I highlighted a story last week about a Texas man who hoped to become the owner of a $350,000 McMansion through “adverse possession.” One writer suggests there is a growing interest in this method of acquiring land:
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.
It seems like two things are key then to acquiring property by this method: being in the building for a certain amount of time (which appears to vary by state) and doing something to maintain/improve the property. I assume, however, that the rightful owners can come back to the property and kick out the squatters. Therefore, shouldn’t someone who pursues this be pretty sure that the current owners have such little interest in the property that they are willing to lose ownership?
In the case of a lot of single-family foreclosures, I can’t imagine banks would be willing to simply write off their losses and lose these properties. However, if housing prices continue to drop, perhaps some institutions will be willing to lose properties rather than devote resources to trying to squeeze some money out of these homes.
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