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#1
Old 05-14-2014, 03:11 PM
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Why is the law so powerless against squatters?

I'm not talking about people with a lease that don't pay rent. I mean cases where there is no lease or any contact with the owner. It's an "abandoned" house and people just move in. People can live like that for months or even years and you hear about jurisdictions where the sheriff basically says, "What do you want me to do about it?" How come in those cases the law can't arrest or at the very least forcibly remove the squatters?
#2
Old 05-14-2014, 03:13 PM
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Why should the police care? They can't get in touch with the owners of the property, they don't really know the people are there illegally.
#3
Old 05-14-2014, 03:14 PM
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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
Why should the police care? They can't get in touch with the owners of the property, they don't really know the people are there illegally.
Except when the owner goes to the police saying I have squatters in my house.
#4
Old 05-14-2014, 03:17 PM
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Originally Posted by Saint Cad View Post
I'm not talking about people with a lease that don't pay rent. I mean cases where there is no lease or any contact with the owner. It's an "abandoned" house and people just move in. People can live like that for months or even years and you hear about jurisdictions where the sheriff basically says, "What do you want me to do about it?" How come in those cases the law can't arrest or at the very least forcibly remove the squatters?
Can you cite an article or something so that we can discuss a real case, rather than a possibly-imaginary abstract or invented case?

I don't mean to offend or to accuse you of anything, but it is difficult to answer without more specifics.
#5
Old 05-14-2014, 03:20 PM
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In many places, if you squat long enough, you actually become the legal owner. At which point the police don't do anything for the same reason they don't do anything about any other legal property owner.
#6
Old 05-14-2014, 03:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
In many places, if you squat long enough, you actually become the legal owner. At which point the police don't do anything for the same reason they don't do anything about any other legal property owner.
IIRC, only if the owner has done nothing to assert their property rights.

Some of these cases are like the one I read about in Texas(?) that was big in the news back here. A Canadian couple were trying to sell their winter mobile home. They had arranged for a nearby friend to show the property. Supposedly this one couple took the key to "look at" the property. In fact, they moved in. When the owners complained to the police, the police went there and asked. The squatters had a key and claimed they had an arrangement with the owners.

Now it became a "civil dispute" according to the police. One side says they have a legal reason to be there, the other says they don't. Who's right? If the "tenants" have even a hint of a legitimate lease, then they have rights and the police can't just toss them out. It's a he-said-he-said situation, two contradictory stories. Local landlord-tenant laws apply if there is a lease even if rent is seriously overdue or never paid. The owner can't rely on the fact of ownership, because the occupier could be a valid tenant. So the question is - is there a valid lease? Are the people there legitimately?

When the question comes down to this, the police defer to a judge - who could take a while to get around to this sort of case. It's not the job of police to decide between two stories.

(This case was particularly difficult because the initial entry appeared to be with permission. That eliminates any easy chance of unlawful entry.)
#7
Old 05-14-2014, 04:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
In many places, if you squat long enough, you actually become the legal owner.
That's a rather simplistic view.

I just attended a class on title matters this morning, and the subject came up. First of all, I must say that I Am Not A Lawyer, and what I am going to say may apply only to my state (Wisconsin).

But our speaker was a lawyer, and she explained it thusly. Let's say I occupy your land for a while, innocently or not. I must fulfill these minimum requirements: (bolding mine)
Quote:
Under the common law, possession for the statutory period must be exclusive, uninterrupted, continuous, and hostile, and there must be open and notorious actual occupancy. Each element must be met, but the elements often overlap and usually are proven together. Proving these elements is required to obtain title under either the general 20-year statute or the 10-year “color-of-title” statute.
Now just because I think I am entitled to the land doesn't automatically give me title. First, you (the true landowner) must file suit accusing me of trespassing. Unless I wish to concede your claim, my defense will be "adverse possession."

I still don't own your land. The court will have to agree with me first, then I must sue to obtain title.

So you see that adverse possession isn't as simple as many think.
#8
Old 05-14-2014, 04:02 PM
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I think the majority of the time this happens is when the property has been foreclosed by a bank or the city condemns the property or the owner loses the property for nonpayment of taxes... And sending people out to look at these houses cost money so they are neglected instead.
#9
Old 05-14-2014, 04:02 PM
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It's an imperfect balance between rights. It's imperfect because it takes pragmatic effects into account. In this case, it's a slight tilt in favour of not making someone homeless at the expense of depriving someone of the economic benefit of their property. Nuances and variations abound, of course, and there are plenty of outliers that turn it on its head, but that's it in a nutshell: society, in general, decided it's better to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who faces loss of a dwelling over someone who faces an economic loss.

In md2000's example, the police don't take action because the squatters claimed to have an arrangement with the owners (among other reasons). Though they collect evidence, it's not the police's job to determine fact or to determine equitable outcomes. That the judicial process is slow is a weak rationale for granting them those powers. Becaue of what's at stake, they will, in general, leave the physical possessor in the property as the case moves through the courts and due process is granted to both parties.
#10
Old 05-14-2014, 04:49 PM
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If the police arrive and ask "what are you doing here?" and the person says "I live heer", then the police cannot prove this is not the case... especially if their "stuff' is there. OTOH, if someone is standing on the lawn saying "we went to the store and when we cam back this guy was in our house and has our stuff", then they might have a case for break and enter.

