WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Bank of America has filed for the removal of squatters from a multimillion-dollar Boca Raton, Fla., mansion, saying it is the rightful owner despite a land-grab attempt made under an obscure Florida law.
The case, filed in Palm Beach County court, names Andre De Palma Barbosa, 23, and eight unknown tenants as defendants.
Barbosa filed an “adverse-possession” claim on the waterfront home in December.
Purchased in 2005 for $3.1 million, the more than 7,000-square-foot home was previously owned by Michael Comparato, who signed a deed in lieu of foreclosure to Bank of America in July, according to Palm Beach County court records.
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The property includes a boat dock, pool, five bedrooms and five bathrooms.
Bank of America says in its complaint that Barbosa is a “squatter” in wrongful possession of the home without permission or consent by the owner. It asks for a permanent injunction restraining Barbosa from trespassing on the property.
Barbosa did not return messages.
Adverse possession was created hundreds of years ago when hand-scrawled property records could more easily be lost or damaged. 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, he or she can take permanent ownership. Taxes on the home Boca Raton mansion were $39,200 last year.
In recent times, adverse possession has been used in small property-line disputes.
These days, 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 2009 and 2010 when at least two men were arrested in connection with renting out homes they didn’t own to unsuspecting tenants. The men used adverse possession to take control of the properties.
Barbosa has no criminal history in Florida. He presented a Brazilian passport as identification when filing his adverse-possession claim.
Bank of America’s complaint says law enforcement has been “unwilling to remove the defendants through a criminal-trespass charge,” because of the claim.
Boca Raton police reports show the confusion that can occur when an adverse-possession claim is made on a home owned by a lender overwhelmed with foreclosures.
Police were first called to the home Dec. 26. An officer interviewed Barbosa and two other men, determining at the time that they appeared to have a legal right to be in the home after looking at the adverse-possession paperwork.
After contacting the property appraiser’s office, Boca Raton officers began trying to reach Bank of America beginning Dec. 29, according to a police report.
In subsequent calls, officers noted that bank records still listed the former owner has having possession of the home and were told the bank’s property-management firm had to deal with the incident.
“I spoke to several representatives from Bank of America Property Resolution Department,” wrote one officer after a Jan. 2 call. “They were unable/unwilling to assert any type of authority on trespassing subjects from the property, and I was transferred six times and spoke to a different representative each time.”