Anyone Home? Pastor Moves Homeless Into (Seemingly) Abandoned Houses, Gets Arrested

November 14, 2012  |  

AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

Homeless people. Homes that appear abandoned. Putting two and two together, it would seem only logical to house the homeless in empty homes. But this idea got a Florida pastor thrown in jail.

Pastor Tami Robinson was arrested after she moved people into two abandoned homes in the Florida county of Hillsborough. Robinson, who says she thought she was doing a good deed, filled out paperwork with the Property Appraiser’s Office and then changed the locks on the doors. She turned the keys over to the new tenants.

It seems, however, she broke the law. “According to the Hillsborough County’s Sheriff Office, her crime involved burglary, fraud and grand theft. The pastor, along with another church member, were eventually arrested,” reports Clutch.

The Pastor isn’t taking the charges lightly. She is, according to Clutch, suing the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office accusing them of harassment and racial prejudice. From Robinson’s point of view she did not break the law because she took possession of the houses through an obscure legal concept called “adverse possession.” In Florida,  Statute 95.18 states that people can request that a judge give them “permission to take possession of a home if it has been abandoned with the condition that they, amongst other things, fix the home up, occupy it and pay the taxes for at least seven years.” Robinson says that she notified the homeowners through writing that she was going to attempt adverse possession.

“I didn’t want to do anything illegal and if this is so illegal, why does no one stop you and say, ‘You can be put in jail, be called a criminal, be charged with grand theft?’ At no time during my filing — or while talking to the Property Appraiser’s Office — was I told this,” Robinson told The Tampa Bay Times.

The police say the homes were not abandoned; one owner was in Texas at an Air Force Base, in active service while the other owner was set to sell the home in a short-sale.

According to 2010 stats, there are 57,687 men, women and children who are homeless in Florida. Do you think Robinson did the right thing?

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  • cc

    Law Student who just finished learning about Adverse Possession here! If she hadn’t of informed anyone about taking possession of the house, improved it, used it in a manner beneficial to society AND been able to do that for 7 years she would have gotten away with it! BUT 7 years is a long time. Most successful adverse possession cases are in less populated areas where plots of land are extensive and the area is dense. The doctrine was made in order to promote the use of land. In a place such as Florida it would be difficult for Adverse Possession to go unnoticed. If she had moved them to a remote piece of land in some mid-western state and built a little cottage for them she might have gotten away with it.
    **The reason why Adverse Possession has such a time requirement (7 yrs.) on it is so that the true owners have ample time to learn of the trespass on their property. Here, the true owners did in fact find out.
    P.S. Her suit will not stand up in court. True owners who find potential adverse possessors on their land BEFORE the time requirement are able to bring a claim for trespass AND sue for any harm to there property.
    -Adverse Possession is a tricky doctrine. She should have consulted a lawyer.

  • Candacey Doris

    While she had good intentions, she should have hired a lawyer to make sure that the houses were truly abandoned. Sending mail does not truly show that you did your best to contact the owners. You have to go through a long process to use the clause she tried. I hope she has a lawyer now.

    • kierah

      I’m sure she has a lawyer NOW; however, she would have served herself better to consult one before this happened. Now the poor people she involved in this dumb idea are out on the street again.

      • Candacey Doris

        Agreed. Anytime you think you have a ‘loophole”, consult a lawyer. Always. Even if you are one yourself, consult with others. Otherwise you may end up in jail.

  • kierah

    Making a request that judge grant you adverse possession is not the same a judge granting you adverse possession. To paraphrase Sophia from “The Golden Girls”: Her heart is in the right place, I just don’t where the H.E.L.L. her brain is!

    • kierah

      *I just don’t know where the H.E.L.L. her brain is!

    • I love that quote…I’m stealing it!

  • Charles Stewart

    Statute 95.18 states that people can request that a judge give them “permission to take possession of a home if it has been abandoned with the condition that they, amongst other things, fix the home up, occupy it and pay the taxes for at least seven years.

    This article didn’t say if she legally obtained the judge request for occupying the home. If the petition was still pending and she moved the homeless in then she broke the law, regardless of the circumstances.

    • cc

      The judge never would have granted her permission. The home would have to be in utter disrepair, but just empty.

  • So she was basically breaking and entering, but managed to pull the race card anyways. Smh

    • Agreed. If people keep abusing it, no one will take anyone seriously when there is actual racist bullshit going on.

  • There has to be a better solution to caring for folks being thrown out of their homes into the street. One day they are working poor paying for a home the next day they are homeless, criminalized, marginalized, treated like they are invisible, a something to step over, walk past, ignore. It is our fear that makes us all pretend they deserve this life when slowly all the programs to help relocate ill people, injured people, loss of jobs people have been removed by the wealthy, selfish, as long as it i not me the hell with them facists living off our tax dollars and those so called homeless people who did pay taxes before they lost everything so why can’t they have some of those dollar back to regroup after illness, death in the family, job loss that displaces them? It is not fair for them to be turned on and labeled nothings because they need help. The very fat, greedy,well off people telling us struggling neighbors are burdens on our system,are lazy and do not deserve support unless they are five with blonde hair and big blue eyes are sucking free housing, food, and tax exempt money from the top of the tax money and want to remove support for middle class and call it entitlement programs which they are not so there is more for the rich to waste and use to create poverty, strife to make money off of! When people are in trouble they need assistance and relief to regroup, we are not superhuman, and we are not reality show people who never eat nor use the bathroom, nor eat ever day. Human beings need a place to live, bathe, eat, pray as they recover from tragedy and the world has become so unforgiving, callous and the basic attitude until it is your family is “that has nothing to do with me”, so I vote against these support programs out of fear, to punish people for being in need and make it worse for them, cancel them, never donate, nor get up and find out where you can volunteer and help someone struggling to stay afloat before they become homeless. HOMELESSNESS is nor a disease it is a condition of abandonment by our government, local, state and federal. How is it the government throws millions to banks to save themselves and not a thin dime can be spared to save the dignity, life, soul of a single struggling American on hard times? What have we become here in Oz? Just remember tomorrow it might be your family, friend, or you suddenly injured in a car accident, diagnosed with Cancer, left ill with no way to pay bills! Is it really fair to just keep dumping people out in the streets and close your mind, heart, pocket and ears so you cannot hear the screaming, HELP ME PLEASE! What will happen when every alley, park and freeway underpass is filled up? What then?