What is the logic behind squatter's rights?

What is the logic behind squatters being able to claim property as their own if the owner doesn’t challenge them? When did this start and why was it started?

Oh crap, this was meant to go in GQ :smack:

Mods, please?

When Og walked into the cave with a bigger stick than the other guy, that’s when it started. And that’s about the level of logic, too.

We’ve done this before. Let me see if I can find it.

Back in the days before backpacking and birdwatching, wilderness was considered to be a Bad Thing. Lawmakers figured that land being used was better than land not being used.

The idea was "Party #1 hasn’t done anything useful with it. He just lets it go to waste. And he will probably just bequeath it to his children, who will sit on their inherited wealth like those colonial overlords we got rid of in 1776.

Party #2, on the other hand, has tilled the soil, raised crops, and turned it into useful, productive farmland whose taxes will benefit the entire community. So Party #2 really deserves it more than Party #1."

Well, it’s basically because the concept of property ownership implies not only the *right * to exclusive use and enjoyment of that land, but also the *responsibility * to maintain the land and look after its upkeep. If years and years go by without the rightful owner making any attempt to restrict others’ access to the land, then the owner isn’t taking his responsibilities of ownership seriously. As a result, under various common law principles and statutory provisions, squatters can, under some circumstances, obtain legally-enforceable rights to the property that they are occupying.

Here you go:


After rereading what I said 4 years ago, I would change one thing: There are circumstances when adverse possession can run against government land, but most of the time, it doesn’t.

Also, for newbies, Anthracite = Una and, as a general rule, you shouldn’t rely on anything posted by handy, in that thread or otherwise.

Also, when title to a particular piece of land may well be confused, the right of adverse possession offers a way to settle the issue.

I once spent several weeks attempting to determine exactly where the property line between our land and our neighbor’s land ran through a swamp. It simply was not possible to track the exact history of this parcel through the town records. We attempted it in two ways: starting from today and working backwards, and starting from 1730 and working forwards. In neither case could a clear record be obtained as the property was sold, resold, divided, aggregated, ignored, etc.

We finally made a successful claim to the swamp based on the fact that it had been fenced into our property for at least 50 years, through four owners, without objection by the neighbor or his predecessors. While this may not have been the optimal outcome for the neighbor, the issue is at least settled, and clear title established going forward from this date.

I agree with the last few posters. Except that adverse possession is a lot older than 1776.


P.S. I miss handy.


As a general principle of law, if someone abandons a piece of property, nobody owns it, and it is up for grabs. Imagine this: you clear out some old junk in the attic, and throw it away. The garbage collecter spots an old painting you threw out, and decides he likes it. Iyt turns out to be a priceless Rembrandt. The garbageman gets rich. You have no cause for complaint. You didn’t want it, you threw it out, the finder has every right to keep it, you have no right to any share in the reward. (Note that this only applies to deliberate abandonment, not to accidental loss)

If you have a piece of land, you don’t visit it for 20 years, make no repairs, raise no objection to people staying there, don’t try to charge them rent, don’t attempt to evict them or make any effort to assert your ownership, the law assumes that you have abandoned title to the land. You have in effect thrown it in the trash. If you show you don’t want it, then why shouldn’t someone else take it?

My Wife and I got dragged into a prescriptive rights problem a few years ago.

The set up -

My Wife sold a small house in a subdivision that had parking easements all over the place. This was in the a mountain town. No yards to speak of, property lines where blurred at best. Parking was done where the property management crew plowed snow.

As it turns out, a neighbor had been parking on a piece of my Wife’s small lot for a long time. It was about 20’ closer to his door than where he was supposed to park. It was plowed, and looked like where he should park.

The problem -

The new owners of the house wanted to fence the area off for a play area for their child. The guy parking there fought it. My Wife never gave permission to park there, nor told the guy not to park there. That’s a big part of this condition. And it was obvious that he was parking there. Another big part.

She didn’t realize it was her land, and probably wouldn’t have cared either way.

The Judge ended up coming up with a compromise between the two parties. Cost us about $1400 in lawyer fees, and luckily, we did not get sued by the folks that bought my Wife’s house.

Personally, I think the guy parking where he wasn’t supposed to was an ass about it. And the property management company making a parking area by plowing snow and spreading gravel where at fault.

I can’t really raise objections, or charge rent if I don’t visit it.

I don’t think I should have to police a piece of land. Or an improvement on that land to keep my ownership.

If I’m the owner, and I pay the taxes on it, as long as I respect zoning regulations and codes and don’t do anything illegal on it, I should be able to ignore it as much as I want.

We own 40 acres about 1 hour from our full time home. We get out there a couple of times a year. Since the little scuffle my Wife and I went through with the parking spot, I make sure that I don’t see any unusuall activity on the land whenever I go there.

I think the requisite period in the UK is 12 years. A person claiming adverse possession has to show that they were in occupation of the land:

  • without force
  • without secrecy
  • without permission

If any of the above elements were present (force, secrecy, permission) then the true owners still exercised control over the land, even though the squatter may have been physically living there for 12 years.

If I grant permission to person A to use my land, may person B make an adverse possession claim against it? What if I rent my land to someone who simply never uses it? Would that demonstrate “use” on my part?

My shoot-from-the-hip guess would be that you’d be OK, although if the lease were for several years (as was often the case back in agricultural England when the common law was being developed), squatter B might be able to take adverse possession of leaseholder A’s property, i.e., the land for the remaining years on the lease.


I read a story via Fark a while back (and now I can’t find it again) concerning a man in Britain who acquired a mansion by adverse possession.

He’d been living in this huge old house and renting it from its owner. There were apparently lots of problems with the house (structural, plumbing, the roof, and whatnot). The renter repeatedly asked the landlord to fix the problems, but the landlord apparently felt that he didn’t want to invest that much money in fixing up this crumbling old abode, so he just avoided the tenant and dodged his phone calls. The tenant stopped paying rent in an attempt to force the landlord to contact him, but the landlord still made himself scarce. After about 20 years of this, the tenant filed suit to acquire title. Finally, the landlord seemed to wake up, but the court declared it was too late.

Anyone else remember this story?

So there is this empty building on my street. This is in Brooklyn and it is a large place.

What do I do to get the place?

Sneak in, eliminate the hookers & meth cookers who inhabit it, then hold off the constabulary for a decade or so & it’s all yours. Hey, it’s quicker than a 30 year jumbo mortage. :smiley:

But seriously, I doubt there’s anything completely off the cards in any major city. Perhaps a contribution to local officials to declare eminent domain would be more suitable.

See, all these arguments about “throwing it away”, “abandoning”, etc. make perfect sense until you bring up the fact that you’re paying taxes on it. If you’re making those tax payments year after year (or possibly month after month, depending on the circumstances), then you have obviously not forgotten about, abandoned, or thrown away your land. How do they explain this away?

Max Torque said:

I remember this story too. I think you could be thinking of the case of Timothy Ellis.

By coincidence, while looking for that case I found this case which is reported only today on BBC:

Squatter turns down the rich life

What a guy.