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Dispelling some myths about adverse possession

This article looks at three commonly believed myths concerning adverse possession in Florida.

Adverse possession is a legal concept that often leads to plenty of controversy and debate. Adverse possession essentially says that if a person publicly and openly moves into an abandoned property, makes improvements to that property and pays taxes on it, then after a certain period of time the title to that property can be transferred to the person occupying it. Not surprisingly, adverse possession has led to plenty of real estate disputes and quite a few misconceptions. However, while adverse possession is certainly controversial, there are plenty of myths swirling around about this area of the law that should be cleared up.

Adverse possession does not provide a free house

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of adverse possession is the impression it gives of a person getting a house for "free". Indeed, as CBS 4 News reports, a number of disputes have arisen throughout Florida in recent years with squatters moving into unoccupied homes and claiming that by occupying those homes they are now in adverse possession of them. That, however, is not how the law works. For adverse possession to be enforceable, the person occupying the house still needs to pay property taxes on it, publicly declare themselves to be occupying the house, and make improvements to the property. Furthermore, that person must be occupying the property and paying taxes on it for seven continuous years before he or she can apply to have the title to the property transferred into his or her name. Those improvements and tax obligations mean that adverse possession is not the same as getting a free house.

Adverse possession cannot be done in secret

Simply trespassing onto another person's land does not give one the right to claim that property for oneself. That's why to successfully claim adverse possession of a property, one must be occupying that property openly and continuously for seven years. Moving one's belongings into an abandoned home in the middle of the night and trying to hide the fact that one is occupying the house from the neighbors would not be an example of openly occupying a property, for example.

Adverse possession does not make trespassing legal

Finally, adverse possession does not mean that trespassing onto another person's property is legal. As the Ledger points out, some Floridians who have tried to use the adverse possession law to their benefit have quickly found themselves in jail facing grand theft charges. Adverse possession is designed to ensure that abandoned properties do not become safety and fire hazards to the neighborhood and that such properties are put to beneficial use. What it's not designed to do is reward illegal behavior.

Real estate disputes

Adverse possession is just one of many issues that can lead to a real estate dispute. Anybody who is dealing with such a dispute should contact a real estate attorney today for advice. An experienced attorney can help homeowners and homebuyers navigate the complex world of real estate law so that their rights and interests are protected.