Can you get a home via squatter's rights?
You dream of taking ownership of a vacant home by living in it. Then legal reality sets in.
© Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty Images
Describing himself as a "savvy investor," a man used an arcane property-law doctrine known as adverse possession to squat in a vacant Dallas-area home. (Bing: How does adverse possession work?)
Kenneth Robinson's gambit cost him $16 in filing fees paid to the county clerk's office, and he got eight rent-free months in a home valued at $340,000. The ploy gave him a hook to peddle an e-book explaining how other people could use adverse possession to squat in vacant homes and eventually claim legal title to those properties.
But lawyers familiar with adverse possession say Robinson got the law all wrong. In February, the mortgage holder foreclosed. Robinson moved out, rather than face eviction. Although Robinson failed, his actions bring up the question of whether it's possible to take a house via adverse possession.
- On our blog, 'Listed': Man pays $16 to take over house
What is adverse possession?
Colloquially known as "squatter's rights," adverse possession is an old law designed to resolve property disputes and encourage efficient land use.
Courts use adverse possession to resolve property disputes that could date back decades, says Brian C. Rider, adjunct law professor at the University of Texas Law School. Disputes often involve as little as 1 or 2 feet of land. Rather than getting bogged down on where a property line was decades ago, courts use adverse possession to set boundaries that reflect how residents use them today.
What adverse possession does not do, Rider says, is establish squatter's rights.
"The idea, which seems to be in vogue among people who want to become squatters, is that they get some rights immediately," Rider says. "That is not so. A squatter is a trespasser until he or she has been there long enough to get the benefits of the adverse possession statutes."
Article continues below
Most states have adverse-possession statutes. While the particulars vary, the general idea remains the same, says Charles R. Gallagher III, a real-estate lawyer in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"Generally speaking, adverse possession requires possession that is actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, under cover of claim or right, and continuous and uninterrupted for the statutory period," Gallagher says.
In some states, the statutory period can be as long as 20 years, while in others, it may be as few as seven years. But satisfying the numerous possession elements can be tricky because it's not just enough to be present on the property.
"The difficult elements for a squatter would be exclusive use through some lawful claim or right," Gallagher says.
Squatters would achieve adverse possession only if they had a legal basis for being there and if the squatters' presence had the hallmarks of ownership. Courts usually expect people with adverse-possession claims to pay property taxes, maintain the land and generally treat it the way an owner would.
Can adverse possession save a home from foreclosure?
Robinson's story is no doubt attractive to some homeowners facing foreclosure. But it's far from a sound strategy to save the family home, says Lionel Bashore, a lawyer in Shelby Township, Mich.
- MSN Money: Foreclosure starts decrease
"I don't believe it will [put off foreclosure], if for no other reason than the length of time someone has to possess a home visibly, openly and notoriously," says Bashore, who says that period is 15 years in Michigan. "There may be that one very rare exception where a bank-owned property fell through the cracks and someone somehow establishes the elements of adverse possession."
In this context, "notoriously" means that the squatter's use of the property is so visible that the rightful owner should know that someone is living on the property and claiming ownership.
Lawyers familiar with adverse possession caution against following Robinson's lead.
"I doubt that homeowners can meet the legal criteria to own their home outright under these legal standards," says Gallagher, adding that the owner still would owe the mortgage.
When would a homeowner encounter adverse possession?
Homeowners seldom encounter property disputes involving adverse possession. If they do, it's usually a dispute over something such as a fence or a driveway. The law is more useful in rural areas where demarcation lines aren't visible.
"However, to squat in someone's home and satisfy the elements I think is more like an urban legend," Bashore says. "You hear a lot about it, but no one has actually met anybody that has done it."
The evil doer is the persons or banks who own the property and do nothing with them not the one who moved in to put a roof over his or his families heads.These laws are hundreds of years old brought by are forefathers. Many of the rich land owners today got there property how? That's right because they fenced in hundreds of acres and said this is mine.
I am alway looking for some good people to squat with. Hit me up California Jeff.email@example.com
I know someone who did it. The city wanted the property so badly they offered the "squatter" $47,000. to vacate the home. Homeownership was established when the original owner, who was moved to a nursing home, allowed the occupant to stay in the property for a period of 7 years prior to passing away.
Too many of the A holes are getting in a rental or vacant house paying a month or 2 and then screwing a hard working person who has usually cleaned up and fixed that property. There should be a law that squatts these people a year in prison mandatory when they squat or dont evict immediately with a 30 day notice. Simple solution.
If they are just squatting self defense shooting them in your house.
This was attempted down the street from where I purchased a foreclosure 4 years ago. I had actually looked at this other house when I was shopping for a new house and I knew for a fact that this house was still in the foreclosure process. About a week after I had moved into my new house I saw a UHaul truck backed into the driveway. A sign that these were not actual owners and renters was that the key box had been cut, not removed properly. I confronted the individuals moving into the house and they tried to tell me they were renting the property. I informed them that I was going to call the realtor and find out what was really happening. After I had walked back to my house and called the realtor the truck magically "disappeared".
The realtor came over, thanked me, and told me that he had two or three houses in the last few weeks moved into by people who were being taught by ACORN how to "adversely possess" foreclosure properties. Once again, the liberals in this country were trying to get something for nothing.