MIAMI, June 13 (UPI) -- A centuries-old legal doctrine is being abused and misused by squatters trying to take over abandoned houses in South Florida, authorities say.
The concept of adverse possession, going back to Renaissance England, allowed people to take over abandoned farmland and cottages provided they would live there and pay the taxes. That concept, officials say, is being used by trespassers, swindlers and squatters to claim ownership of foreclosed or vacant houses, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported Sunday.
One owner of a rental property, Antonio Vurro, discovered in February someone had moved in and had changed the locks.
"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, allegedly told Vurro he was entitled to take over the house because it was abandoned. Authorities disagreed, and Ellis, 64, is now in the Broward County Jail charged with six counts of grand theft, the Sentinel said.
County records show Ellis formed a company called Helping Hands Properties Inc., through which he allegedly tried to claim 48 properties in Broward County including a $1 million house in Coral Springs, the newspaper said.