Imagine buying a small island off the coast of Florida. Your family pays for the property, regularly pays taxes for more than 50 years and decides to put in place a plan to develop the island into a luxurious resort. Once the plans are in place, another party decides to dispute your family’s decades long ownership.

Unfortunately, this imaginary case is reality for a Florida family. The family owns a small island about a mile south of Key West.

An island created from “spoils”

The case involves Wisteria Island, an island created with materials that were dredged out of the area to dig the Key West harbor channel. These materials resulted in a 20 acres island that became home to native flora and fauna, including a small mangrove forest.

Plants and animals were not the only things that started calling this island home. In the 1960s a community of squatters also took to the island. The family was supportive, in some cases providing written permission for families to temporarily anchor their boats on the island. But the time has come for the family that owns the island to move on, and they are looking to take advantage of an opportunity to develop their property.

Squatters fight development

Those who have used the island are fighting back. The group is using the 1953 Submerged Lands Act to encourage the United States Navy to claim ownership of the island. If successful, they hope the Navy will put aside the island as a park.

At this time, the parties are taking the case to court. Although a unique situation, it serves as a reminder of the complex legal situations that can arise when dealing with real estate in Florida.

We will provide updates as they become available.