How serious is serial adverse possession in Florida?

2017-06-23

Is it possible for anyone to take over your property. The answer is an alarming, yet qualified "yes." Under the right circumstances, it is legal through a process known as adverse possession.

Adverse possession has allowed unauthorized property seizure for decades. Essentially, someone (commonly referred to as a "squatter") can follow a process to become the owner and occupy the land.

Since the end of 2015, at least 20 formal possession attempts occurred in Volusia County. That number represents a small fraction when compared to other Florida Counties. The Polk County Appraiser's Office reported over 800 adverse possession claims in 2011.

Some squatters are not satisfied with seizing one piece of property, in spite of the uphill battles they face. The significant hurdles that exist result in far more failure than success.

Serial adverse possession is occurring thanks to one man's effort to use the little-known law to seize vacant buildings and land dotting the Daytona beachside.

Timothy Tharbs, moved into 404 Revilo Blvd. in January 2016. After a month of residency, he quietly filed an adverse possession claim for the house owned by people living in South Florida.

Complaints by neighbors about Tharbs, his visitors, and the dilapidated condition of the one-story house got the attention of city officials. They determined that the structure was unsafe and ordered Tharbs and his wife out the next day.

It wasn't Tharbs' first act of squatting. He also tried to use adverse possession to gain ownership of a Daytona Beach oceanfront motel obviously showing its age of 70 years.

However, the third time was not the charm when Tharbs filed another claim against a Volusia County beachside home in foreclosure that sat empty for years.

Dale Martin, the actual owner, is a retired attorney. He claims to be more than equipped to not only keep Tharbs off his property, but also teach him a lesson in adverse possession. Martin filed a counter claim that requested punitive damages to stop him from "malicious abuse of the court process to pursue frivolous complaints."

Tharbs may have met his match in Martin. Other property owners in Florida may not be so lucky.

Posted on Real Estate Litigation