A meme going around social media this weekend details a man who is “legally squatting in a bank-owned multi-million dollar mansion” in Boca Raton.
The video has close to a million views this weekend, with a string of comments suggesting that since Florida is in a housing crisis with so many homes sitting empty that they should simply be occupied. One commenter even mentioned that there are now agencies that will help you legally squat in a mansion.
The reality is, of course, very different. For those who were thinking that simply moving into an unoccupied $8 million mansion might be a good way to go, it’s going to put their dreams on hold.
Adverse possession is a legal concept that allows a person to claim ownership of someone else’s property by occupying and using it for a certain period of time. In Florida, adverse possession is governed by a set of statutes and case law.
As Boca Raton lawyer Charlie Cartwright points out, “The relevant Florida statutes governing adverse possession are found in Chapter 95 of the Florida Statutes, specifically sections 95.16 through 95.18. These statutes set out the requirements for establishing adverse possession and the procedures for bringing an adverse possession claim in Florida.”
To establish adverse possession in Florida, the claimant must prove the following elements:
Actual possession: The claimant must have actual possession of the property, which means physically occupying and using the property as an owner would.
Open and notorious possession: The claimant’s possession of the property must be open and notorious, meaning that it is visible and obvious to anyone who would reasonably be expected to observe it.
Hostile possession: The claimant’s possession of the property must be hostile to the true owner’s claim of ownership. Hostile possession means that the claimant is occupying the property without the true owner’s permission or consent.
Continuous possession: The claimant’s possession of the property must be continuous for a certain period of time. In Florida, the required period of continuous possession is seven years.
Exclusive possession: The claimant’s possession of the property must be exclusive, meaning that they are the only ones occupying and using the property.
If the claimant can prove all of these elements, they may be able to acquire ownership of the property through adverse possession.
Florida law also has specific requirements and procedures for adverse possession claims, including providing notice to the true owner and filing a lawsuit in court.
The reality of viral videos is, of course, very different from the illusion. This squatter was evicted from the Boca Raton home not this weekend but a decade ago. The squatter and eight other inhabitants were removed as trespassers because they unlawfully entered and occupied the property.
Yet the fact that this video went viral over the weekend is symptomatic of a poignant and troubling reality throughout the nation viewed through a Florida lens.
Florida has been experiencing a housing crisis in recent years due to a combination of factors such as population growth, limited affordable housing options, and rising home prices.
According to a report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Florida has a shortage of more than 300,000 affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income renters. This means that many low-income households are struggling to find affordable housing options.
In addition, home prices in many parts of Florida have been increasing rapidly, which can make it difficult for some residents to afford to buy a home.
According to the Florida Realtors Association, the median sales price for a single-family home in Florida was $327,500 in January 2022, which represents an increase of 22.8 percent compared to January 2021. According to the most recent Zillow Home Value Index from February 28, 2023, that median sales price is now $377,706, with all trends still heading straight up.
To place this in a national context, over the last few years, Florida has been right at the national 50th percentile for median home prices, which highlights exactly why stories of people squatting in mansions become quickly viral even when they are far from reality.
A Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer, Aron Solomon, JD, is the Chief Legal Analyst for Esquire Digital and the Editor-in-Chief for Today’s Esquire. He has taught entrepreneurship at McGill University and the University of Pennsylvania, and was elected to Fastcase 50, recognizing the top 50 legal innovators in the world. Aron has been featured in Forbes, CBS News, CNBC, USA Today, ESPN, TechCrunch, The Hill, BuzzFeed, Fortune, Venture Beat, The Independent, Fortune China, Yahoo!, ABA Journal, Law.com, The Boston Globe, YouTube, NewsBreak, and many other leading publications.
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