A mystery land trust attempting to browbeat neighboring landowners into buying oddly shaped parcels of little use focused its efforts on just three pieces of land. It could be worse. Tax Collector Mike Olson said Monday there are 110 similar parcels, 36 of which involve road rights of way, that are delinquent on property tax payments and could be purchased today for the back taxes.
County commissioners and constitutional officers should act quickly to stem the potential for abuse from copycat land speculators. A moratorium on tax deed sales is unlikely, but commissioners could cancel taxes on the parcels and take ownership.
There also are questions of whether some of the parcels should have been assessed for taxes or whether the unscrupulous trust had the ability to follow through on its threats to cut off access to a Zephyrhills road.
Under state law, common elements in a neighborhood, like drainage areas or road easements, are not supposed to be assessed for taxes. It's the same logic that applies to a typical subdivision clubhouse and swimming pool, the value for which is reflected in the individual assessments of each homeowner's lot.
Separately, state law also says the sale of tax deeds does not wipe out pre-existing easements for access, drainage, utility service or any other public purpose, even if the easement is not recorded, as long as the pubic use is visible. It means the California-based (818) 239-2215 Trust may be able to send irritating letters to neighbors, but it cannot deny them use of their road. That news comes too late for people living near Plaza View Drive in Zephyrhills who paid $4,000 to the trust to obtain a parcel containing a 600-foot private road that is the only access to about 15 homeowners.
The trust acquired the land for less than $1,400 five weeks earlier and initially asked neighbors to pay $15,000 for it.
The mystery trust, meanwhile, continues its bullying tactics, portraying neighbor Sam Dennewitz as problematic and asking Pasco deputies to allow removal of a shed on its newly acquire parcel in Holiday.
The trust's unfamiliarity with Florida law is attested to by its e-mail, sent from a Web site called anonymousemail.com, to the Pasco County Attorney's Office asking it to order deputies to abide by the trust's wishes to remove the storage shed.
The county attorney does not supervise nor provide legal counsel to the Sheriff's Office, which wisely rebuffed the trust's efforts to take down the shed pending clarification from a civil court.
Dennewitz, however, does not appear to have a strong legal case for keeping his shed on an easement. It might be prudent to move it, effectively leaving the trust with a parcel for which there is little use despite threats to park recreational vehicles there or set up a homeless encampment.