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Could you lose your house to adverse possession?

A rare case of adverse possession recently arose in Florida. Many people who do not deal with real estate law on a regular basis may not have heard of adverse possession, but it is an old law that may have been intended to keep land from being abandoned, or to clear up confusion over ownership in some cases.

As homeowners know, the owner of a piece of property has title over the land in his or her name. But in many states, if another person takes possession of the land -- say, by moving into the house -- and remains there in an “actual, open, hostile and continuous” manner for long enough, title or she gains title. This is what is known as adverse possession.

Some states require lengthy periods of adverse possession before title is transferred. For example, New Jersey requires a squatter to be in possession for 30 years first. But Florida law requires just seven years of possession before transferring title to the squatter.

It is unusual for a homeowner not to be aware of who is in his or her property for seven years, but it does happen. One couple is struggling with a second couple who is claiming adverse possession of a house belonging to the first couple.

The couple lived in Hawaii while the husband was stationed there as part of his Army duties. They left their unfinished New Port Richey home in the care of a friend. The friend hired a man to renovate the home.

Soon after, the repair man and his girlfriend moved into the home. They said that living in the home was part of the deal, but the friend denies this.

It is not clear how much time passed, but the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department has told the first couple that they cannot evict the second couple. The couple has begun legal proceedings to try to establish their ownership of the property.

Source: Daily Mail, “Outrage as a pair of ex-convict squatters take over Florida home of Afghan war veteran and refuse to leave,” Snejana Farberov, April 24, 2104

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