As Rythmdvl says, it's a tradeoff between "make you homeless" and "gimme my property". I better be able to provide an airtight case to trump homeless. Otherwise, tell it to the judge.

If I recall, a bunch of neighbours persuaded the occupants that leaving was a good idea. they were apparently all around undesireable neighbours.
#11
Old 05-14-2014, 05:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Keeve View Post
Can you cite an article or something so that we can discuss a real case, rather than a possibly-imaginary abstract or invented case?

I don't mean to offend or to accuse you of anything, but it is difficult to answer without more specifics.

Here is one article on a recent Florida case. On the same case the police responce had people outraged. Here is a video about them leaving
#12
Old 05-14-2014, 05:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Saint Cad View Post
Except when the owner goes to the police saying I have squatters in my house.
If it's a case such as cited above by Reepicheep then there is an eviction process. The police can't decide by themselves that the squatters have no business being there. States vary in how difficult it is to get rid of someone occupying a house. I didn't buy one house because there were squatters in it, luckily I stopped by to check it just before going to sign a contract. I was assured it wouldn't take long to get rid of those people in Rhode Island, but in New York I had seen people stalled for months in eviction proceedings and I didn't want anything to do with it.
#13
Old 05-14-2014, 07:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Saint Cad View Post
Except when the owner goes to the police saying I have squatters in my house.
And the police go and the people in the house say they have a lease from the owner. What are the police to do?

That's what makes it a civil dispute. The police are not judges of the law, nor of civil disputes.
#14
Old 05-14-2014, 08:16 PM
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This is basically a civil dispute between two people asserting rights with respect to the same land. Simply being on land without the permission of the owner may in itself not be a crime, though obviously that depends on the laws of the jurisiction concerned. (Though I note that, in English-derived common law, simple tresspass is not a crime.)

So, if you go to the police and say that someone is on your land without your permission, the response may well be that this is not a crime; you can assert your rights as landowner through the civil courts in the ordinary way by getting an eviction notice. Even if there is a statute in place in the jurisdiction concerned that does create a relevant criminal offence, you'd need to look at the terms of the statute to see whether the mere assertion by the registered owner that the occupants of the land have no right to be there is enough to constitute the offence - mostly, it won't be.

So the law is not powerless. Landowners who decline to exercise the remedies the law provides may be powerless, but that's by choice.
#15
Old 05-14-2014, 08:49 PM
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Once in Puerto Vallarta Mexico, I was shown a building site high above the bay which had not been completed. Squatters had moved in there and I was told that they, also, would own the (very valuable property) if they occupied the site for a period of time (maybe 3 years).

I wonder if it is like that in most places in the world.

Bob
#16
Old 05-14-2014, 09:15 PM
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Originally Posted by urban1a View Post
Once in Puerto Vallarta Mexico, I was shown a building site high above the bay which had not been completed. Squatters had moved in there and I was told that they, also, would own the (very valuable property) if they occupied the site for a period of time (maybe 3 years).

I wonder if it is like that in most places in the world.

Bob
Before centralised registration of land titles - which is, of course, a modern innovation - most legal systems had rules under which long and unchallenged occupation of land was itself evidence of title. This was a practical necessity; many people had no other evidence that they owned land beyond the fact that they and their families had occupied it for a long time, and paid no rent for it to anyone else. If that wasn't accepted as evidence of ownership, then an awful lot of land didn't have any identifiable owner at all. (Which, apart from other propblems, made it difficult to collect land taxes.)

When registration systems were introduced, they generally sought to preserve and protect existing land titles, and not to change the rules about how title to land could be acquired or disposed of. Hence, most title registration systems contain provisions which preserve the pre-existing rules about the acquisition of title by long possession.
#17
Old 05-14-2014, 10:22 PM
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I think this is why if you own property you wont be living in for a while, you better have someone watching it just so people dont move in. Or, in the event they do, you can deal with them immediately where you probably can have more leeway.
#18
Old 05-14-2014, 10:38 PM
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Originally Posted by Saint Cad View Post
Except when the owner goes to the police saying I have squatters in my house.
That is much simpler than if to a truly abandoned house. There is a system set up to remove the squatters. It is much more difficult to do anything about squatters when it is a faceless bank involved. The eviction process can either be quick and easy or long and painful depending on your state.

I have seen cases in which the "squatter" is a victim too. The rent the property in good faith. It just so happens that it wasn't from the owner. That is something for a judge to decide.

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Originally Posted by Musicat View Post
That's a rather simplistic view.

I just attended a class on title matters this morning, and the subject came up. First of all, I must say that I Am Not A Lawyer, and what I am going to say may apply only to my state (Wisconsin).

But our speaker was a lawyer, and she explained it thusly. Let's say I occupy your land for a while, innocently or not. I must fulfill these minimum requirements: (bolding mine) Now just because I think I am entitled to the land doesn't automatically give me title. First, you (the true landowner) must file suit accusing me of trespassing. Unless I wish to concede your claim, my defense will be "adverse possession."

I still don't own your land. The court will have to agree with me first, then I must sue to obtain title.

So you see that adverse possession isn't as simple as many think.
In NJ I believe the time period for adverse possession is 30 years.
#19
Old 05-14-2014, 11:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Northern Piper View Post
And the police go and the people in the house say they have a lease from the owner. What are the police to do?

