A Fort Meade Middle Senior High School teacher has been charged in connection with a so-called “adverse possession” real estate case that happens in Polk County more than many might think.
According to police, 25-year-old Cherie Fields and her husband, 27-year-old Owen Fields, both of Lakeland filed for “adverse possession” on a residence located on Echo Lane (Imperial Lakes) near Lakeland, on March 27. The residence is valued at over $160,000.
There is such a legal process known as adverse possession, and the couple even filled out a form with the Polk County Property Appraiser’s office stating their intention, according to officials from that office.
In fact, there are about 860 cases of “adverse possession” actively on file in Polk County, according to Ellen Edwards, Deed Department Supervisor for the property appraiser.
However, the vast majority involved claims on pasture land, and just a handful involve actual single family dwellings.
Edwards said currently there are 20 similar cases on file at the county office.
“Of those 20 residential claims, 12 appear to be legitimate claims by a partial interest owner or a relative or heir of the owner of record,” she indicated. “The other eight claims were suspect and our office turned these over to the Sheriff’s Office for investigation. Of those eight claims, we show four of the claimants have recently been arrested.”
Edwards said increased activity of people filing such actions on residences prompted the creation of a new “claimant acknowledgement” form that warns people contemplating such action could be turned over to the sheriff’s office for investigation and that arrests for trespassing, burglary, perjury, fraud or theft could result.
She indicated the form did not start being used until sometime after the Fields’ filed their one page notice. The adverse possession form is actually putout by the Florida Department of Revenue.
The county’s new acknowledgement form notes “there are very few reasons to legally occupy and file adverse possession on a residence you do not own.”
She indicated that valid reasons for such an action often involve heirs of deceased owners who have not been able to probate the estate or that a person may own a partial interest in the property and legally has been occupying the residence.
Under normal circumstance, however, that occupancy must have been going on for at least seven years.
“Whether the home is in foreclosure or not is not a consideration. Illegal entry into someone else’s home is always against the law,” the form further reads. “The legal titleholder still owns the home until the lending institution takes title through the foreclosure process. The Polk County Property Appraiser takes these adverse possession claims on a parcel with a residence very seriously.”
According to police reports, neighbors and witnesses reported seeing a locksmith at the residence in addition to trucks from Rooms-To-Go and Aaron’s Rentals. Police also allege that Owen Fields activated the electric service at the residence on March 27, the same day that their adverse possession claim was feild.
However, according to the arrest affidavit, Rooms to Go “could not locate any record of either Owen or Cherie having furniture delivered to the residence.” In addition, Aaron’s “confirmed they received an order to be delivered to the residence, but advised the order was canceled before it could be delivered.”
When members of the PCSO were at the residence on April 15, they said they “did not observe any property inside,” according to the affidavit, but could only see inside through two small windows on either side of the front door. Also, they found bills in the couple’s name from Lakeland Electric and Bright House cable.
The actual owner of the property, Rebecca Skipper, was contacted in Running Springs, California and confirmed to investigators that no one had permission to take possession of the residence, according to reports. According to the affidavit, Skipper said the house had been vacated during bankruptcy proceedings in 2007 or 2008.
Cherie Fields is a schoolteacher at Fort Meade Middle – Senior High School. Owen Fields is a night auditor at a local motel, according to the PCSO report.
The pair were released on bond on May 4 after their first court appearance. They were charged with felony counts of burglary of a residence, grand theft, and scheming to defraud.
A spokesperson for the school district said Fields was on paid administrative leave from her teaching post at FMMSHS while the investigation continues.