HOLIDAY, Fla. (WFLA) — Panicked neighbors in Holiday, Florida, are trying to quickly fix a problem many say they didn’t know they had until recently.
Several homeowners have learned that a mysterious land trust bought a 20-foot-wide parcel in 2008 that stretches behind nine of their homes. It was land that was long-abandoned and acquired through a tax deed auction.
Many say they hadn’t heard from the land trust until recently. The land is included in fenced-in yards that many homeowners thought they either owned or could use.
One homeowner received a trespass warning, saying she can’t step foot on the property to go to her own shed.
Another homeowner said he must either tear down his pool or negotiate a deal with the landowner, who won’t give his real name and communicates via text messages.
“It’s ridiculous that this could happen,” said Frank Schneider, who bought his home in 2016 and said he and his wife chose the property, in part, because of the fenced-in yard. They added an above-ground swimming pool the next year.
Schneider said the entire piece of property where his pool sits is owned by the land trust.
“He can charge me whatever he wants,” Schneider said. “He can trespass me. He can put whatever he wants back here. He can come swim in my pool and there’s nothing I can do about it.”
Public records show a group, known only as (818) 239-2215 Land Trust, acquired the long-abandoned skinny parcel in 2008 after paying delinquent taxes of $1,146.85. The parcel is listed with an appraised value of $937 by the Pasco County property appraiser’s office.
Schneider discovered that he doesn’t actually own any of the land behind his house. His survey shows a 10-foot utility easement right behind his home, which he can use and maintain. The survey doesn’t specify exactly what is behind that easement.
Schneider said that as a first-time homebuyer, it never occurred to him that the fenced-in backyard didn’t come with the house.
“I was completely baffled,” he said. “You know, you buy a house, you see it fenced in, you just assume that’s your property. That’s the logical assumption. We’re baffled, now finding out I got to take my pool down now. My daughter — she’s 6 years old — she’s devastated. She swims in it all the time.”
The only name that shows up in public records for the land trust is attorney Joseph Perlman, the trustee. Perlman said he understands the neighbors’ plight, but he points out that the trust acquired the property legally.
“I have empathy for them, but my hands are tied,” Perlman said, noting that he has spoken with the owner and would be speaking to them again about possible solutions to the problem.
Perlman said his client wants to remain anonymous, explaining that’s why land trusts like this one are created in the first place. Investments in plots like this oddly-shaped parcel are appealing because investors hope to buy the land cheaply and make a profit later, when the land is desired by people, such as these neighbors.
Perlman added that neighbors should have paid more attention to their surveys.
Niki Reschar’s survey, however, lists the land trust portion as a “vacated easement” with a shed and her pool pump. She said she was told she could use and maintain the property, which she has, for four years. Now, she’s received a trespass warning from the land trust.
Reschar said her $2,000 offer to buy just the piece of land beside her home was refused when she contacted the trustee.
“He just said, ‘No, the landowner wants money, and it’s going to be more than you can do,'” Reschar said.
Pasco County tax collector Mike Fasano calls the situation “outrageous.”
“What’s amazing to me is that people, individuals, how can they be so mean,” he said. “There’s more important things in life to do than to be mean like this.”
As for the land, Fasano said it’s only valuable to an investor wanting to sell it to these homeowners.
“It’s not worth anything,” Fasano said. “You can’t build a house. It’s in the backyard of people’s homes. You can’t build anything. You can’t get a permit to build anything on this property, and they knew that.”
While this situation sounds unusual, Fasano said it can happen in many neighborhoods, particularly in older neighborhoods.
That’s why it’s advised that prospective homeowners get a survey when they buy a home and make sure they know how to read it.