That's what makes it a civil dispute. The police are not judges of the law, nor of civil disputes.
Police make such judgments all the time, though. If I report my car stolen, when the police find it, I suspect that they are unlikely to defer to a claim by the occupant that I allowed him to borrow it, and direct me to civil court for relief. Similarly, if I report that my baby has been kidnapped, I don't think the police would be inclined to leave him with the person with whom they found him and point me to family court, even if this person were to claim that he had my permission.

Even in the context of one's house, if I come home and find that a person unknown to me has unpacked his duffel bag and gone to sleep in my guest room, I think I can rely on the police to eject him and his things, even if he claims I allowed him in. I'm not going to be obliged to take a home invader to civil court for relief.

So I don't think it's correct to say that the police lack the capability to make these determinations. Rather, for policy reasons, the law simply restricts them from doing so in a particular class of home-occupancy cases.
#20
Old 05-15-2014, 12:22 AM
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Originally Posted by urban1a View Post
Once in Puerto Vallarta Mexico, I was shown a building site high above the bay which had not been completed. Squatters had moved in there and I was told that they, also, would own the (very valuable property) if they occupied the site for a period of time (maybe 3 years).
My late father in law owned a piece of land in Manzanillo, Mexico, since the dawn of time. He rented it out for a ridiculously low amount of money to a roadside tire repairman. The entire purpose was to prevent paracaistas (a Spanish misspelling that means parachuter, used to refer to squatters) from getting claim to the land. As he lived a long, long way away this was the only way to prevent squatters from taking it away.

He had also lost some mountain land to squatters. Supposedly there was no true, valid claim, but as the property was worthless with no realistic expectation of increasing value, he simply forfeited the title.

The spot in Manzanillo, though, is still the family's. It's currently an Elektra store in an area that's been hugely, hugely developed, and Elektra pays commercial rates rather than a token sum.
#21
Old 05-15-2014, 12:43 AM
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Originally Posted by Tom Tildrum View Post
Police make such judgments all the time, though. If I report my car stolen, when the police find it, I suspect that they are unlikely to defer to a claim by the occupant that I allowed him to borrow it, and direct me to civil court for relief. Similarly, if I report that my baby has been kidnapped, I don't think the police would be inclined to leave him with the person with whom they found him and point me to family court, even if this person were to claim that he had my permission.

Even in the context of one's house, if I come home and find that a person unknown to me has unpacked his duffel bag and gone to sleep in my guest room, I think I can rely on the police to eject him and his things, even if he claims I allowed him in. I'm not going to be obliged to take a home invader to civil court for relief.

So I don't think it's correct to say that the police lack the capability to make these determinations. Rather, for policy reasons, the law simply restricts them from doing so in a particular class of home-occupancy cases.
The difference is a man's home is his castle. This make a big difference when it comes to arresting and evicting. Most states probably have very specific laws about eviction (I know Canadian provinces do). The police have to decide who's telling the truth. It could be a landlord who wants to give his tenants the hoof and lies about their lease. It could be real break and enter squatters. They may have had an arrangement with the previous owner... etc. It's probably a lot easier to arrest the guy who pried open your door and is snoozing on your couch in a house full of your possessions, than the usual squatter scenario where someone finds there are people who have been living in his property, not his primary residence, for a month or six and now he wants them out.

Cars or babies are easy. A car has title. In the event of a dispute, they police tow the car and the person with the papers and ID can retrieve it (for a fee). In the event of a custody dispute, they call child and family services, who look over who has custody. You can't tow a house, except in the really low-rent districts.

But in both cases, theft or kidnap charges, and certainly conviction, are not guaranteed if the person claims they were permitted to take said item. People rent property to strangers all the time. Just because the rent is not paid does not make that theft re trespassing - it falls to the Landlord-tenant laws. People don't usually lend their car or child to someone they have never met. The person caught in those circumstances likely has some 'splainin' to do. OTOH, if an irate girlfriend calls the cops and claims her boyfriend stole her car, and he says she lent it for the afternoon, odds are that would be an interesting case, certainly no slam-dunk; but if he's had it for 5 weeks and is two states away, more likely it will fall on him to explain.

Cops make decisions but they have to be careful that they are certain the facts are straight. Real estate isn't going anywhere. Let the judge decide.

* * *

IIRC "notorious" means the occupation has to be obvious and well known, not hidden; so that if the owner knew and cared about his property, he would easily have known. No sneaking in the back door and leaving the windows boarded - the lights are on at night and you come and go in broad daylight like you own the place and everyone can see this.

IIRC in several states and provinces like in Ontario, any title disputes like adverse possession are replaced by the computerized title registry and that is the sole and authoritative reference for titles. The only exception is if fraud is committed against the registry.
#22
Old 05-15-2014, 01:41 AM
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What happens if a house, in a suburban residential neighborhood, is foreclosed and sits vacant and getting overgrown with weeds, and a homeless tramp moves in? Who would have any standing to complain, unless the bank is patrolling its foreclosed properties?

Suppose said tramp occupies the home openly, but makes no secret that he is a squatter. Can he go to City Hall and establish an account to pay for municipal utilities, admitting right up front that he is squatting? Can he pay property taxes (if he can afford it)? That, I've read, can be one of the big factors in favor of eventually granting title through adverse possession.

If a squatter squats openly, but pays the bills and maintains the house and keeps the landscaping in shape, would the neighbors be likely to accept his presence in their midst?

