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Adverse Possession: You're Doing It Wrong

Lawyers reading this probably recall the topic of "adverse possession" from their law school course on Real Property. In short, in most states, if you openly and exclusively occupy someone else's property, keeping out others, and using it as if it were your own, you can actually acquire title to that property after a fixed statutory period of time passes. The statutory period required for adverse possession is usually quite long -- a decade or two needs to pass before adverse possession occurs. See my 20-year-old memory of adverse possession law; see also this cite on Wikipedia.

I'm no expert on adverse possession by any stretch, but it usually occurs when someone builds a barn or something like that a few feet over the property line, and then uses that barn for 20 years. After those 20 years, the land on which the barn is built may belong to the person who built the barn rather than the original owner under adverse possession.

There is more to it, but the description above is a quick summary of what adverse possession is. Now, let me tell you what adverse possession isn't: it isn't when someone else's house goes into foreclosure and is sitting vacant, and you somehow get into the house, put your couch in the living room and declare it to be yours under adverse possession.

And yet this foreclosure scenario keeps coming up lately.  In Flower Mound, Texas, last year, neighbors on Waterford Drive were perplexed when Kenneth Robinson started living in a $300,000 home on the street that had been left vacant after a foreclosure. Robinson said he was not a squatter because he was using "adverse possession" after somehow finding a key and entering the home legally. He claimed that "an online form he printed out and filed at the Denton County courthouse for $16 gave him rights to the house." News of his $16 house also prompted many other people in Texas to claim rights to homes based on "adverse possession," some of whom were promptly charged with burglary. Alas, Bank of America finally foreclosed on the home last month and a judge ordered Robinson to move out by Feb. 13.

Similarly, in Denver, CBS4 News recently identified (via Consumerist) about a dozen cases where wannabe "adverse possessors" moved into vacant houses under foreclosure. At least one of these people thought she had bought the house from someone when she gave the "seller" a used pickup truck in exchange for a house and a "document of adverse possession" that declared her to be the owner of the house. After she was contacted by CBS4, the woman consulted an attorney who told her the document of adverse possession was "a piece of trash. This isn't real. It's not real.” 

Bottom line: people need to stop trying to get a free house via "adverse possession." It is not going to happen.

Posted by Bruce Carton on February 9, 2012 at 04:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)


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