Adverse Possession Issues With Foreclosed Homes In Florida
Given the slow nature of the economic recovery in South Florida, there are still thousands of homes that have been foreclosed upon and, in essence, abandoned. For example, for March 2015, 1 in every 446 housing units in Florida had received a foreclosure notice and Florida’s foreclosure rate is more than twice the national rate. This has led to an issue that, while not new, has not been particularly prevalent before: a spike in adverse possession claims.
What is Adverse Possession?
Adverse possession, simply put, is an action wherein someone occupies another’s property without their consent for a period of time and eventually receives title to the property. In Florida, this can happen in two ways: with color of title and without. We will discuss how this can happen without color of title since the new epidemic in Florida is coming about through people squatting in foreclosed homes.
The requirements for adverse possession in Florida are set out plainly in the Florida statutes. To claim adverse possession without color of title you must:
- Have been in open and obvious possession of the property for 7 years;
- Have aid all outstanding taxes and matured installments of special improvement liens against the property within 1 year of taking possession;
- Have made a return of the property to the assessor within 30 days of paying those taxes and liens;
- Have paid all taxes for the period necessary to develop adverse possession; and
- Have protected the property by substantial enclosure (typically a fence) or cultivated, maintained or improved in a usual manner.
What Has Florida Done About Squatters and Adverse Possession?
To make matters more difficult for those seeking to take adverse possession, Florida law also has three interesting stipulations to try to give the owner of record defense against squatters.
First, when the return of the property is filed with the property assessor’s office, the assessor is required to notify the owner of record that an adverse possessor has filed the report with them. This, of course, should tip off a reasonably diligent owner that something is amiss. The assessor also is required to make a notation in the tax roll that the property is subject to an adverse possession claim.
Second, even if the adverse possessor pays the taxes on the property in accordance with the statutory requirements, if the owner of record pays the taxes as well, the payment from the adverse possessor must be refunded to them thereby destroying any statutory claim they may have had to adversely possess the property.
Finally, Florida law provides that if an adverse possessor is in possession of a property without filing the return with the assessor, they are guilty of trespass. Also, if an adverse possessor offers an adversely possessed property for lease, they are guilty of theft.
Florida has taken statutory steps to try to stem the tide of adversely possessed foreclosures. Obviously, opportunistic individuals have tried to take advantage of dire economic circumstances to the detriment of owners of record. If you find yourself in a situation where someone is trying to adversely possess your property in this or any other manner, you need accomplished representation to defend your property rights. The experienced attorneys at the South Florida law firm of P.A. Bravo know the law and they know how to defeat unscrupulous adverse possession claims. Give us a call today at (305) 209-9019 to schedule your initial consultation today to begin defending your property rights.