Last edited by Senegoid; 05-15-2014 at 01:41 AM.
#23
Old 05-15-2014, 01:49 AM
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A friend of mine tells the story of back in the good old days before computers. Everything was kept in paper files. A mortgage finance company had a branch in a small town. The price of the metal goes down, the town lays off half the miners, the finance company shuts its doors amid a raft of property abandonments and general chaos and bankruptcy and office staff fired or walking away. My friend has a buddy who owes a mortgage to this office. Who does he pay to? this is when the only recourse would be to mail a cheque to the next province but they have to say who is handling his account now, and nobody does. Literally, they lost his file.

My friend who used to work in a bank tells him - put your mortgage payments into a savings account, keep paying your property taxes and utilities. If nobody comes after you for it in 10 years, go apply for adverse possession. The guy did. Classic case of squatters rights applied in the real world.
#24
Old 05-15-2014, 02:44 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
The difference is a man's home is his castle.
Unless you leave to go to work and come back to find some strange guy there who says it's his castle.

Surely the police could take action in such a case? (Otherwise it's a pretty flimsy castle we all live in.)
#25
Old 05-15-2014, 02:57 AM
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Originally Posted by aldiboronti View Post
Unless you leave to go to work and come back to find some strange guy there who says it's his castle.

Surely the police could take action in such a case? (Otherwise it's a pretty flimsy castle we all live in.)
Well, who are the police going to believe?

In most real-world scenarios, there will probably be abundant evidence that Person A has been living in the property for many years, while Person B has just arrived and the broken window by the back door probably has something to do with his arrival. and the police will encourage person B to leave by pointing out that, if he doesn't, to avoid a breach of the peace they may need to make an arrest for, oh, say, breaking and entering.

But if there's a genuine dispute over who's entitled to occupy the property, that's a civil dispute, and not a police matter. Until the dispute escalates to the point where there's a breach of the peace, or an offence like assault. At which point the question of who to arrest will be only peripherally related to the question of who owns the property.

As for your home being your castle, it's not generally a characteristic of castles that other people come along and defend them for you.

Ownership of property usually involves the right to exclude others from the property. It doesn't involve the right to have public officials come along to do that for you. They'll only intervene if there's a proper matter of police interest at stake - breach of the peace, or worse.
#26
Old 05-15-2014, 04:31 AM
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I might note that in England, source of the common law setting out the balance of rights between land owners and occupiers, as of late 2012 squatting in residential property is a criminal offence.
#27
Old 05-15-2014, 04:42 AM
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In London, where the price of property is astronomical (and rising) the local councils own a lot of houses. These are not necessarily the cheaper ones, but may be big 4/5 bed houses on 4/4 floors. If the tennant, who may have lived there a long time, dies, they often find that they will have to spend a great deal of money from their overstretched maintenance budget to bring it up to the required standard. It is cheaper to board it up and forget it.

This literally happened in some cases - the council simply 'forgot' that they owned the house. Squatter move in and often trash the place, but sometimes they were replaced by more responsible citizens, who set about restoring it. So long as the council left them to it, they could, after 12 years I think, apply to register title to the house.

Quote:
http://dailymail.co.uk/news/arti...-000-flat.html
A struggling artist yesterday became the owner of the £100,000 council flat he had squatted in for 13 years.
Quote:
http://uknewsday.com/news/41485-...rs-rights.html
Squatter in £400k house WINS right to ownership after claiming 'squatters rights'

A builder won a landmark victory for squatters yesterday when a High Court judge ruled he could keep a house he has renovated but only recently moved into.

Keith Best was told he could remain in the three-bedroom semi-detached house despite squatting being made illegal in 2012.

The Chief Land Registrar had blocked an application for ‘adverse possession’ that was registered weeks after the law changed
Have a look at the second one to see what you would get for £400,000 in a not very prosperous London suburb.

The law has now changed and squatting is illegal.

Last edited by bob++; 05-15-2014 at 04:44 AM.
#28
Old 05-15-2014, 05:32 AM
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It's a function of ensuring property is used productively. The right to secure property that you do not directly control is not a natural one. It's a legal construct used to achieve a particular social end-- giving people motivation to work hard.

But land is a sharply limited resource, and there comes a point where the social good of enforcing property rights intersects with the social good of keeping people housed, building room for social mobility, and ensuring that a community's limited land is actually used. So the law has a system for returning functionally abandon land to productive use.
#29
Old 05-15-2014, 06:00 AM
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A lot of our laws look insane on the surface until you start to understand what the world would look like if they could be abused. The entire point is to allow for a trial a determine true ownership, rather than just kicking someone out on the street without due process. I imagine there is an element of mercy in this, in that they don't want to immediately kick someone out when they have nowhere else to go.

That said, I live in a state that allows broad powers to defend your home against intruders, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
#30
Old 05-15-2014, 06:59 AM
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Originally Posted by aldiboronti View Post
Unless you leave to go to work and come back to find some strange guy there who says it's his castle.

Surely the police could take action in such a case? (Otherwise it's a pretty flimsy castle we all live in.)
Of course. Even at the street cop/patrol level police are supposed to conduct investigations. Just because someone lies and says they live there does not give them the legal right to stay until evicted. A burglar does not have the right to live in a house just because he managed to get through the window. The problem comes when someone has established genuine residency for a long period of time. Titles, leases and other legal paperwork would need to be examined to determine proper residency. In those cases a civil court has to decide. And any judgments will most likely be handled by the Sheriff and not the municipal police. The town drunk does not have a right to live in your house because you forgot to lock the door.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
What happens if a house, in a suburban residential neighborhood, is foreclosed and sits vacant and getting overgrown with weeds, and a homeless tramp moves in? Who would have any standing to complain, unless the bank is patrolling its foreclosed properties?

