their home in Plantation Acres for years.
But the pair, who divorced in 2017, have been accused of taking over the property without buying it or taking out a mortgage after a Miami Dolphins player was forced to sell.
A team of property appraiser’s detectives found the Hyatt family wrongfully occupied the home following a seven-month investigation, according to the Sun Sentinel newspaper.
Kathy told investigators that Mark, who died in 2020 aged 56, drew up the 2005 deed for the home using ‘cut and paste’, changed the locks of the home and threw out its contents.
The couple behind the world-famous Florida Christmas lights display have been exposed as squatters who faked a deed to take over the house
Mark and Kathy Hyatt were widely praised for the over-the-top holiday decorations which spread festive cheer at their home in Plantation Acres for years
An investigation into how the Hyatt family took over the property began late last year after Kathy contacted the office of Broward County Property Appraiser Marty Kiar.
She claimed she had information about the 2005 deed ‘resulting in the Hyatts’ unlawful ownership of the subject property,’ according to a memo.
The home was initially owned by former Miami Dolphins player Brett Perriman in 1998 but he failed to pay his $400,000 mortgage and it was facing repossession.
He then took out a second mortgage for $585,000 to pay the first but defaulted again and he and his wife left the property in 2004, according to investigators.
A private investor then paid $50,000 of the original mortgage before changing the locks, setting up an alarm and working on the house with the idea to flip it for a profit.
But a paperwork mix-up meant he was handed the wrong document, which the Hyatts were able to take further advantage of.
Mark and Kathy were looking for a home at the time and came across the house in the upscale Plantation Acres neighborhood.
She spoke to investigators at the Property Appraiser’s Office and said it was ‘vacant and looked abandoned’.
Kathy claimed the couple got in contact with former owner Perriman who agreed to sell it for $900,000 but Mark, who worked as a mortgage officer, realized that he did not have a valid deed anymore.
She added that her ex-husband called the police and accused the investor of squatting.
Mark received an email in August 2005 from the former Plantation police chief who said that ‘he believed that some type of fraud has occurred and may still be occurring with respect to the property,’ according to the investigation.
But the pair have been accused of taking over the property without buying it or taking out a mortgage after a Miami Dolphins player was forced to sell
A team of property appraiser’s detectives found the Hyatt family wrongfully occupied the home following a seven-month investigation, according to the Sun Sentinel newspaper
Kathy told investigators that Mark, who died in 2020 aged 56, drew up the 2005 deed for the home using ‘cut and paste’, changed the locks of the home and threw out its contents
She added that Mark used a locksmith to change the locks and told the alarm company that he was with the mortgage company when it went off
He was told the lawful owner of the home was unknown and Kathy informed investigators during a deposition that this is when Mark decided to take charge.
She claimed he drew up a deed using ‘cut and paste’ and said ‘we break in’. But he never filed the falsified document.
She said Mark used a locksmith to change the locks and told the alarm company that he was with the mortgage company when it went off.
‘What Mark was surprised about was that they never called the police,’ Kathy told investigators. ‘They just believed it.’
She added: ‘We threw out the living room. We threw out the kitchen. … We threw out everything in the refrigerator. … Mark said that we had to discard any evidence of him so he could not come back and say that he did have possession before we arrived.
‘Well, we broke in. I’ve never done that before in my life. We never paid any money to occupy. We were squatters.’
The investor decided to call the police but Mark ‘showed the police the false deed he prepared’, according to the county memo.
‘The Plantation police advised this was a civil matter and left.’
The Hyatts were taken to court by the investor but he did not win because their deed was dated later, according to investigator Mike Fisten.
Kathy said the couple tried to buy the home legitimately but Perriman was not the owner.
‘And we already sold our house and we had nowhere to go and the house was vacant and in real estate, 9/10 of the law is possession,’ she added.
‘I had my real estate license, and I remembered that from class.’
But she clarified that the couple eventually payed $900,000 for the mortgage note years later. However an expert attorney hired by the Property Appraiser’s Office told her having this does not mean you own the house.
‘Everybody was squatting back then,’ she claimed. ‘We own the paper, we don’t own the deed. We lived our happy little lives. We never owned the home, never.’
Kathy told investigators that her now-deceased ex-husband told her he would take care of everything.
The Hyatts used the home to turn it into an annual holiday destination with their extravagant Christmas decorations.
It featured a large display of lights, stuffed animals, a snow-blowing machine and even a reindeer.
Their home grew in popularity so much that the city sued them in February 2014 and argued the uptick in traffic would ultimately cause an accident. It asked a judge to force them to reduce the size of the display or shut it down completely.
But following a four-day trial in 2016, a judge ruled the city could not prove the attraction created a public nuisance.
The displays came to an end in 2017 after Kathy and Mark got divorced. They were in divorce court over child-support and alimony owed by Kathy which is when she was told to sign the property deed over to Mark’s estate.
But she told the court they never owned the property and the deed was fraudulent, according to chief investigator Vivian Gallinal.
The Hyatts used the home to turn it into an annual holiday destination with their extravagant Christmas decorations
It featured a large display of lights, stuffed animals, a snow-blowing machine and even a reindeer
Their home grew in popularity so much that the city sued them in February 2014 and argued the uptick in traffic would ultimately cause an accident but this was dismissed by a judge
The displays came to an end in 2017 after Kathy and Mark got divorced
Kathy told detectives she sold the nearly $1million mortgage note for $50,000 in cash to a stranger at a Starbucks and that she spent the money on groceries.
Mark’s sister Jane Zimmerman says the claims made by Kathy and the investigators are inaccurate. ‘Anybody can make up a story,’ she said.
Zimmerman claims Mark paid cash for the house – but Kathy has rubbished that claim.
Kathy said: ‘Jane was never privy to our lives, she has no clue.
‘Mark wanted the house, that was it. I was a stay-at-home mom.
‘Mark’s like, “We’re moving.” I’m like “okay.” That’s how it went down. I had no reason to question him.
‘I trusted him with every fiber of my being. That’s what he said we do, we do.’
County officials are looking to retrieve $34,724 in back taxes for the property as the Hyatts are accused of wrongfully receiving a homestead exemption for seven years.
Broward County Property Appraiser Kiar said: ‘It’s important the people of Broward County get reimbursed for the money they owed on this property,’ and added the taxpayers ‘are also the victims of fraud and deserve to be made whole’.