Ok, so you're squatting. Now what?
How would you like to OWN the land you're on?
The legal term for this process is called adverse possession, and it refers to the very legitimate proceedings by which a squatter can take possession of the land and property they occupy -- even if the owner of the property title is alive, well and financially healthy.
The laws in Britain and the United States are very similar (though in the US they vary from state to state -- so watch out.) Adverse possession is asserted through a legal claim which, depending on your locality, may be reviewed publicly in a court of law and validated by that court. In order for a claim to succeed, the following general criteria must be met:
- You (the squatter) must occupy the land in question for some magic number of years. In Britain it is 12. In Ohio it is 21. You get the picture.
- Througout your occupancy, the legitimate land owner must know that you are there -- in fact you must be living there in a notorious fashion -- that is, in a generally noticeable way. No hiding in the woods.*
- You must not hold any occupancy contract of any kind with the landowner. This includes leases, mortgages, land loans, including verbal agreements and informal contracts regarding the land.
- During the period that you claimed to occupy the land, the land owner must have never taken any legal action to evict or remove you. If at any time during your occupancy the owner decides to assert his rights, then your occupancy-time-counter is set back to zero. However, if the landowner simply voices his disapproval, this is NOT considered to be an assertion of his rights.
- In some states, the owner MUST actively disapprove. In other words, you must be living on the land in a state of adverse occupancy.
- In Britain and some states, you must make active effort to demonstrate intent to possess the land, such as mowing the grass, building fences, erecting a mailbox, etc.
- In some states, you and the owner can have been on the land at the same time, in others, the owner must be absent during your occupancy.
Usually, it is very very difficult to pull off a claim of adverse possession
if the owner fights it. However in the case of abandoned property, special provision apply, and the process is somewhat easier.
Information taken from Ohio State University legal archives and from Gordons Cranswick solicitors of Yorkshire, England.
*The State Supreme Court
of Vermont had a wonderful way of stating this point: " . . . [t]he tenant must unfurl his flag on the land, and keep it flying so that the owner may see, if he will, that an enemy has invaded his dominions and planted his standard of conquest."