Suppose said tramp occupies the home openly, but makes no secret that he is a squatter. Can he go to City Hall and establish an account to pay for municipal utilities, admitting right up front that he is squatting? Can he pay property taxes (if he can afford it)? That, I've read, can be one of the big factors in favor of eventually granting title through adverse possession.

If a squatter squats openly, but pays the bills and maintains the house and keeps the landscaping in shape, would the neighbors be likely to accept his presence in their midst?
That is the sticky situation. Some banks take action against squatters. Sometimes its hard to find someone who cares. There is an old cop saying, "No victim no crime." If you don't have a complainant its mostly impossible to go forward.

Utilities are easy to get hooked up. Around here they don't ask to see a lease or a mortgage. You just call up the power company and they come and turn it on. That is certainly a tactic that is used.

You mention adverse possession. Around here AP can only come into effect after 20 or 30 years (depending on the type of property). It is rarely a factor in these cases because if no one cares after 20 years its not really an issue. AP is most often brought up in property line disputes rather than squatter cases.

Sometimes squatting is used as a shakedown technique. I know of one suspect in particular who does this. He finds a foreclosed house and takes possession. Turns on the utilities. If the bank finds out and moves to get him removed he settles with them for cash. He gets the money and leaves, the bank avoids a lengthy and costly court battle (NJ is one of the states in which the eviction process is lengthy and painful). This one particular guy has been clever at times and gotten away with it. Other times we have been able to arrest him for trespassing. It depends on the totality of the circumstances in each case.
#31
Old 05-15-2014, 09:43 AM
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Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
The difference is a man's home is his castle.
That's my point; it's a societal decision about housing policy, not a question of the capability of the police to make a determination.

Houses have titles like cars, and both get rented out, and yet if I keep my Hertz car past the rental period without paying anything, sooner or later, the police will remove me from it. And most children do not have a custody order on file with child services or anywhere else, yet the police make choices about where they belong.

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Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
People don't usually lend their car or child to someone they have never met. The person caught in those circumstances likely has some 'splainin' to do.
The squatter is likely to be someone the owner has never met, though, too, and the police are capable of assessing that. Yet we treat him differently from the car thief or the kidnapper.

Put another way, we could treat squatting as a crime, like we treat other intrusions, and empower the police to remove them like we do with car thieves or home invaders. In that situation, the putative squatter would of course have the option of going to civil court and either establishing his right to occupy or to seek damages for wrongful eviction; this just reverses the default assumption about occupancy.

More generally, saying that squatting is a civil matter and not a crime is just question-begging. Most crimes are also civil wrongs; that doesn't stop them from being crimes or being redressable by the police.
#32
Old 05-15-2014, 09:49 AM
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Originally Posted by Tom Tildrum View Post
That's my point; it's a societal decision about housing policy, not a question of the capability of the police to make a determination.

Houses have titles like cars, and both get rented out, and yet if I keep my Hertz car past the rental period without paying anything, sooner or later, the police will remove me from it. And most children do not have a custody order on file with child services or anywhere else, yet the police make choices about where they belong.
Do you think if you're an hour late returning a rental car the police will put out an APB? Do you think the police come and take children from one parent because another parent says the children belong with them? What happens if you lend your neighbor your lawnmower and call the police and tell them it was stolen? Sometimes theft is an obvious matter, other times it's beyond the ability of the police to determine. It's not a societal decision about housing policy, it's a societal decision about what constitutes theft, and in the case of squatters, they haven't physically removed anything, it's clearly not theft without much more evidence than the owner's say so.
#33
Old 05-15-2014, 10:10 AM
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But we do not give owners an absolute right to evict people who live in their residence. If you are renting a house, the landlord can't just call up the cops and say, "I own such and such property on 99th St, here's my title, I need you to arrest everyone there and toss their crap out on the street."

Landlords can't evict tenants or have them arrested for trespassing just because they've changed their mind about renting the property. A lease is a binding contract, the tenant can't be evicted or arrested at the whim of the landlord.

That's the difference between borrowing a car and renting a house. I don't think we want to live in a world where a renter can come home one day and find that the landlord has dumped all his possessions in the street, and there's nothing they can do about it. So we have laws about how and when people can be evicted from houses, and it isn't just on the landowner's say-so.
#34
Old 05-15-2014, 10:18 AM
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Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
IIRC, only if the owner has done nothing to assert their property rights.
Actually, as pointed out by Musicat it's the opposite. It's called "adverse possession." They can claim it only if the owner HAS tried to do something about it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Tom Tildrum View Post
Police make such judgments all the time, though. If I report my car stolen,
One big difference is that a car can be driven away and hidden, but a house can't. It makes sense for police to impound the vehicle until the matter is sorted out legally. There's no need to impound a house.

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Originally Posted by aldiboronti View Post
Unless you leave to go to work and come back to find some strange guy there who says it's his castle.

