Friday, June 7, 2013

County Sheriff To Adverse Possession-Claiming Squatters Using Bogus Recorded Documents As Low-Cost Housing Vouchers: "If You Need A Place To Live, Don't Worry About It ... I'm Going To Give You A Place To Live At The County Jail!"

In Lakeland, Florida, The Lakeland Ledger reports:

  • If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

    Those words we have all heard can easily be applied to the idea of adverse possession as a way to quickly obtain a very low-cost house. It is too good to be true, and it can land people in jail if they get carried away with the concept.

    Recent cases of people moving into vacant houses and trying to claim them have focused attention on the law, and its misuse.

    There is, in fact, a Florida law that allows for adverse possession. But it's not designed to help people snatch up other people's houses for a song.

    It can allow people to take possession of property in certain cases if certain criteria is met: Primarily, pay the taxes and claim it for seven years. Filing a document in the county Property Appraiser's Office and moving into someone else's house absolutely is not a way to take it over, authorities say.

    Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said he has advice for anyone seeking housing by a novel, but improper, route: "If you need a place to live, don't worry about it because when you move into one of these houses illegally, I'm going to give you a place to live at the county jail."

    Lawmakers have tried for years to change the law to better suit modern needs. This past session, the Legislature approved changes that should reduce some of the problems with sketchy attempts to take homes.

    Starting July 1, people who try to adversely possess a piece of property must wait until after April 1, when unpaid property taxes become delinquent, before they swoop in and pay what's due on someone else's property. Paying taxes on a parcel for seven years is one of the requirements in a legitimate adverse possession case.

    If someone seeks to own an abandoned piece of property or home that no one else claims -- perhaps one that a relative intended to deed over but didn't because of death -- they can file the proper paperwork stating intent, pay the taxes for seven years and possibly become the owner. If all the criteria is met and the property becomes theirs, they can move in or build on land.

    But that's at the end of a long wait and can be a long shot.
  • Asked for an opinion about the law, Lakeland lawyer J. Kemp Brinson said he doesn't think there is a legal problem.

    "I think the public response to these stories misses an important distinction between adverse possession, a civil court remedy for a title-related problem, and criminal statutes that prohibit trespassing and breaking into places where you don't belong," he said in an email response to questions.

    "They are two different things."

    Those charged were arrested for breaking into the house, not for starting the process of adverse possession, he said. And they were caught in part because they filed papers with the property appraiser indicating that they intended to adversely possess it.

    "If they have deluded themselves, or been deluded by others, into thinking that their acts are perfectly legal ways to go about 'adverse possession' of someone else's property, they are just plain wrong," Brinson said.
  • "You just can't move into someone else's legally owned property," [Polk County Sheriff Grady] Judd says [...]. "That's trespassing, burglary and theft. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and we are going to arrest people who try this scam to steal homes in Polk County."
For the story, see Adverse Possession: Taking Over A Home Can Land You in Jail (Recent cases have focused attention on misuse of law).

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