Boca Raton, Fla. - A multi-million dollar Boca Raton mansion is the latest home to fall into the hands of squatters taking advantage of an obscure Florida real estate law that allows them to file a claim of ownership on vacant or abandoned properties.
The waterfront home at 580 Golden Harbour Drive is being occupied by 23-year-old Andre De Palma Barbosa, who filed his so-called “adverse possession” claim on the home Dec. 19.
Purchased in 2005 for $3.1 million, former owner Michael Comparato signed a deed in lieu of foreclosure with Bank of America in July, according to Palm Beach County court records.
Adverse possession was created hundreds of years ago when hand-scrawled property records could more easily be lost, damaged or muddled. Allowing for adverse possession kept land in productive use when ownership was unclear, or, for example, the owner died with no heirs.
If the person claiming adverse possession stays in the home for seven years, paying taxes and caring for the property, they can take permanent ownership.
In recent times, adverse possession has been used in small property line disputes. But today, with property records tangled in the massive real estate meltdown and foreclosure backlog in the courts, it has been used by people hoping to take over vacant and abandoned property permanently.
Palm Beach and Broward counties experienced several adverse possession issues in 2010 when at least two men were charged with renting out homes they didn’t own to unsuspecting tenants. The men used adverse possession to take control of the properties.
One man was charged by the Broward County State Attorney’s office with one count of organized scheme to defraud over $20,000 for allegedly renting out six properties he didn’t own. Another man spent a year in jail, and was arrested again after his release for burglary, organized scheme to defraud and contributing to the delinquency of a minor when he tried to continue to rent out homes he didn’t own.
Barbosa, who has an email address that starts with Lokiboy954, has no criminal history in Florida.
Bank of America could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser, 38 claims of adverse possession have been made in the past three years.