Could You Lose Your Home To A Trespasser?
Did you know that it is legally possible for you to lose your home, without ever selling it, or having it foreclosed on, or taken by creditors? It’s called adverse possession, and although rare, it does happen, and it can result in you losing your property rights.
How Does Adverse Possession Happen?
Adverse possession happens when someone is living in or on your property, for an extended time, without you knowing it. Sometimes that could be what is commonly called a “squatter,” but it could really be anyone, including trespassers. In Florida, where so many people keep vacation homes, or second homes, it can be a potential problem.
But adverse possession isn’t easy to prove. It does require that someone be in or on your property for a full 7 years—that’s a long time for a homeowner to not realize someone is living in their property. The possessor must be in plain view, and living on the property the way that anybody would. The possessor cannot, for example, sneak into the property at night, and then leave in the morning so nobody sees him.
The person living there must have treated the property as their own, including financially. The possessor must, for example, pay property taxes or make improvements on the property, or pay for maintenance. Treating property as someone’s own means exclusivity-the possessor can’t be one of a bunch of people just hanging out in the house.
The possessor also can’t be there with the owner’s consent. So, someone that the owner allows on the property or who the owner allows to remain there, cannot be an adverse possessor.
Doesn’t Matter Why
So long as someone meets these requirements, they have a claim for adverse possession. Note that it doesn’t matter that the person was on the property purposely or accidentally – someone can live in or on property mistakenly believing it’s theirs, or they can live there intentionally hoping to claim ownership by adverse possession.
Is it Right?
Adverse possession is controversial. In many ways, it sounds like stealing, and the homeowner losing ownership rights that he or she legally paid for.
But on the other hand, the law recognizes that 7 years is a long time, and that if someone is living openly on your property for that period of time, and paying to maintain it, he or she should have a claim of ownership on the property. The law wants a way to determine when property has legitimately been abandoned.
Homeowners who are away from their homes for long periods of time, should make sure that their property is visited and maintained, so that the homeowner becomes aware of anybody living there who shouldn’t be. Legal action may have to be taken to get rid of the possessor, as soon as possible, to avoid a legitimate claim of adverse possession.
We can help you with your real estate issues or any real estate legal problems that you may have. Call a West Palm Beach real estate lawyer at The Law Offices of Larry E. Bray today.