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Warning to renters: RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH.
“Imagine going to a house or condo you own and finding a stranger living there who claims the property no longer belongs to you.
It’s happening across Florida and other parts of the country through what authorities say is abuse of a centuries-old concept known as adverse possession.
Dating back to Renaissance England, adverse possession allowed people to take over abandoned cottages and farmland, provided they were willing to live there and pay the taxes. These days, officials say, the legal doctrine is being misused by squatters, trespassers and swindlers to claim ownership of vacant or foreclosed homes.
In Broward and Palm Beach counties alone, adverse possession claims have been filed on some 200 homes in recent months. Three of the four people behind the claims have been arrested, and police are investigating the fourth man, who along with his father, a convicted mobster, tried to take over properties in Hollywood.
‘We look at this as another con job, another get-rich-quick scheme,’ said Don TenBrook, a Broward state prosecutor of economic crimes. ‘You’re starting to see them pop up all over the place. It’s been spawned by the real estate crisis.’
A bill in the Legislature this spring would have helped cut back on the abuses and better protect Florida property owners, but it failed to pass — the result of political retribution, state Rep. Ron Schultz, one of the sponsors, told the Sun Sentinel.
‘We tried to nip this in the bud, but that didn’t quite work,’ said the Republican from Homosassa. ‘This is becoming a fairly wide scam in Florida.’
Antonio Vurro owned an empty rental home in Sunrise that he was trying to sell when he discovered in February that someone had moved in, changed the locks and was trying to open a utility account.
‘There were boxes all over the place and a mattress in each room,’ Vurro said in a recent interview. ‘This is not right. It’s my house.’
The occupant, Fitzroy Ellis, told Vurro he was entitled to take over the home because it was abandoned. Police disagreed, and Ellis, 64, is now in the Broward County Jail charged with six counts of grand theft.
Ellis tried to claim a total of 48 properties in Broward, including a $1 million house in Coral Springs, through a company he formed called Helping Hands Properties Inc., county official records show. He told a Plantation police detective he planned to rent out the houses and condos and could offer tenants a good price ‘since he didn’t have to pay anything for the homes,’ according to a police report.
Ellis, who is representing himself, wrote in court documents that the allegations against him are ‘false and an abuse of power….”
Adding insult to injury is the Florida’s state legislature who are empowering larcenous thugs through inaction, games and politics.
“The judiciary committee of the Florida Senate warned of the potential abuses of adverse possession last fall. Rep. Schultz, a former property appraiser, introduced legislation to stop them, including requiring all property owners to be notified when a claim is made and preventing non-owners from paying a tax bill until it becomes delinquent.
The bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Paula Dockery, cleared the Senate unanimously but died in the House the last day of the legislative session, April 30.
Schultz said a House leader told him the sponsors were the problem. Dockery, a Republican from Lakeland, was running for governor, but the preferred candidate of the House leadership was Attorney General Bill McCollum, Schultz said.
And Schultz said he angered leaders by voting against their priorities, including bills tying teacher pay to student test scores and requiring pregnant women to get an ultrasound before an abortion.
‘When you are the lone ‘no’ vote among Republicans, you can expect to be noticed, and your bills have a certain aroma,’ Schultz said. ‘I was quite disappointed. It was a general purpose, anti-fraud bill and it didn’t get a hearing.”