Investigators say a massive Christmas display home in South Florida has been “occupied” for years
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Hyatt Extreme Christmas Home, which made national news over its battle with the city over its premium holiday offering, has been illegally occupied by the Hyatt family the entire time, according to investigators with Broward Property Appraiser. office.
Mark and Kathy Hyatt “squatted” in the house in the upscale Plantation Acres neighborhood of Plantation City, without buying it or obtaining a mortgage for 15 years, according to the team of real estate appraiser investigators, who spent seven months. In an investigation that included interviewing several witnesses and uncovering what they say were fake actions.
Now, county officials are going after the property for back taxes to seek a homestead exemption they say should never have been granted. The county on Tuesday filed a claim for $34,724 in back taxes against the property since the Hyatts wrongly obtained a seven-year homestead exemption, according to property appraiser’s office records.
The statute of limitations only allows the office to go back 10 years, and three of those years — since Mark Hyatt’s death in 2020 — there were no homestead exemptions, or taxes paid at all. The county is tracking taxes for 2020, 2021 and 2022 as well.
“It is important that the people of Broward County receive compensation for the money owed to them on this property,” said Marty Kjaer, the county’s property appraiser. Taxpayers “are also victims of fraud and deserve compensation,” he said.
How to change the house
The investigation into Hyatt’s home began after Kathy Hyatt contacted Kiar’s office late last year. She said she had information about the 2005 deed “that led to the Hyatt family’s illegal ownership of the property in question,” according to a memorandum drafted by an expert real estate attorney hired by the appraiser’s office.
Kiar had been visiting real estate offices, including the one where she worked, since “he was involved in the real estate fraud campaign in South Florida and how rampant it was,” she said in her sworn testimony to investigators. “And he would say to all the brokers, you know, ‘If you see something, say something.’”
Investigators said in 1998 that the Hyatt home on Northwest 14th Street was originally owned by Brett Perryman, a former Miami Dolphins player, who failed to pay his $400,000 mortgage. Facing foreclosure, Perryman took out a second mortgage for $585,000 to pay for the first, according to investigators.
But that mortgage also went unpaid, was foreclosed, and Berryman and his wife moved out of the house in 2004, according to the investigation.
The house was eventually acquired by a private investor, who bought out $50,000 of the original mortgage, changed the locks, set up an alarm and began work on the house with plans to flip it, said Vivian Gallinal, lead investigator on the Hyatt home. Case working for Kiar in the Property Crimes Unit.
But the investor improperly obtained a quitclaim deed on the property instead of surrendering the mortgage, according to a November memo drafted by an expert real estate attorney for Kiar.
The private investor could not be reached for comment by the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Mark and Kathy Hyatt, who divorced in 2017, were a married couple when they were house-hunting in the 2000s.
Around that time, Mark Hyatt became interested in the house in Plantation, according to the sworn testimony in August of Kathy Hyatt, who spoke to investigators with the property appraiser’s office.
According to Kathy Hyatt’s testimony, the couple wanted to buy a house in Parkland, but it was too expensive for them. Mark Hyatt found the Plantation Acres house, which was then “vacant and appeared abandoned,” while driving, and spoke to neighbors who told him the previous owners had moved to Georgia, she said.
Cathy Hyatt said Mark Hyatt contacted Berryman, who agreed to sell the Hyatt home for $900,000, but Mark Hyatt, who then worked as a mortgage administrator, correctly discovered that Berryman no longer had a valid title.
Cathy Hyatt told authorities that Mark Hyatt called Plantation police and accused the investor of swindling.
Police told them it was a civil matter.
The former police chief sent Mark Hyatt an email in August 2005 in which he said “he believes some type of fraud has occurred and may still be occurring in connection with the property,” according to the investigation. Mark told Hyatt that the legal owner of the property is unknown.
Kathy Hyatt then told investigators that her ex-husband took matters into his own hands.
At the kitchen table, he wrote out a check using “cut and paste,” she said. He never produced the fake deed, but then “we broke into the house,” she said.
Mark Hyatt called a locksmith to change the locks, and when the alarm went off, Mark Hyatt told the alarm company he was with the mortgage company, Cathy Hyatt said.
“What Mark was surprised by was that they never called the police,” Kathy Hyatt told investigators. “They just believed it.”
They then threw all of the investor’s belongings, such as his tools, into the swamp, according to investigators.
“We kicked out the living room,” Kathy Hyatt told investigators. “We threw out the kitchen. … We threw everything in the refrigerator. … Mark said we had to get rid of any evidence of it so he couldn’t come back and say he had it before we arrived.
