Last month it was reported that a Tampa Bay resident tried to take the law into her own hands by ejecting trespassers from her rental home. In a bizarre turn of events, the homeowner was arrested while the illegal users were allowed to stay. Fortunately, the matter was quickly investigated, and the trespassers were ordered from the home. This extreme example touches on the subject of adverse possession, or when another party uses and ultimately gains possessory rights to another’s property. There are several misconceptions about this topic, and it can be a common issue in Florida property disputes. Here are some facts to consider about Florida adverse possession law:
What is Adverse Possession?
- Essentially, adverse possession occurs when a person openly and continually uses another party’s property or dwelling without their permission for a specific period. When particular conditions are met, the occupying party can attempt to claim ownership of the utilized area.
- Adverse possession can apply to a parcel of land or a building or house. For instance, a neighbor erecting a fence on your portion of an adjacent tract of land could be considered adverse possession under the right circumstances. Likewise, another person using a building or home they do not own could also turn into an adverse possession situation.
In Florida the law specifically requires that the possession be:
- Hostile: Simply put, the possession has to be without the owner’s permission.
- Actual: The possessor has to be doing something or have some control over the property. Building a fence, adding an improvement, and living on the property are all examples of actual use.
- Open and Notorious: The possessor has to make their use open for you to see. Sneaking onto or using the property when no one is aware is generally not enough. Further, a possessor’s attempt to hide their belongings may discount an adverse possession claim.
- Continuous: The possessor has to be “in actual continued possession for seven years” to raise the claim. This does not mean the possessor has to stay on the property for seven years but they do have to exercise control for that period.
- Exclusive: The possessor’s use and claim cannot be shared with another party.
- Taxes and Form: In Florida, a party claiming adverse possession must have paid outstanding taxes on the property within 1 year after entering into possession and have paid taxed on the property for the seven-year period. Additionally, they must also have submitted a form to the county appraiser with a description of the property within 30 days of paying any back taxes.
Adverse Possession is Not a Criminal Defense
Adverse possession does not protect a user from trespassing charges. If an owner demands a possessor leave and he or she fails to do so, the possessor could be charged with the offense. Further, additional criminal penalties can apply if the possessor has a firearm or other dangerous weapon during their adverse possession.
In many cases, adverse possession occurs by mistake when a neighbor is confused about the property line. However, there can be situations when the act is intentional. Additionally, some possessors may have “color of title” or something that appears to give them legal ownership.
Contact a Florida Board-Certified Real Estate Attorney
Adverse possession cases are often complicated. Therefore, if you have a dispute regarding property ownership, it’s crucial that you consult with an experienced real estate attorney to review your case and options.
At Rabideau Klein, Guy Rabideau, Esq. and David E. Klein, Esq. are dedicated, Palm Beach area Florida Board-Certified Real Estate Attorneys with extensive experience assisting clients with adverse possession matters. We have the expertise and knowledge you need to ensure that your property interests are protected. Contact Rabideau Klein today to discuss your real estate legal needs.