Home > 2011 > Mortgages > Squatters Unite! McMansion Squatter Becomes Part of National Movement

Squatters Unite! McMansion Squatter Becomes Part of National Movement

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 17 Comments

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.

[Article: Keeping Banks Honest – Protect Yourself During Foreclosure]

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.”

[Resource: Get your free personalized Credit Report Card]

Squatters Unite! (cont.) »

Image: Darryl Schipper, via Flickr.com

Pages: 1 2

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Pops

    Any info on how to prove your claim?

  • Alia

    For anybody interested in the number of years needed in the state of Florida, it’s seven!

    (source: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fe678)

  • Steve

    After hearing the Texas story I did some research. In CA the law is 5 years of adverse possession.

  • Lewis

    Wow, just checked for Ohio. A very depressing 21 years is required. WTF!?

    • Alexander

      Wow. That’s just pathetic… Care to state your resource for the number of years?

  • LAH

    In VA it’s 15 years. Not exactly encouraging this type of title transfer is it?

  • Pingback: Squatters Unite: How To Claim A House By Sitting In It « Tax Australia()

  • Thomas

    How does one/the law distinguish between squatting and trespassing? At what abandonment level (of the owner) does squatting become legal?

  • Christopher Maag

    Hi Thomas. Good question, and a tough one to answer. Presumably a would-be squatter who is trying to take adverse possession would do some research beforehand to make sure that the property is not in active use. But this is a gray area in the law. Presumably the owners could pursue a trespassing claim against squatters. That becomes more difficult as a practical matter when the owner is a mortgage servicer or trust operating on behalf of investors. Many of the larger servicers, like those owned by Wells Fargo and Bank of America, have hundreds of thousands of empty properties they are trying to manage, foreclose upon, modify the mortgage or sell at auction, sometimes simultaneously. They are overwhelmed by the sheer volume, and cannot keep up with every single property. That opens the door to squatters.

  • Pingback: A growing interest in acquiring property through “adverse possession”? | Legally Sociable()

  • Chris Maag

    Hi Alexander,

    Sure, Kathy Zalantis was the source for the 10 years in New York.

  • Jeff

    It seems to me a lot of people are seeing this as a way to “get back at the banks” or that these are just free houses out there to be had. Banks are not in the business of losing money, at some point the bank that actually holds the mortgage will realize what has happened and have Mr. Robinson and anyone who tries the same kicked out (likely at considerable expense) or it will be too late and they will have to write off the mortgage. Guess who gets to pay for that? The Bank CEO? No, you and I, through increased fees, rates, and probably even taxes at some point. This guy isn’t stealing from a bank, he’s stealing from the bank’s customers. Anyone supporting this should be ashamed. I heard someone equate him to Robin Hood, Robin Hood would have given the house back to the original occupants. Just because this is legal doesn’t make it moral.

    • bob

      Maybe the original owners /should/ take the houses back.

      Stealing from the bank’s customers? Is that the best you can come up with?

  • Pingback: Ep 22 – Ashley Saint’Onge | Straight Riffin'()

  • lillisseylu

    Sure. I’ve got 10 years time to kill if that’s what it takes. I’ve been in my current neighborhood for 3 years and a bunch of these homes have been standing empty for more than that. Take a house. Fix it up. File a claim. Why not? Better than having it stand empty bringing the neighborhood down as crackheads or neighborhood kids vandalize it

  • Pingback: Texas Man Takes Possession of $340,000 House for $16 | Texas()

  • common sense

    to property owners… although i cannot quote the law in all states, most of these state laws are designed to protect the original owner, and/or lender on forclosed properties from squatters. and the owner is advised if the claim is filed. These cases (according to several judges i’ve asked) usually end up in court, and the title remains with the original owner. The “Robinson” story was run by a company whos job it is to make things as dramatic as possible to raise ratings and sell add time for more money. = every news cast= cant wait for the followup! you wont see one because he’ll be gone well before the statute of limitations (usually death with no heirs is almost the only way.) here is the common sense part – Notice in the definition, the word Hostile. =without the owners permision… easiest way out you’ll love this – when notified owner visits property with constable or deputy (any official report) states to the scumbag on his land that he has permision to stay… drives into town and files a motion to evict takes a court cost and fees the squatter now has 30 days to vacate and if done just right with current photo record perminant improvements trees crops hard wired lighting etc. cannot be removed by the now “tenant” lmao i may move out of mine and hope for free improvements this The Home of the Free not The Free homes and if the owner likes what the guy is doing to his place he may even wait till the statute of limitations is almost up years of upkeep short story– this guy got his 5min of fame here in Texas we would pretend not to receive the notice – show up in the middle of the night and shoot the home invader due to fear of death or bodily harm by intruder TRESPASSING IS AGAINST THE LAW so if yall want to try it more power to ya a will might be a good idea

  • Jontan

    I have been squatting for three years now, in Warren Michigan. In a 1600 sq ft two car garage condo. No problems yet.

    • frankie

      ive been squatting for 4 1/2 years no problems, a few more months and ill file quite title

    • o0slowtodd0o

      What is the limit in warren?

  • nzinga zindua

    Detroit, Michigan is 15 years. We need to make it shorter because homes just fall apart when no one cares for them.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.