Prosecutors cracking down on adverse possession cases

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - When it comes to adverse possession, the law is now starting to change because of a rash of cases in recent years involving illegal squatters.

Channel 4 learned that people are currently trying to claim ownership of 23 vacant homes in the River City.

RECORDS: Adverse possession applications

Last week, a man and woman were arrested on accusations of leasing property to unsuspected renters who had no idea they were not dealing with the property owners.

At one Jacksonville home, some people are trying to take the property by claiming its abandoned. They have yet to pay the $2,000 owed in taxes. The house has attracted the attention of neighbors, one of whom happens to by city councilman Warren Jones.

Jones was surprised when he found out squatters could be moving in.

"Normally if a bank is going to sell a piece of property, they are going to put a 'for sale' sign up," Jones said. "Even if it goes to auction, they are going to put a sign up. I had a sneaky suspicion when I saw them cleaning it up that it was adverse possession. I don't know why I had that innate feeling, but I certainly did."

The application for adverse possession on file with the Property Appraiser's Office says it's being done by Barbara Allen. Allen, who spoke in a phone interview, said she was not aware that there were any problems in doing that.

The state attorney's office has been cracking down on these cases, and now investigators could get more help. The Legislature recently passed new laws regarding adverse possession, making it harder for people to use the old law to claim property. It clarifies what's involved.

The person must pay all taxes and government liens. It also says that occupying the house on the property or leasing it out is a criminal act. That law is still waiting the governor's signature.

Right now there are 23 active cases of adverse possession in Jacksonville, but some of the original owners are starting to come forward and claim the property back. Since December, that's happened 39 times.

For the Property Appraiser's Office, which keeps track of these cases, the new laws will help.

"From my department's standpoint, getting clarification and being able to answer some of the questions taxpayers asked," said Jim Lima, of the Property Appraiser's Office. "Looks to answer a lot of those questions."

Twelve of the active adverse possession cases involve the two people who were arrested last week -- Rosemary McCoy, 55, and Elton McCall, 38.

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