RIVERVIEW — No one was home at the little stucco house on Crestlake Drive when a stranger broke in and changed the locks.
The home's owner was serving at Randolph Air Force Base in Texas. She had closed up the $70,000 house and left town.
And, according to deputies, she fell victim to an odd but increasingly prevalent crime involving an obscure legal concept called adverse possession.
It's a practice that the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office called unusual a year ago. Now deputies know the clues.
Someone breaks into an unoccupied house and then files paperwork with the court, hoping to use adverse possession to assume ownership.
Under Florida statutes, people can ask a judge to award them title of the property if they fix it up and occupy it for seven years while paying the taxes.
In the meantime, authorities say, they're trespassing.
That's what happened at the Crestlake Drive home, deputies say.
Late Sunday, deputies arrested two Tampa women in connection with what they found at that house and a nearby house on Laurel Brook Court in Riverview.
Samantha Magras, 39, and Tami Robinson, 43, were each charged with two counts of invasion by false personation, two counts of organized fraud, two counts of burglary and two counts of grand theft. Bail for each was set at $69,500.
Deputies say that on Sept. 26, deputies were called to 11404 Laurel Brook Court because of a reported trespasser. The homeowner said strangers were living in his house.
He had left the home vacant because of Chinese drywall but discovered that day it was not empty.
Robinson was there. She told deputies that she had filed for adverse possession with the court and believed she was living in the house legally.
Deputies told everyone in the home to leave.
Then, on Sunday night, at about 6:40 p.m., deputies were called to the home on Crestlake.
There, they found Magras, who said she had just moved in. She said she had not purchased the home, nor was she paying rent.
She said her friend Tami Robinson was filing for adverse possession. She also said she had a locksmith change the locks.
Again, the pair insisted that their actions were legal. Deputies disagreed and booked the women in jail.
Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.