Squatters Beware: States Are Revising Adverse Possession Laws

Andre Barbosa squatted in this $2.5 million foreclosed Boca Raton home. (Splash News)
Andre Barbosa squatted in this $2.5 million foreclosed Boca Raton home. (Splash News)

Anyone hoping to claim any one of thousands of foreclosed homes in Florida through adverse possession -- simply squatting on the land for several years to obtain title to the home -- are out of luck. Florida just changed its law to prohibit "acquiring title to real property by possession."

Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law June 28, effective July 1, after a push mainly from a community of 106 homeowners who were appalled that Andre "Loki Boy" Barbosa moved into a muilti-million dollar Boca Raton home overseen by their Golden Harbour Homeowners Association and refused to leave citing squatters rights, reported the Sun-Sentinel.

Barbosa, a Brazilian and self-proclaimed rapper occupied the mansion with a boat dock around Christmas, but was eventually locked out in February, AOL Real Estate reported. (Even, as shown below, his rap video made fun of his stay at the home.) The home was eventually sold to new owners in May for $2,2229,900. [See slideshow.] But to prevent this sort of thing from happening again, the neighbors took action all the way up to the state capitol steps.

Virtually every state has some form of an adverse possession law on its books, often dating back more than a hundred years as a way for pioneers to continuously squat on land, improve the land, pay taxes, and after a period of anywhere from about 7 years to 21 years, depending on the state, could eventually own the land if the original title holder didn't claim the property within a set period of time. The state of Washington updated its law. New York made changes to its adverse possession law several years ago. (Check on the adverse possession laws in your state.)

However, possession is not obtained until that statutory period has been reached, even though many who attempt to acquire a home this way claim the home is theirs as soon as they move in furniture and mow the grass. But, a person can always be evicted before ownership kicks in. And most have.

In Texas, where it takes 10 years of squatting to obtain property through "adverse possession," a man named Kenneth Robinson recently tried to claim a $330,000 home in the city of Flower Mound for only $16 --- the cost of filing paper work with the city. Although he was eventually evicted at a judge's request on Feb. 6, he managed to live there for eight months before owner Bank of America pursued action and eventually prevailed, reported the Consumerist.

Back in Florida, where the law previously stated only seven years of adverse possession could help you obtain rights to a property, Jason Friedman, a father of three, was also booted from a home in which he was squatting. Friedman says he knew he the bank would come after him before the seven years were up, but he had hoped that he could use his Veterans Administration loan to purchase the Palm Beach house once the bank tried to evict him. His wish never came true.

"I knew I probably wouldn't get the seven years in there, but I figured at the very least if the bank went to foreclose, I'm already in the property and now I can use my VA loan and purchase the property," Friedman told WPBF TV.

Cherie Fields, a 25-year-old Polk County Florida school teacher, and her husband Owen Fields, faced charges of grand theft after changing locks, purchasing electricity, and moving into a $160,000 home they didn't own, as AOL Real Estate reported.

"They just move in, turn the electricity on, and take over," Sheriff Grady Judd told WTVS in Tampa. "That's like suggesting that, after Walmart closes tonight, if you stay there, it's your store."

Similarly, nearly a dozen homes in Colorado occupied this way, and their occupants met a similar fate, as the CBS affiliate in Denver reported.

Steve DeCaprio (YouTube)
Steve DeCaprio (YouTube)

But some squatting stories do end up in home ownership. Just ask Steve DeCaprio who never bought his house, but he did invest thousands of dollars into repairing its roof, upper level, and other parts of the dilapidated interior and exterior. DeCaprio spent more than a decade living in the home in a poor neighborhood in West Oakland until adverse possession kicked in.

Back on that first day, DeCaprio simply rode his bike up to an abandoned house in Ghost Town, in a neighborhood dotted with vacant lots. He cut through the rusty lock on the chain-link fence with bolt cutters, then pried open a plywood sheet that stood where the front door once had. Then he replaced the locks with his own, reported the Utne Reader. The last owner had passed away and no heirs had claimed the property, which had fallen into disrepair of several years.

DeCaprio called it the "holy grail of squatting." The police, citing criminal law, said he was trespassing. The police kicked him out, not once, not twice, but six times. Yet DeCaprio didn't give up. He kept returning, even after the city welded the doors shut and glued the locks. One time, DeCaprio said, the police arrived with guns drawn.

DeCaprio was arrested, had a trial, and was convicted on three counts of "unlawful entry into a residence." The judge, he said, called him "arrogant." But today, after his persistence, he can call himself a homeowner. Perhaps the trick to winning this battle, is to pick an inexpensive home in a poor neighborhood with no known heirs, rather than try to stake out a million-dollar home with a neighborhood watch association and a bank with money and power to kick you out.