Surely the police could take action in such a case? (Otherwise it's a pretty flimsy castle we all live in.)
I heard a great story on the NPR show "This American Life" about a guy (in FL, IIRC) who knew how to abuse the legal system to occupy property he didn't own. As I recall, the property *had* been his or his parents', but had been lost for some legal reason, and the property had sold once or twice. The protagonist in the story buys the property and moves in. But this guy keeps pestering them about being in "his" house, and files a number of legal forms with the city clerk. The protagonist calls the police about the guy who's harassing them, but when they arrive, the offender shows the police what looks like a perfectly reasonable legal document from the city, and so the police leave, calling it a civil issue.

Legal battles went on for years and involved other properties and other homeowners. Eventually the guy was sent to prison for filing false documents to receive money from FEMA or something.

The system doesn't always work the way we'd like it to! Sometimes there are sensible fixes, but other times, the cure would be worse than the disease.

Last edited by Learjeff; 05-15-2014 at 10:18 AM.
#35
Old 05-15-2014, 10:58 AM
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Originally Posted by Learjeff View Post
One big difference is that a car can be driven away and hidden, but a house can't. It makes sense for police to impound the vehicle until the matter is sorted out legally. There's no need to impound a house.
Yes, but the police often will also impound the car thief as well as the car. They're not just sorting things out; they're making a normative judgment about ownership. The same is true in the case of a home invasion.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
It's not a societal decision about housing policy, it's a societal decision about what constitutes theft, and in the case of squatters, they haven't physically removed anything, it's clearly not theft without much more evidence than the owner's say so.
But a home invader, or Loach's town drunk example, or even a date who you invited in who now won't leave, haven't necessarily taken anything either, and yet we expect the police to eject them without a court battle. And the evidence as to the home invader and the squatter is the same; the only basis for removing them is the owner's say-so that they are not permitted on the premises. What other evidence of absence of permission could there be? It's just that as to the squatter, we require the owner to plead that lack of permission to a judge, while as to the date who won't leave, we consider it sufficient to make that argument to the police officer.
#36
Old 05-15-2014, 11:06 AM
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Originally Posted by Tom Tildrum View Post
But a home invader, or Loach's town drunk example, or even a date who you invited in who now won't leave, haven't necessarily taken anything either, and yet we expect the police to eject them without a court battle. And the evidence as to the home invader and the squatter is the same; the only basis for removing them is the owner's say-so that they are not permitted on the premises. What other evidence of absence of permission could there be? It's just that as to the squatter, we require the owner to plead that lack of permission to a judge, while as to the date who won't leave, we consider it sufficient to make that argument to the police officer.
Presumably by the time the police arrive a squatter has been living there and made the place into his home. And of course he will tell the police that the owner gave him permission to be there. At that point what evidence do the police have that he doesn't have a right to be there? People allow others to occupy their homes all the time for various reasons, simple occupation doesn't indicate a crime. It's the signs of occupation that the police will look for. A guy wearing a striped hat and a mask, carrying a big bag with a $ on the side is obviously a burglar, not an occupant. A guy who has his clothes in the house and has been eating and sleeping there looks like a tenant.
#37
Old 05-15-2014, 11:33 AM
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Originally Posted by Learjeff View Post
Actually, as pointed out by Musicat it's the opposite. It's called "adverse possession." They can claim it only if the owner HAS tried to do something about it.
That's not what adverse means. It simply means you are in possession of the land without title. In fact, IIRC / IANAL, if the owner has been pursuing legal action to get you out before the 10/20/30 year deadline, that puts an end to your claim to own the title. Adverse possession essentially means the real owner has abandoned the property so you are there by default. If they are fighting you, it is not abandoned.

"Hostile" means you are acting like exclusive owner, it's not that everyone bunks there and you decided to be the one to claim ownership. I.e. you are hostile to anyone else trying to practice the same "ownership" rights. "Notorious" means everyone knows, it's publicly visible that you occupy, it's no sneaking around. If the real owner had come by or talked to your neighbours he would have known.

In such cases in the news, typically, it is not the guy who broke in while you were out shopping. It is someone who has been there for a while; it's not about holding you off with one tactic or another. Squatters rights resulting in title is because the original owner did not know or care that you were using their property for a decade or two - they had effectively forgotten or abandoned it. The guys in the news are just taking advantage of the incredibly slow and confused court system to get a year's free rent. they know they'll have to leave sooner or later. They don't care.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Learjeff View Post
One big difference is that a car can be driven away and hidden, but a house can't. It makes sense for police to impound the vehicle until the matter is sorted out legally. There's no need to impound a house.

...
If someone wants to forge documents and make false representations to stave off eviction, then it's still fraud. You come up against a shyster, you must address that.

If you complain your car was stolen, and the guy produces a bill of sale... ("I was going to transfer the ownership papers this afternoon") then either he's committing fraud and forgery, or you are lying to police. Either way, the police are unlikely to simply take his/your car and give it back to you. Best case they impound it and you retrieve it with the proper paperwork.

Similarly, children have default custody and at some points, explicit court-ordered custody. If a dispute arises, the first thing to happen is Child and Family Services will jump in to take the child, and then examine how they child stopped being looked after by the custodial parent. there are situations where a mother may ask their friend "can you look after Junior while I spend a month in rehab and then take a trip around the world?" If that happens, I sure hope Mama gave the person something more than a verbal agreement.

