Can You Legally Take Ownership of a Foreclosure Property That Has Been Abandoned via Squatter’s Rights?

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With the foreclosure crisis raging on, many who live right next to a foreclosed property, in the vicinity of some and/or who are interested in real estate investing are wondering, “Hmmm, can I just take over this property and claim squatter’s rights?”

With this in mind, we decided to take a closer look at exactly what squatter’s rights are – and if you can indeed take over ownership of a foreclosed property in this manner.

What are Squatter’s Rights?

According to the legal site,, squatter’s rights (aka land squatting, property squatting) are defined as:

. . . a laymen’s term for something called adverse possession in the legal world. And, indeed, one can lose their property through adverse possession . . . Under the law of adverse possession, however, it’s not as easy as just pitching a tent on a piece of land and after a certain period of time has passed claiming that it is yours.

Through adverse possession, someone must be on the land for a period of five to fifteen years, depending on the state. During that time, the person must hold the property hostile to the owner’s rights – in other words, the person couldn’t be there under the permission of the owner. The possession must also be open and notorious, i.e. the possessor is saying to the world, “This land is mine!” The possessor must also be holding the land exclusively for him or her self, and not for someone else.

Criteria That Must be Met in Order to Claim Ownership of a Property via Squatter’s Rights

So, several criteria must be met in order to claim squatter’s rights, ie:


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Time You Must Have Squatted on the Property: 5-15 or more years, depending on your state (in some states it’s up to 25 years).

Non-permission from Owner: If the owner gave you permission, it would be like renting/house sitting, for lack of a better phrase. Hence, you must be occupying the property WITHOUT the owner’s permission. This is a very important distinction to remember because otherwise, no matter how long you’re in the property, it still wouldn’t technically be squatting. It would most likely be viewed by a court as a matter of landlord rights vs tenant’s rights.

Non-secret: While you may be thinking, how can I occupy a property “in secret” and not have the owner find out – that is exactly the point. This gives more credence to your case as a squatter if you can prove, “Hey, I didn’t hide anything. The owner could have come and kicked me out at any time. But, they didn’t lay claim to it, even though it was public knowledge that I possessed the property.”

This gives your case more merit because it helps to prove that, people would be paying people to do this and many more owners would be in danger of losing property this way.

Now that you know the criteria that needs to be met in order to gain ownership of a property via squatter’s rights, let’s look at some reasons not to even go this route

3 Reasons NOT to Squat

Legal Challenges: In reality, it’s not easy to take someone’s property away in this manner. And, even if you meet all of the criteria, you may have an uphill battle if the owner(s) decide to take legal action.

According to the real estate article, To squat or not: Can you take over the abandoned home next door?: ,

. . . squatters who take over abandoned houses face more legal challenges in the United States than in most other countries. This is true even in so-called “front-door squats,” where occupants make little effort to conceal their presence.

Lose Money: Piggy backing on the last point, it could get expensive – quick – if you choose to fight to retain the property. And, if you’ve put money into a property, this could be another loss if you lose. And, this can be hard NOT to do because if a property has been sitting empty for months or years, it’s bound to need some repairs.

This brings us to the last reason not to squat, which is . . .

Loss of Time: A court case could drag on for months or years. Not only does this cost you in the aforementioned “money”, it costs time to.

An Easier Way than Squatting to Legally Take Ownership of Foreclosed Property

If you think a property has been abandoned – by the lender of by the owner – contact them. Offer to buy the property for pennies on the dollar.

One way to come up with what “pennies on the dollar is” is to do some research. See if the property taxes have been paid. Many times the property taxes aren’t paid on abandoned properties.

And, many owners don’t have the money (or the desire) to pay them. This means an opportunity for you to pick up a property by just paying the back taxes owed on it.

Not only is it a more sure route than taking possession via squatting, it’s quicker also.

Adverse Possession Laws for Each State

Get a state-by-state breakdown of squatting laws; specifically, how long you have to be in possession of a property before you can legally claim adverse possession.

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Copyright © 2011 Yuwanda Black for Foreclosure Business News. Article may not be reprinted or reproduced in any manner without the express, written consent of the author.

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