HOLIDAY, Fla. (WFLA) – Neighbors along Bigelow Street are in a panic, trying to quickly fix a problem many say they didn’t know they had until recently.
Several homeowners are learning that a mysterious land trust in 2008 bought a 20-feet-wide parcel that stretches behind nine of their homes. It was land that was long-abandoned and acquired through a tax deed auction.
Even though many of those homeowners say they didn’t hear a peep from this land trust until recently, they now have difficult decisions to make.
The land is included in fenced-in yards that many homeowners thought they either owned or could use. One homeowner received a trespass warning that she can’t step foot on the property to go to her own shed. Another homeowner, Frank Schneider, says he must either tear down his pool or negotiate a deal with the mysterious land owner 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 says he and his wife chose the property in part because of the fenced-in yard, where they added an above-ground swimming pool the next year.
Schneider is learning that the entire piece of property where his pool stands is actually 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.”
As crazy as that sounds, this buyer’s beware nightmare is making it’s way down Bigelow Street, as homeowners are learning what they didn’t realize when they bought their houses: This oddly shaped, 20-feet wide property behind nine homes doesn’t belong to them.
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 entire parcel is listed with an appraised value of $937 by the Pasco County Property Appraiser’s Office.
Schneider is discovering he actually doesn’t own any of land behind his house. His survey shows a 10-feet 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 back yard 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 (818) 239-2215 Land Trust is attorney Joseph Perlman, the trustee for the trust. Perlman said he understands the neighbors’ plight, but he points out that the trust acquired the property legal.
“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 this problem.
Perlman said his client wants to remain anonymous and he explained that’s why land trusts like this one are created in the first place. Investments like this oddly-shaped parcel are appealing because investors hope to buy the land cheap and make a profit later, when the land is desired by people, such as these neighbors. Perlman said this isn’t personal, it’s just business.
He 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 says 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 says her $2,000 offer to buy just the piece of land beside her home was turned down 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 in Aloha Gardens “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 important that you make sure you get a survey when you buy a home, and make sure you know how to read it. In Schneider’s case, his survey shows a 10-feet utility easement but does not specify what’s beyond that easement. As a first-time homebuyer, he said he wrongly assumed that the fenced-in yard behind the house came with the house.
“No one explained that to me,” he said. “The yard was a big reason why we chose the house.”
Of course, in Reschar’s case, her survey didn’t point out the land trust property at all.