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Adverse Possession & Florida Real Estate


A person generally likes to think that once they have purchased a piece of Florida real property, they own it without having to worry about it being seized by anyone (other than the government in certain situations). In reality, there is a concept called adverse possession that allows another person, under circumstances, to take ownership of all or part of your land. It is important that you understand your rights and your options in the event that you have someone seeking adverse possession of your property.

Difficult (But Not Impossible) To Establish Possession

Adverse possession is an ancient concept, dating back to English common law, intended to help maximize use of land in a time when every square foot counted. The concept holds that if a property owner has left their land unused, anyone who puts time and effort into maintaining and using it for a sufficient period of time has built up a kind of equity in the property. This means that it would be unjust to simply unceremoniously eject the person who has been maintaining the land. Florida has codified this process, establishing guidelines for when someone’s possession of another person’s land will be honored and when it will not.

In general, the person who holds legal title to the land will be presumed to be the owner unless the trespasser can establish their claim sufficiently, and doing that is extremely difficult. The criteria for adverse possession without legal title require that the possession be:

  • Hostile (that is, against the owner’s wishes);
  • Actual;
  • Exclusive (not shared with anyone else);
  • “Openly visible and notorious,” as though they were the legal owner;
  • Continuous for at least 7 years; and
  • “Cultivated, maintained, [or] improved.”

The trespasser must also have paid all the appropriate taxes and liens on the property within a year of taking possession.

Know Your Rights As The Owner

If you have purchased Florida real property only to find someone occupying all or part of it, the situation can sometimes be resolved with a simple talk – but even if this does happen, it is generally a good idea to bring a legal action to quiet title (in other words, to assert that you are the owner of the property and know of no other claims on it). Paperwork can establish your right to the title over anyone attempting adverse possession – and it can also be evidence in a criminal matter if it can be shown that a trespasser has willfully disobeyed an order to leave the premises.

That said, the doctrine of adverse possession may soon be subject to change. As of this writing, a Florida representative has sponsored a bill in the state’s House of Representatives that would entirely abolish the doctrine of adverse possession, and expand the definition of a “transient occupant.” While the bill’s language is likely to change throughout the committee process, it is worth noting the progress of this measure as a property owner, so that you are aware of any changes that must be made in terms of protecting your rights.

Contact A Tampa Real Estate Attorney

While successful cases of adverse possession are rare, they do happen, and it can result in a lawful owner losing their property through no real fault of their own. A Tampa real estate attorney from the Seward Law Office can help to answer your questions and work with you to ensure your property is protected. Contact our office today at 813-252-6789 to schedule a consultation.



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