Squatters turn to century-old law to try takeover of unoccupied home

Lawyer: Adverse Possession law meant for farmers

RIVERVIEW, Fla. - Squatters are getting creative in Hillsborough County.

It's illegal to move into an unoccupied or abandoned home, but some have looked for a way to justify it.

Over the weekend, deputies arrested two women, Tami Robinson and Samantha Gavin-Magras, accused of breaking into a Riverview home, changing the locks, and living there.

When the owners caught wind, investigators say they moved on to another home nearby on the brink of foreclosure.

"There's always going to be those that think they can take that risk," said Larry McKinnon, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Their squatters' defense:  A century old law called adverse possession -- other squatters have tried it before.

"It's quite rare. It's a very arcane theory of law and real property," said Charles Gallagher III, a St. Petersburg lawyer. He says the old law was designed more for farmers to claim land, not squatters to claim vacant homes.

"You can't go ahead and trespass on somebody's property, take up residence there, pay the taxes, fill the forms out, and expect to have 7 years of uninterrupted residence there," he said.

Seven years is how long it takes someone to take ownership of a piece of property if they filed out the paperwork and paid taxes the entire time.

Last month, ABC Action News got a tour of a home where a squatter tried the same trick.

The sheriff's office describes it as their way to put legitimacy in squatting, but it doesn't work.

"No one should be able to leave their home and come back and for whatever reason find somebody living in it," McKinnon said.

While the problem has tapered off some, the sheriff's office says it still exists, and they rely on the public's help. Anyone who sees someone move into an abandoned or unoccupied home should call police.

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