Florida Adverse Possession Laws Used to Grab Vacant, Abandoned Foreclosure Homes after Florida Home Owners Walk Away

Posted By on November 8, 2011

Last Update: 02/10/16

All across Florida, there has been an increase in the use of Florida’s adverse possession laws to claim legal title to homes that have been left empty and abandoned in the ongoing Florida foreclosure fraud crisis.  Under Florida Statutes 95.16 – 95.18, there is a way for strangers to enter a home and obtain clear, legal title of the property – but it’s a cagey use of longstanding law, and now the Florida Attorney General is getting involved.

Florida’s Adverse Possession Laws – What Are They?

Adverse possession is a time-honored legal concept recognized throughout the United States for over a century.  The idea of recognizing the right of someone who had “adversely possessed” land arose out of a need to keep up communities and farmland — if the owner abandoned the place, for whatever reason, then it was deemed a better thing ( i.e., in the public interest) for someone else to step in there and farm the land rather than to let the acreage grow over and return to nature.

After a certain number of years — an agreed upon time period that gave the original owner more than enough time to return and claim ownership — the person who had taken over the place could have clear title to it under the law.  It has long been called the “law of adverse possession” and it exists in almost every state in the United States.

In Florida, the adverse possession statutes are on the books as Florida Statutes 95.16 – 95.18.

For real estate in the State of Florida, the Florida Legislature has decided that seven (7) years is the time period allowed for adverse possession of real property here.  However, the law is clear on what is required – and key here is the need to start that clock officially ticking:

1.  First of all, the land has to be occupied by the adverse claimant for the entire time period.

For the purpose of this section, property is deemed possessed in any of the following cases:

(a) When it has been usually cultivated or improved.

(b) When it has been protected by a substantial enclosure. All land protected by the enclosure must be included within the description of the property in the written instrument, judgment, or decree. If only a portion of the land protected by the enclosure is included within the description of the property in the written instrument, judgment, or decree, only that portion is deemed possessed.

(c) When, although not enclosed, it has been used for the supply of fuel or fencing timber for husbandry or for the ordinary use of the occupant.

(d) When a known lot or single farm has been partly improved, the part that has not been cleared or enclosed according to the usual custom of the county is to be considered as occupied for the same length of time as the part improved or cultivated.

2.  Second, the claim on the  land has to be specific.

When the occupant, or those under whom the occupant claims, entered into possession of real property under a claim of title exclusive of any other right, founding the claim on a written instrument as being a conveyance of the property, or on a decree or judgment, and has for 7 years been in continued possession of the property included in the instrument, decree, or judgment, the property is held adversely.

If the property is divided into lots, the possession of one lot shall not be deemed a possession of any other lot of the same tract. Adverse possession commencing after December 31, 1945, shall not be deemed adverse possession under color of title until the instrument upon which the claim of title is founded is recorded in the office of the clerk of the circuit court of the county where the property is located.

Florida Adverse Possession Claims Skyrocket as Opportunities to Adversely Possess Abandoned Foreclosed Homes Arise

Drive throughout Florida, particularly South Florida, and you will see empty homes.  It’s a part of the Foreclosure Fraud crisis.  Some people have seen those houses as opportunities to profit, however, through the use of the longstanding adverse possession laws.

For example, in April 2011, it was reported that Polk County had 800+ adverse possessions registered with the property appraiser there.  Over 800 properties in that county had filings down in the county real property records of adverse possession notices, so the time clock could start running under Florida Statute 95.16.

What’s happening is companies are springing up, either charging a fee to explain how to adversely possess a home or filing adverse notices on lots of homes themselves, and then filling those homes with tenants in order to meet the occupying requirement of the adverse possession laws.  Do the tenants know what’s up?  Doubtful.  Do the companies care that they seem to be bottom-feeders, taking advantage of the system?  Nope.

This month, the Florida Attorney General appears to be taking steps to stop this sort of thing.  In Tampa, the Attorney General’s office is pursuing criminal charges against two companies that are involved in adverse possession campaigns: (1) Chris McDonald, owner of Chateau-Lan Property Solutions, has been charged with organized scheme to defraud and (2) Demetrius Lewis, was also arrested on a charge of organized scheme to defraud, however, his company (Help is Here Foreclosure Prevention and Credit Repair) did not attempt to adversely possess the land itself; instead, Lewis’ scam was to find abandoned houses and then charge people $1000/each on how they could adversely possess the house themselves.

