Understanding Florida law on adverse possession

On Behalf of | Jun 10, 2024 | Real Estate Law |

What happens when an individual occupies a piece of land under the mistaken belief that he or she owns it? Florida and most other states resolve this conflict with a doctrine known as the “rule of adverse possession.”

The rule of adverse possession is a survivor of the Middle Ages, and it was developed to resolve ownership conflicts when no government entity was responsible for maintaining accurate records of land ownership and ownership transfers.

The modern development of accurate title records maintained by government entities has rendered the rule someone archaic, but ownership conflicts between two or more individuals still occur.

Rules for resolving these conflicts are still a vital party of Florida’s real estate laws.

The seven year rule

Title to real property in Florida is generally established by a deed or other legal instrument. However, if two or more individuals can demonstrate a right to claim ownership of the property, the courts will resort to the rules of adverse possession to determine legal ownership.

The party relying on adverse possession to validate claim to the parcel in question must have occupied the land for a period of at least seven years pursuant to a written instrument that purports to be a conveyance of the property.

If the adverse possessor has no document upon which to rely, the payment of real property taxes on the land for a period of at least seven years will usually suffice to establish adverse possession.

Adverse Possession under Color of Title

An individual who claims ownership under color of title must demonstrate that the claim is based upon a recorded written document, regardless of the age or validity of the document to convey title.

The adverse possessor may also demonstrate adverse possession by cultivating or making improvements to the lane or protecting the land by constructing a substantial enclosure (courts usually accept walls in this regard).

Adverse Possession without Color of Title

A person who claims ownership adversely without any documentary basis for such claim may establish adverse possession by filing a return (Form DR-452) with a complete legal description of the property within one year of entry onto the property. The claimant must also pay all real estate taxes and liens assessed during possession.


As may be inferred from the above, a claim of adverse possession rarely involves urban land. Nevertheless, a claim of adverse possession may have considerable value in rural areas of Florida, and investing money in legal fees to assert or defend such a claim may be worthwhile.