If the guy's squatting and the cops show up, he'll have some song and dance. "I have a verbal agreement for a lease" or some such. If he's stupid enough to say "I have no legal right to be here" then he'll be out on his ear. These guys are not stupid. they know what to say to put off the cops and stop any eviction - basically turn it into a months-long landlord-tenant hearing.
#38
Old 05-15-2014, 01:02 PM
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Question

Suppose you find yourself in one of these ambiguous situations where the police will not remove the squatter and you are faced with a lengthy and possibly expensive court battle to reclaim possession of your home. Can you - or you with the help of a few burly friends - just march in, grab the squatter and his stuff and toss them out, with a warning that physical violence will ensue if he returns?

It would seem to me that whether the law could touch you for doing that would depend on whether you ultimately prevail in the civil dispute over the house (assuming the squatter tries that route - which one would assume he would not, seeing as he has no chance of winning and can't live in the home anyway). Because if it turns out it's your home, then I would think you're entitled to physically evict someone who invades your home, like any other breaking and entering thief. So you should be safe (unless the squatter has a bunch of burly friends of his own).

Is this correct?
Quote:
Originally Posted by Loach View Post
Sometimes squatting is used as a shakedown technique. I know of one suspect in particular who does this. He finds a foreclosed house and takes possession. Turns on the utilities. If the bank finds out and moves to get him removed he settles with them for cash. He gets the money and leaves, the bank avoids a lengthy and costly court battle (NJ is one of the states in which the eviction process is lengthy and painful).
How much are the banks typically will to pay for this?
#39
Old 05-15-2014, 01:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Senegoid View Post
What happens if a house, in a suburban residential neighborhood, is foreclosed and sits vacant and getting overgrown with weeds, and a homeless tramp moves in? Who would have any standing to complain, unless the bank is patrolling its foreclosed properties?
Although history is replete with stories of things that fall through the legal cracks, a bank-owned property that isn't bringing in any revenue is going to be sold rather quickly, even faster than typical property sales. It won't be on the market long as the bank just wants it off the books and will accept cash for a fraction of its value. In my neighborhood we have real estate prokers who specialize in such sales, and the average time on the market, unless there is a cloud on the title, is about 90 days.
Quote:
Suppose said tramp occupies the home openly, but makes no secret that he is a squatter. Can he go to City Hall and establish an account to pay for municipal utilities, admitting right up front that he is squatting? Can he pay property taxes (if he can afford it)? That, I've read, can be one of the big factors in favor of eventually granting title through adverse possession.
You can establish a utility account without proof of property ownership. Just pay the bills and nobody cares.

Property tax bills are sent to the owner of record. If no payment is made after a while (3 years in my county), the property is sold by the government for taxes.
Quote:
If a squatter squats openly, but pays the bills and maintains the house and keeps the landscaping in shape, would the neighbors be likely to accept his presence in their midst?
Unless he boasts about it, how would they know? Do you check on the legality of all of your neighbors?

Adverse possession, in the cases I have heard about, is often the result of vacant land owned by an absentee owner far away. Someone moves onto the land by farming it, building on it, or using it in some manner, perhaps innocently, and the true owner never knows since he doesn't ever come by to check. He keeps up the payments -- mortgage, taxes, whatever; vacant land doesn't cost much to maintain. Then, typically, he dies and the heirs start checking on his possessions and legal matters, or he decides to build on his retirement nest-egg property and the adverse possession is uncovered. It might be too late for the true owner by then.
#40
Old 05-15-2014, 01:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Fotheringay-Phipps View Post
Suppose you find yourself in one of these ambiguous situations where the police will not remove the squatter and you are faced with a lengthy and possibly expensive court battle to reclaim possession of your home. Can you - or you with the help of a few burly friends - just march in, grab the squatter and his stuff and toss them out, with a warning that physical violence will ensue if he returns?

It would seem to me that whether the law could touch you for doing that would depend on whether you ultimately prevail in the civil dispute over the house (assuming the squatter tries that route - which one would assume he would not, seeing as he has no chance of winning and can't live in the home anyway). Because if it turns out it's your home, then I would think you're entitled to physically evict someone who invades your home, like any other breaking and entering thief. So you should be safe (unless the squatter has a bunch of burly friends of his own).
I don't think a later decision helps you. You are aware that the squatter's right to be there is unsettled at the time of your actions. You would be better off I think taking that action before the police or anyone else was notified and claim you found a trespasser on your property. I think a lawyer could give a more suitable answer.
#41
Old 05-15-2014, 01:13 PM
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I read about a situation in Greece where someone complained that illegal immigrants were squatting in her rental apartment. She asked the police for help and they laughed at her. Someone told her to go to Golden Dawn(?) the neo-Nazi right wing party. A contingent of party members with the Greek equivalent of baseball bats showed up and suggested to the squatters it was advisable to leave, and apparently the squatters agreed forthwith.

If you try that in North America, the consequence may be sorting out assault charges in court. Break and enter charges may experience the same issues - requiring proof of ownership/occupancy. Keep in mind, the essence of why the police don't evict the squatter - there's some question whether he's a valid tenant and that was his residence. If the court decides he was, then you may face serious charges. (let's say he has electrical and water bills in his name he was obviously living there) Being the landlord does not give you the right to toss out a tenant. It's not like employment right-to-work law, there is no "right to landlord" law... yet.
#42
Old 05-15-2014, 01:18 PM
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It seems that the police should follow the requests of the legal owner of the property. The police should remove the squatters just like they would remove a burglar. If the squatters felt they were removed improperly, then that should be a civil matter. They could sue and provide whatever paperwork was necessary to show that the owner broke the law. But it seems crazy that the owner can't do anything while the squatters are free to do what they want and possibly damage the property.
#43
Old 05-15-2014, 01:19 PM
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I suppose you could get a friend to show up while the guy was out, toss his stuff on the lawn, and change the locks. he would say "I just rented from the owner, there was abandoned property in the house, so I put it out for garbage collection." Maybe he should have thre or four beefy friends ther "helping with the cleanup" Then maintain round-the-clock surveillance and occupancy until the guy is gone.

