Senate Bill 1142 was sent to Governor Scott today. This bill reforms adverse possession in Florida. Generally, adverse possession allows people to acquire title to property owned by someone else after they have used it as if it were his own in some specified way for a number of years. In Florida, this ancient English doctrine of property law is defined in chapter 95, Florida Statutes. Under Florida law, there are two ways to adversely possess property. First, a person can adversely possess by actually possessing it and claiming color of title, or claiming a right to it based on a recorded document, for seven years. Second, a person can actually possess a property and, within the first year of possession, file a claim with the county property appraiser's office. Under this method, the person also has to pay property taxes during the seven year possession period.
SB 1142 amends the current law to make it harder to acquire property by adverse possession by paying taxes on a parcel. Currently, there is no requirement that a property owner be notified that someone has stepped in to pay taxes on the property. It requires property appraiser to notify the rightful property owner when someone files for adverse possession with the appraiser. When filing, the possessor must disclose the intended use of the property.
The bill was passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate because there is a perception that some property owners are being taken advantage of. Because there are so many vacant homes in Florida now, after the residential housing market bust, it's not hard to imagine that might be the case. There has only been a small bit of media coverage on the bill. Most of it has been neutral, probably because of the complexity of the arcane law. The Florida Realtors have reported seeing this. One article describes some of the abusive practices. An interesting blog post condoned the practice as a sort of sticking-it-to-the-man. Senate staffers don't believe that this will affect many Floridians. While that's probably true, landowners--especially those away from Florida for significant periods of time--should keep abreast of this bill in order to monitor their properties. If Governor Scott signs it, property owners will be able to rest a bit easier.
June 3, 2011 - Governor Scott signed SB 1142 into law yesterday (June 2). It becomes effective July 1, 2011.