Getting a Florida Real Estate Lawyer to Help You with Your Abandoned Florida Foreclosure

It’s expensive in both time and money for the land owner to fight a court action against the adverse possessor, but it can be done.  Just this week, Tampa Bay Online reported the success story of a woman who won her legal fight against recently arrested Chris McDonald’s Chateau Lan company.

The best thing is not to leave your house vacant – this is part of a successful foreclosure defense strategy.  Adverse possession is a risk you take with you when you walk away from your home.  Others are liability under the law for any injuries sustained on the property, etc. – you might even be legally liable to the adverse possessor for personal injuries at the property (they might sue you for it, even if they ultimately lose the case).

A good piece of advice is to at least speak with an experienced Florida real estate lawyer to learn about your rights. Most real estate lawyers, like Larry Tolchinsky, offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.


Picture of Larry Tolchinsky

Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Larry an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.


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11 Responses to “Florida Adverse Possession Laws Used to Grab Vacant, Abandoned Foreclosure Homes after Florida Home Owners Walk Away”

  1. Gloria Mallory says:

    Does a foreclosure or tax deed sale prevent a squatter from obtaining property through adverse possession. Does the new owner have the right to evict the squatter even if the squatter has lived in the property for 20 years?

  2. Marilee S. McIntyre says:

    My father passed away on Jan.15, 2011, and his will left his home to my 3 brothers and me. I was, and am still , living here as I have been since January 2007. This was at his, and his doctor’s request, to stay here and care for him. I was sole caretaker, with some help from Hospice and medicare provided nurse assistance, which he refused to have come in. My brothers gave no assistance,and rarely visited. They are now trying to make me leave, even though I pay all expenses, except a pest control fee. The estate funds paid the taxes and insurance. I need to stay here until I can renovate my home, a short distance away. I went there every day to feed my pets, which I left there, and to check on the property. I will move out when that is done, but the demo work has just started, and I have no firm completion date yet. I am 76 years old and have been hiring some day labor to help me move my things out of my house to facilitate the speedy renovation, but it is not fast enough for my brothers. What rights do I have regarding staying in our Dad’s house, and does adverse possession apply in this case to perhaps reward the property to me? I can’t really afford to buy them out and fix my house with the money Dad left each of us. Thank you for your help.

  3. Jose says:

    Hello, my I helped my brother file for adverse possession, hr got arrested and sent me power of attorney over the property, I’ve helped him up keep it for the past year before his indigent. Recently been living in it and bank is threatening me, what can I do to get them of my back?

  4. Cole says:

    There is an abandoned real estate property in my neighborhood that is not owned by anyone. It was a new contruction that never sold, and is not bank owned. Additionally, the builder has gone out of business. The HOA has investigated who the owner is and has come up empty handed. If I want to purchase or take ownership of this property how do I do this?

  5. Kim ruff says:

    I’d like to take my right to adverse possession to a piece of property I’ve been taking care of and using as ….
    Thank you!

  6. Lisa Tritch says:

    Their is a foreclosed home in my neighborhood. Been sitting empty for 2 1/2 years. ….

  7. charles says:

    my mother was with her soul mate/lover of 16 years he died of cancer and in his will he sold her the home for $1 ….

  8. Janis goldberg says:

    Hello:I am living in an abandoned property that was ravaged by Hurricane Wilma in 2003.THE LANDLORD IN QUESTION IS NOT THE LANDLORD AT ALL.I HAVE GOGGLED HIM 5TIMES NOTHING COMES UP.NOW I RECEIVED A 3. DAY NOTICE.WHAT ARE MY RIGHTS?

  9. Karen Klucar says:

    Curious to know about government land. Does this apply to any government property? There is so much in outer Key West.

  10. Jeff says:

    Karen, no. Florida law specifically says adverse possession doesn’t apply to government properties, like parks etc.

    Government ‘Owned” because of non-payment of taxes is another story, and not one I am familiar with.

  11. James Duncan says:

    Got a Question.
    I go exploring in Polk County A lot of farm land and houses with small acres around it looks abandoned
    Do you think it is a good idea for me to try to look up the owners on the tax collectors web site and see if I can find them first and make some deal with them, maybe keep up the property for the use of it.
    Or do an Adverse Possession of it