“Well, we broke into the place,” she told investigators. “I’ve never done that before in my life.”
“We never paid any money to the occupation,” Kathy Hyatt told investigators in her testimony. “We were squatters.”
The investor called police, but Mark Hyatt “showed police the false deed he had prepared,” according to the county warrant. “I told Plantation police this was a civil matter and left.”
The private investor pursued his case in court but did not win. That’s because the Hyatt deed, dated later, trumped the quitclaim deed filed by the investor earlier, said Mike Festen, an investigator in Kiar’s office.
The couple tried to buy the house, but Perryman no longer owned it, Kathy Hyatt told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Thursday. “We had already sold our house and had nowhere to go and the house was vacant and in real estate, possession is 9/10 of the law,” she said.
“I had a real estate license, and I remembered that from class,” she said.
The couple eventually paid $900,000 for the mortgage note after years of living there for free, Kathy Hyatt told the Sun Sentinel. That’s the same amount they wanted to pay for the house, but they never had the title, she said.
“Everyone was squatting at that time,” she said.
“We own the paper, but we do not have the title deed,” she said. Then “we lived our happy little lives.”
“We never owned the house, ever.”
When she asked questions, her ex-husband told her he was taking care of it, she explained to investigators.
She says he told her: “Don’t worry.” “Take care of the kids. “This is your job now.”
One of the expert attorneys hired by the real estate appraiser’s office pressed her during her testimony that the presence of a mortgage note did not mean she owned the house: “You were a realtor. You should have known.”
“Oh, I didn’t get the license until after the house was finished,” she replied.
Hyatts then transformed the house into a vacation destination.
The house shot to national fame with its whimsical display of lights, stuffed animals, a snowblower, and the occasional reindeer. In 2013, Hyatts was introduced “The Great Christmas Light Fight” is a reality show on ABC.
As the show grew in popularity, becoming a regional destination, the city of Plantation filed a lawsuit in February 2014, arguing that the increase in automobile traffic was an accident waiting to happen, and asking a judge to force the Hyatt to downsize or close. the offer.
In 2015, it was the Hyatt She appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor” on Fox News. with Bill O’Reilly in what the host called “Big controversy at Christmas In Florida.” The controversy stirred up viewers, and the mayor received angry calls and emails.
In a four-day trial in 2016, Broward was arrested The judge ruled that the city failed To prove that the attraction was causing a public nuisance and that the city had not provided evidence to substantiate its claims, which included that emergency services would be impeded by the traffic created by the Hyatt.
Mark Hyatt used his popularity to oust the incumbent to gain a seat in Parliament City Council in 2016Arguing that the case was an example of the city’s financial mismanagement. The city spent about $427,000 in legal bills to pursue the case against him, according to records.
The show ended after the 2017 season following a controversial divorce between Mark and Kathy Hyatt. And Mark Hyatt passed away Three years later.
But as the couple was in divorce court over child support and alimony payments owed to Kathy Hyatt, the probate court asked Kathy Hyatt to sign the deed to Mark Hyatt’s estate — and that’s when she told the court they never owned the property and the deed “was fraudulent,” Gallinal said.
Kathy Hyatt told investigators she sold mortgage notes worth about $1 million for $50,000 cash to a stranger at the Plantation Starbucks.
She told investigators that the “international mediator” seemed “very legitimate.”
Festen, an investigator in Kjaer’s office, said Kathy Hyatt claimed the investor contacted her via WhatsApp and she spent $50,000 on groceries.
The house had been vacant for two years, but last year the couple’s adult son lived there, according to Mark Hyatt’s sister.
His sister, Jane Zimmerman, called the accusations made by Kathy Hyatt and property appraiser investigators inaccurate.
Zimmerman admits the sale process is “very complicated,” but said the Hyatt originally paid cash for the five-bedroom apartment. 6,378 square feet house. It took her three years to fight in court to gain ownership so she could sell the house and give the proceeds to Hyatt’s children, a process that is far from over, Zimmerman told the Sun Sentinel.
“Anyone can make up a story,” Zimmerman said.
Kathy Hyatt told the Sun Sentinel that she disputes Zimmerman’s assertion that the information she provided was incorrect, saying, “Jane was never privy to our lives, and she has no idea.”
“Mark wanted a house, that’s all. I was a stay-at-home mom. We’re moving,” Mark says. 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. This “What he said we do, we do.”