Through trespassing, squatters develop rights to land over time if owners don't take action to remove them. 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 through squatting is historically upheld in Florida courts. As an owner, acting immediately upon learning about the situation protects your interest in the property.
Defining Adverse Possession
Adverse possession refers to occupying a property owned by someone else with the specific intention of taking ownership of it. Several conditions must be met for squatters to take the property legally away from you. The first condition is possession. Possession must be continuous for a minimum of seven years. It is hostile possession, meaning the legal owner has no agreement that allows the squatter to be on the property. The squatter must be open to his possession of the property, visible to both the community and legal owner. 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 exclusivity. Exclusivity means that only one squatter has the right to make a claim of adverse possession. If five families squatted on the same property, exclusivity is not met.
Trespassing Vs. Squatting
Trespassing by definition is knowingly entering another person's property without permission. While trespassing often suggests temporary entrance, squatting begins as trespassing. Both are illegal. Trespassers can be arrested. However, if the owner does not call the police or legally evict the trespasser, the situation starts giving violators more legal rights. A general distinction: trespassers hide from public view while squatters openly use the property as their own.
It is also possible for neighbors to encroach on a specific part of a property. On larger farm land, an owner may have areas on the property outskirts that are unused. A neighbor may, without permission, start farming the land, creating a potential adverse possession situation. In fact, the neighbor may unknowingly encroach. As in other adverse possession situations, the owner must not have an agreement of use with the neighbor, and the actions must be open and visible.
Claiming Property: Color of Title
A squatter can file the adverse possession claim after seven years. There are two types of adverse possession filing: with color of title and without color of title.
Color of title refers to the squatter meeting the seven year duration. In addition to the time met, the squatter must be cultivating or improving the property, protecting it with substantial enclosures or using the land for supply needs. Squatters must meet both the time and improvement conditions to satisfy Florida laws of adverse possession.
Without color of title refers to taking adverse possession by paying the property taxes and liens on a property within one year of entry, as well as meeting one of the other two conditions of improving the land or protecting it. Paying the taxes alone won't accomplish the adverse possession. The squatter still needs to stay the seven years and be open in use of the property, essentially acting as owner.
Legally Taking Ownership
Once conditions for adverse possession are met, the squatter may file a Return of Real Property in Attempt to Establish Possession Without Color of Title. Once filed, the court will rule as to whether the original legal owner still has a legal claim to the property or whether the squatter is now the legal owner and occupant of the property.