There is a unique law in place under which a person in possession of land owned by someone else may acquire a valid title to it, as long as certain requirements are met. All 50 states have some sort of adverse possession laws in place, including Florida. This law is called adverse possession and many may not know or understand the legal ramifications of this particular concept, it is important to be aware of what can bring about adverse possession in Florida. However, if you own land in Florida, you should familiarize yourself with this state’s adverse possession laws so that your land remains yours and a neighbor can’t claim a portion of it as theirs.
What is Adverse Possession?
The term refers to a legal principle that grants title to someone who resides on or is in possession of another’s land. The property’s title is granted to the possessor as long as certain conditions are met, including whether they infringe on the rights of the actual owner and whether they are in continuous possession of the land. Adverse is also sometimes called squatter’s rights, although squatter’s rights are a colloquial reference to the idea rather than a recorded law.
In Florida, an individual cannot acquire a title to real estate (without having a deed or other legally recorded document) unless they:
Can show open, continuous, and hostile possession of the property
Pay all taxes on the property for a period of seven years
File a return for land taxes with the county property appraiser
Cultivate the property or protect it through the use of an enclosure, and
Keep the property fully maintained while occupying the land itself.
In 2013, a new bill was passed by the Florida legislature that changes how adverse possession (without the color of a title) works by adding several requirements related to the process. Now, any person who wishes to claim property by adverse possession must:
Wait for all taxes and liens on the property to accrue over a two-year period
Have continued control of the property during the required time frame,
Maintain the property/land itself
Take measures to maintain and improve the exterior of any structures located on the property, without entering the structures themselves
Pay all outstanding mortgages and liens
Only apply for adverse possession of one property at a time
Stay out of all structures located on the property until the adverse possession period has ended and a deed has been issued to the possessor, and
Provide a notarized document, from the owner of the record, which gives his or her consent to the adverse possession
Homeowners have the right to keep unwanted trespassers off their property. In case of repeated trespassing, the owner has a right to call the police to make sure the offender stops.
There is another kind of trespassing that is more permanent. This involves using another’s land as an owner would use it. Let’s say that someone drives across your property every day. This is a trespass unless you have granted permission or the driver has a legal right to use that part of your real estate, called an easement. Another form of trespassing is a neighbor who puts a fence three feet or more over the boundary line. This type of trespassing can actually lead someone to claim ownership under adverse possession.
If you spot a trespasser or neighbor encroaching on your land, there’s a good chance that it is by mistake. Your first reaction should be to kindly ask the person to move. If they do not, your second reaction should be to put your demand in writing. If that still does not work, you may want to consider consulting with a lawyer. You may need to bring legal action to declare that you are the true owner of the land.
Under Florida law, if you own land that has been abandoned, adverse possession occurs when another has occupied the land for at least seven years. This also can happen when someone dies and leaves their property to their heirs. If the property has been left abandoned, someone that has lived there for at least seven years may attempt to obtain its title.
The Complexities of Real Estate Law
Please note, the limits in Florida’s adverse possession law are not set in stone. They were all created through case law, or judges making decisions about specific cases. A judge may add further conditions to the possession law at any time. Even if the trespasser meets the conditions of Florida’s adverse possession, you may still try the case in court. This is where the advice of a skilled lawyer becomes critical.
Most cases of adverse possession can be prevented by politely asking the trespasser to withdraw from the property. It could be as simple as your neighbor not knowing where their property line exits. If asking kindly does not resolve the issue, it is important to retain the services of a lawyer to take your next steps.
I’m Rob Robinson, and commercial and residential land use is one of my main practice areas. Adverse possession can be a complex subject and having knowledge and experience on the subject is critical to giving legal advice that you can trust. You can always count on me to bring the highest level of commitment and advocacy in representing you.