CHICAGO — Karen Polk decided it was time to sell her family’s home in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood. Her mother was no longer alive and Polk now lived out of state. But as she prepared to sell the tidy bungalow, she says a squatter snuck in and refused to leave.

Now Polk is fighting a long and costly legal battle to remove the people from her property.

Observers say it’s a prime example of how loopholes in the law make it tough and time consuming for homeowners in her position.

Aaron Stanton is a real estate attorney and partner at Chicago law firm Burke, Warren, MacKay and Serritella.

“I wouldn’t say it’s prevalent, but it happens more than you think,” Stanton said. “The problem is anyone can print a lease off from the internet. Fill it out. Put the address in. Sign a bogus landlord.”

In Polk’s case, she says the people in her home told her they signed a lease and paid several months rent up front to a person who told them he owned the house.

Polk doesn’t know if their story is true or part of the scam.

Regardless, the people refuse to leave, even as Polk tries to evict them.

“This all started in September but we didn’t get a court date until mid-December,” Polk said. “And that particular session, none of the occupants showed up. That’s just how the process goes. If they don’t show up, another court date is assigned.”

WGN Investigates spoke with one of the occupants of Polk’s home. The woman denied being a squatter and claimed she herself had been scammed. However, she was unable to provide us a copy of lease the lease she supposedly signed. Attempts to reach people who she said could validate her story were unsuccessful.

Polk is optimistic that she’ll eventually get them to leave but she knows it could be a long fight. 

“It could take anywhere from six months to 12 months to possibly 18 months, if they know how to work the system and get delays in court,” Stanton said. “In the meantime, they are in your home.”