Squatters’ rights refer to the rights of someone who moves into a vacant home and makes it their residence without the owner’s permission. Another commonly mistaken term for “squatter” is a holdover tenant. These are not the same, as a holdover tenant is someone who lived in a home legally and legitimately but did not move out after their lease or rental agreement was breeched or was otherwise terminated. You may be thinking, how could this be legal? How could this be any different from trespassing or breaking and entering?
The key difference is that the culprit has “squatted” on an owner’s property without their knowledge, and the squatter ends up living there for a certain period of time. If, in this period of time, the true owner does not come forward to challenge the adoptive owner, there is generally a state statute that allows for passage of ownership over the property to be awarded to the individual falsely claiming to own the property. These statutes differ depending upon which state you’re and some states may not even have this type of statute. Although, there is usually a route for the squatter to gain ownership of home.
The most commonly seen protection the requirement for the true homeowner to come forward, reporting the invading individual’s ownership as a fraud with valid proof that they are the true owner (i.e. the deed to the property). This could very well become a legal battle, however, for a few different reasons.
Often, what may happen is a squatter providing their own documentation to pass themselves off as the property owner, sometimes even using a fake deed! In 2012, just a few years after the housing market crash left over two million homes foreclosed and vacant, a study found that 800 million to 900 million people were squatters, over ten percent of the world’s population: so this can happen to anyone, whether it is someone’s vacation home, or a foreclosed home that is owned by the bank.
As an owner, always try to protect yourself. The best way to do this is become familiar with the regulations regarding and adverse possession what rights squatters have. Also, it could behoove any homeowner to maintain consistent surveillance or inspection of your home. For more information on squatting, visit the resources found in our blog.
Not exactly. “Squatters” is more of a loose term to refer to individuals that move into a vacant home and make it their own. But it generally takes some time, even years, to “make it their own.” Until that time when the property is officially given to the squatter(s) or the true owner of the home appears and challenges them- until their declared legitimate homeowners or declared trespassers- “squatter” is the most common and consistent name for them.
To keep it simple, adverse possession is the result of squatting. Both terms may refer to the legality of an induvial (or individuals) taking up residence in an unoccupied home, but “adverse possession” refers to the process by which a property is legally obtained through squatting. Specifically, to qualify as adverse possession, the person who is illegitimately residing in the home must be “exclusive” in their use of the residence. This could include planting a garden, putting up a fence, or anything else to advertise your use of the home. In addition, although the squatter does not have to use the home every day, the use must be consistent and continuous. The other method of being awarded homeownership through squatting is “prescriptive easement.” The only difference between this method and adverse possession, is that the former does not require the new resident’s use of the home to be “exclusive,” but it must be consistent and more frequent.
To summarize, adverse possession is the legal process that results from squatting, wherein ownership of a property is awarded to the squatter. This is usually based on the individual’s proof of ownership. Proof could include a lease or deed of ownership, taxes and other fees paid on the property, or if physical changes have been made or work has been done to the home (exclusive use) for a certain number of years. The number of years required to be awarded ownership is different in each state.
Regardless of whether you are a squatter or a homeowner trying to protect your property against squatters, it is always wise to consult an attorney if you find yourself in these circumstances. Whether you are making a case to claim ownership of a property or fighting to evict someone from your home, these cases are nearly guaranteed to end in legal procedure. For more information on squatter’s rights, adverse possession, or prescriptive use, certainly refer to your state’s laws and regulations, and feel free to read our informative blog.
If the home has an owner, that individual would need to come forward, getting in contact with the squatter requesting that they evacuate immediately. If this bears no results, the homeowner will need to begin the removal process. The first step in this process is to contact the police and file a report. It could be as easy as law enforcement removing the individual who has trespassed onto your lot.
If a squatter produces a lease (real or fake), or anything else to make a reasonable claim to ownership, then suits may be filed and the situation will probably develop into a civil case, called a summary proceeding. When a squatter produces a lease or deed for the property, there are generally two possibilities:
(1) the squatter has somehow come up with a lease to the property that they know is fake.
(2) the squatter has entered what they believe is a valid lease with a third party that represents that they have the legal authority to lease the property. The latter being a scam where the squatter/resident has been duped by a third party into renting an abandoned home or bank owned home.
In some states, such as North Carolina, the latter usually must be the case in order for a squatter to be awarded ownership of the property the reside in. Specifically, they must prove they moved into the vacant home through honest error in judgement or through a process they truly believed to be legitimate. This can be hard to prove without providing a good amount of documentation.
However, many states see numerous cases in which these fake leases provided by squatters are being upheld. If this happens, then it could certainly develop into an intensive process of deposition and investigation into both parties, and you would absolutely need to contact an attorney. Regardless of whether the proprietor of a property is a person or a bank, the legal proceeding will be the same. Some banks have simply paid off these individuals to leave, skipping this process altogether. The good news is that summary proceedings are usually fast-tracked and shouldn’t be as lengthy as some larger legal cases. Be sure to read our blog for more info on squatter’s rights and adverse possession.