The foreclosure mess we have found ourselves in, has opened new opportunities for squatters…just move in to a vacant house.

Many renters and homeless families now have a house to call home. There are thousands of properties to choose from. When the robo-signing and foreclosure fraud investigations have been concluded, there will be thousands more coming to the housing market. How did this all start?

We can look back years ago to the Homestead Act to find some basis in law for squatting. President Lincoln signed the act into law in May 1862. The law basically said that if you find a piece of land owned by the Federal Government, you fill out an application, you “improve the land” and then you file for a deed. You had to live on the land for five years. Remember we were still in a predominant agriculture economy so it was backbreaking work. “Improving the land” was clearing the land, planting a crop and harvesting the crop.

There were several changes to the law which was abolished in 1976. Alaska discontinued the law in 1986. The main change was the increased acreage. It went from 160 acres when the law was passed, to 640 acres when the law was terminated.

Modern day squatters are looking for houses that they can “improve”, stay in the house for a set number of years, then file for the deed. With the damage done to house by vandals looking for a place to conduct their illegal activities, improving the property means fixing the fence, cutting the grass, repairing broken windows and doors. This is nothing compared to farming 160 acres like our forefathers.

Common law provides for a person to obtain land through use. For example, your neighbor put a driveway between the two houses so that he can easily get to the rear of his property. In doing so he takes a strip of your property six feet wide. If you do nothing, your neighbor could end up owning that part of your property. In theory, you didn’t challenge your neighbor with a lawsuit, therefore you abandoned the rights to your property.

This is the foundation of adverse possession.But there is more to adverse possession than meets the eye.
1. Some states require you to pay taxes.
2. The “act’ must be in the open. Anyone who want to see what is happening can do so.
3. You must improve the property.
4. The property must be exclusive to you.
5. You must live in the house continuously for a period of time determined by the state.

One of the areas that makes squatting on foreclosure properties attractive is that it falls under civil law not criminal. Therefore in many instances the police are not involved.

The second area is eviction. The rightful homeowner has to go through a formal eviction to get rid of any squatters, and this could be expensive.Finally, I would like to mention that squatting is illegal. The homeowners can charge you with trespassing.

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