There are all kinds of stories detailing big developers using their power to push around individual landowners. Sometimes, though, those individuals have the opportunity to push back.
You’ve heard the phrase “The devil is in the details.” In recent Florida property disputes, we saw the Northwest Florida variant of that idiom: “The property line is in the pig pen.”
In Chumuckla, corporate homebuilder D.R. Horton paved driveways to a road they assumed was public and within their rights. What D.R. Horton didn’t realize: this was not a public road but a private road. The private road parcel had actually been owned by Bill Lewis through his enterprise Southern Acres LLC since 2010. In short, they didn’t have the right to build driveways on his property.
Lewis was open to selling the strip of land that cuts through D.R. Horton’s neighborhood development. But he deemed the homebuilder’s first offer of $21,000 too low – his counter nearly fives times that amount.
In the meantime, the driveways serving the newly constructed homes continued to encroach on his private road. So Lewis made a statement, assumedly to:
- Push D.R. Horton to enter into negotiations with him for a better price
- Remind the developers that he owned that land within their neighborhood, and they could not build on it without his permission
That statement came in the smelliest of forms: a pig pen covering one of the newly paved driveways. Yes, with live pigs mucking around.
Lewis’s self-professed goal was simply selling the land he bought years ago at a decent price. His intention was not to harass D.R. Horton. However, the sanitation and olfactory issues of an active pigsty became apparent – and that’s when the county stepped in.
Rather than waiting on two private parties to work out the dispute, Santa Rosa County bought the private road from Lewis’ business, clearing permission for the developer to build on that essential space between a house and a road.
Private Property Slices Throughout Florida
This highlights a problem that has been cropping up as development expands further into Florida. In many rural areas, roads are privately owned. Don’t let the connotation fool you either: these private roads are paved and have street signs and give every appearance of being a public road. A developer who sweeps in and doesn’t know the area might assume that a road is public – and might not do their due diligence which would have revealed the private ownership.
That’s how you end up with a pig pen in front of your new residential development.
This is why it’s so wise and valuable to involve a real estate lawyer in your land transactions. A real estate attorney can get into those pesky details for you – and save you from the muck of a disputed property line.