WEST PALM BEACH — A year in jail wasn't enough to deter a 52-year-old West Palm Beach man bent on renting out homes he doesn't own.
Claiming he is backed by an obscure Florida law pertaining to abandoned and vacant property, Carl Heflin again has attempted to take homes via adverse possession and rent them to unwitting tenants, according to Palm Beach County sheriff's investigators.
He was arrested the first time in relation to the practice in 2009.
After a July release from the Palm Beach County Jail, Heflin filed adverse possession papers on four homes, renting one on Tallahassee Drive and accepting $2,500 from a tenant to begin a three-year lease.
Heflin, a former West Palm Beach police officer, was arrested again Monday and faces multiple charges of, among other things, burglary, organized scheme to defraud and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Heflin's 17-year-old daughter, Carli, was also charged with burglary because she allegedly broke windows to get into empty homes so her father could change the locks, the sheriff's report says.
Adverse possession allows someone to file a claim of ownership on a property, and attempt to gain permanent ownership after possessing it for seven years, including paying taxes and caring for the property.
It 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.
In more recent times, it has been used in small property line disputes.
Today, property records are tangled in the massive market meltdown, where mortgage notes were sold and resold, bundled into securities, scanned into computers, divided among several investors and just plain lost.
"This is the ideal opportunity for adverse possession because titles are clouded," said Kama Monroe, senior attorney for the Florida Department of Revenue, in July. "No one is sure who to call to say, 'Get them off my land.' "
In the case of the home on Tallahassee Drive, however, an owner did appear.
According to the Property Appraiser's Office, the home is owned by Franklyn Cunningham of New Jersey. Relatives had been living at the house until August 2009 when a kitchen fire made the home unlivable.
Foreclosure papers were filed in November 2009, and the home remained vacant.
That is, until Heflin began filing more adverse possession documents with the Palm Beach County Appraiser's Office, after his release from jail.
Heflin also allegedly attempted to collect rent from tenants who have been living for the past year while he was in jail in homes he originally rented to them.
Heflin's original charges related to adverse possession were pleaded down to misdemeanor trespassing because prosecutors said he had already spent 13 months in prison and the victims or owners of the properties were either unavailable or unwilling to appear for trial.