Our friend Bobby is a real estate investor in Lee County and has been a very successful investor for many years.  He recently acquired a property through a Tax Lien Foreclosure sale by the Lee County Tax Assessor for delinquent property taxes.  It is very common when purchasing homes in this fashion to do so without inspecting the property in advance and simply rely upon the property description offered by the County Assessor’s Office.  He has acquired dozens of properties over the years without any difficulties. This one, well, let’s say it was a BIG MISTAKE!

Once Bobby paid the Tax Assessor he went to view the property and learned that two families were living in the residence.  How is this possible? The prior owner had passed away and the property went vacant until the Tax Assessor took it in foreclosure and sold the title at public auction.  When asked to leave the property the residents informed Bobby that they had been given permission to live in the property rent free “just to take care of it”. They could not produce any documents reflecting such an agreement nor could they even tell him the name of the person that had given them the “authorization” to live there.  They represented that they had a verbal agreement to live there-rent free.  The bottom line is that these were squatters.

Kicking someone out of your property is far more difficult than Bobby imagined.  Once a squatter moves in and has the locks changed or public utilities turned on using their name your worst nightmare just came true.  The simple fact that the squatters stated they had a verbal agreement from the prior owner to live there rent free is enough for the squatter to tie things up in the judicial system for a long time and at great expense to the party trying to remove them.  The squatter’s claim is enough to place the matter outside of Police intervention. In other words, the case became a civil matter. A simple “he said”, “she said”, gone bad.

Bobby’s only recourse was to file an unlawful detainer action, which is a type of lawsuit that uses a summary procedure to expedite litigation.  In civil law, this means it is keeping in custody real property to which one is not entitled. He did not have the option of filing for eviction because evictions are for removing tenants with leases and a squatter is not a tenant. An Unlawful Detainer action is a special court proceeding.  It’s a legal way to evict someone from the place where they live or work.

What Bobby learned working through this process is squatters develop rights to land or property over time.  Florida squatters don’t have rights to ownership unless they file and present a valid adverse possession claim.  Though squatting itself is unlawful, the ability to take the property from you legally is historically upheld in the Florida Courts.  As an Owner, acting immediately upon learning about the situation better protects your interest in the property.

This leads to the discussion of Adverse Possession.  Adverse possession refers to occupying a property owned by someone else with the intent to take possession of it.  Here are the conditions (4) of adverse possession:

The person seeking adverse possession must 1) occupy a parcel of land in a manner that is open and obvious.   It must be 2) continuous for seven years and it is 3) a hostile possession, meaning the legal owner has no agreement that allows the squatter to be on the property.  The squatter has to be open to the public and to the owner to his possession of the property, visible to both the public and the owner.  The land Possession must continue for the state’s predetermined statutory period. After enough time passes without the owner taking legal action to remove the squatter, the statute of limitations expires allowing the squatter to file for adverse possession.

The last condition is 4) exclusivity where the land in question is occupied exclusively by the person seeking the adverse possession and may not be shared with the public or the true owner.  

Once a squatter is in your property it almost always requires legal action and due process to remove them.  Or you might negotiate a cash settlement with the squatter to vacate the property to forego his claims against the property.  That is what Bobby chose to do. You cannot padlock the property, you cannot shutoff the utilities and you may not intimidate squatters in any manner.  The courts could view those acts as self-help, or illegal.

One of the best ways to help minimize the opportunity for squatters to gain control of your property while the home is vacant or unoccupied is to engage a Professional Home Watch service.  Carefree Home Watch performs a weekly or bi-weekly visit to your home looking for obvious issues which could include determining if someone is living in your property while you are away. Reports are generated after each visit and include an observation of the exterior and perimeter of the property looking for obvious signs of vandalism, intrusion or squatters along with a comprehensive review of the interior of the home.  Your ability to deal with any situation regarding your home begins immediately upon receipt of our digital report which is available online 24/7 from anywhere in the world.

Call Carefree Home Watch today for a FREE consultation and assessment of how you can better protect your property while the home is vacant or unoccupied.  Call 239-234-1847, or, email info@carefreehomewatch.com. Or,  visit the Carefree website at https://carefreehomewatch.com to obtain your FREE e-booklet named The Ultimate Home Watch Interview Guide, published by the International Home Watch Alliance, a not for profit organization advocating for the homeowner.

Please, make an informed decision and not a bad decision!

Carefree Home Watch, exceptional care when you’re not there.

*Squatters don’t give a Squat Disclaimer:  Carefree is not qualified nor intends to offer legal advice on the subject of Squatter’s Rights.  The information provided is an experience shared by our friend Bobby and additional online research on Squatters Rights. Carefree recommends that when faced with a situation that may involve Squatter’s or Squatter’s Rights that you immediately seek the advice of a legal representative.