Did you see the story about Kenneth Robinson, the man in Texas who is squatting in a McMansion worth $350,000 and says he can buy it legally for just $16? If you missed it, check out this story by ABC News. It’s hilarious. And the neighbors are ticked!
Surprise! He’s Not Crazy.
What the neighbors don’t know is that Robinson is using a little-known legal claim called “adverse possession” that has proven very successful in the past. Here’s the basic version of how it works:
1) Someone owns a property, whether it’s a house, a condo or just a strip of ground.
2) If the owner isn’t using the property, somebody else can come in and use it, without the owner’s permission.
3) After some amount of time (in Texas it’s three years; in New York State it’s ten), the squatter can claim ownership free and clear.
People have been making adverse possession claims for decades. The most famous cases happened on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1980s and ’90s, when artists, punks and homeless people squatted in vacant buildings and brownstones.
Under the law at the time in New York State, people could take possession of a property if they lived there for ten years and made efforts to “cultivate and improve” the property, says Kathy Zalantis, a real estate lawyer with Silverberg Zalantis in White Plains, NY. That’s why you saw people who did this during the 1980s and ’90s mowing the grass, planting trees and gardens, and making structural improvements to the buildings themselves, Zalantis says.
Now, interest in adverse possession is growing again. Across America, hundreds of thousands of homes are sitting empty. If you live in New York or have visited since 2008, you’ve probably noticed all those big empty buildings that were constructed during the housing boom but never quite finished, and are now sitting empty. Zalantis says she’s receiving a big surge in phone calls from people who have taken up residence in empty spaces (yes, squatting), including one just this Wednesday.
Most of the calls are from people taking advantage of the foreclosure crisis by moving into vacant houses, apartments and condominiums where the foreclosure process has stalled in the courts, Zalantis says. Now they’re living rent-free. And they’re checking to see if they can take permanent ownership of the place.
“I am getting a lot of inquiries from people who would like to try it,” says Zalantis, “probably because with all of the foreclosures going on, and the banks aren’t pursuing foreclosure on these properties, people have been maintaining [the units], paying the electric bills, for years.”
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Squatters Unite! (cont.) »
Image: Darryl Schipper, via Flickr.com