Counter-squatting?

The difficulty with property disputes is that guys with nothing to lose are not adverse to breaking big windows and slashing tires.

Last edited by md2000; 05-15-2014 at 01:21 PM.
#44
Old 05-15-2014, 01:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Fotheringay-Phipps View Post
Can you - or you with the help of a few burly friends - just march in, grab the squatter and his stuff and toss them out, with a warning that physical violence will ensue if he returns?
What would happen if me and a few of my burly friends went over to the place you're living and tossed you and your stuff into the street?

Just because someone is trespassing on your property does not give you the legal right to assault them, or damage their property.

If someone is on your lawn and you tell them to leave and they won't leave, you don't get the right to beat them up and toss them in the street.
#45
Old 05-15-2014, 01:24 PM
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Originally Posted by filmore View Post
It seems that the police should follow the requests of the legal owner of the property. The police should remove the squatters just like they would remove a burglar. If the squatters felt they were removed improperly, then that should be a civil matter. They could sue and provide whatever paperwork was necessary to show that the owner broke the law. But it seems crazy that the owner can't do anything while the squatters are free to do what they want and possibly damage the property.
So if someone rents an apartment and the owner doesn't like them the police should just toss you out even though you have a valid lease and your rent is paid? The owner's say so isn't worth much here. Occupancy is more complex than simple ownership. Maybe it's too complex, I'd hate to be in any of these circumstances with squatters in my home (see previous post, I just dodged one of those). But contracts mean nothing if you can just use the police to break them.
#46
Old 05-15-2014, 01:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Lemur866 View Post
What would happen if me and a few of my burly friends went over to the place you're living and tossed you and your stuff into the street?

Just because someone is trespassing on your property does not give you the legal right to assault them, or damage their property.

If someone is on your lawn and you tell them to leave and they won't leave, you don't get the right to beat them up and toss them in the street.
Exactly. This is the problem. If the guy's a problem squatter, he's been there for a few weeks and the neighbours may back up that fact. If so, then the new people are possibly breaking and entering, unless the squatter has been legally evicted after a court hearing and by a sheriff. the police certainly can't be judge and jury and evictor, but they can arrest people who broke into where a person was obviously living, however legitimate that occupancy.
#47
Old 05-15-2014, 01:37 PM
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Originally Posted by filmore View Post
It seems that the police should follow the requests of the legal owner of the property. The police should remove the squatters just like they would remove a burglar. If the squatters felt they were removed improperly, then that should be a civil matter. They could sue and provide whatever paperwork was necessary to show that the owner broke the law. But it seems crazy that the owner can't do anything while the squatters are free to do what they want and possibly damage the property.
Again the owner of a property can't call the cops to evict a tenant and toss him on the streets whenever they like. In fact a landlord often doesn't even have the right to enter his own property whenever he likes. If you're sitting in your apartment watching TV and your landlord breezes in, you can call the cops and have HIM escorted out.

People can't seem to understand that just because you own land or property you don't always or in all circumstances have the legal right to control who can be on the property.

Of course these laws were enacted to protect tenants from abusive landlords, not to protect squatters. But because we have laws protecting tenants it makes it more complicated than simply calling the cops and having the squatter arrested. And remember, usually simply being on someone's property without permission is not a crime.
#48
Old 05-15-2014, 01:41 PM
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Originally Posted by TriPolar View Post
So if someone rents an apartment and the owner doesn't like them the police should just toss you out even though you have a valid lease and your rent is paid? The owner's say so isn't worth much here. Occupancy is more complex than simple ownership. Maybe it's too complex, I'd hate to be in any of these circumstances with squatters in my home (see previous post, I just dodged one of those). But contracts mean nothing if you can just use the police to break them.
Yes, the police should toss them. It should be considered trespassing. The owner has a large financial interest in the property and they should have the power to immediately deal with problem tenants. However, the tenants also have rights. If they are thrown out in violation of their contract with the owner, then they should sue and the penalty should be severe against the owner. This way the owner will not egregiously evict residents and still have the power to quickly remove problem residents.
#49
Old 05-15-2014, 01:43 PM
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Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
Exactly. This is the problem. If the guy's a problem squatter, he's been there for a few weeks and the neighbours may back up that fact. If so, then the new people are possibly breaking and entering, unless the squatter has been legally evicted after a court hearing and by a sheriff. the police certainly can't be judge and jury and evictor, but they can arrest people who broke into where a person was obviously living, however legitimate that occupancy.
Are you imagining that one day you might go out for the evening, and come back to find a hobo in your living room, and when you call the cops they tell you to get a court order to evict the guy first?

Because that's not what's happening here. These are cases where the owner is not occupying the property.
#50
Old 05-15-2014, 02:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by filmore View Post
Yes, the police should toss them. It should be considered trespassing. The owner has a large financial interest in the property and they should have the power to immediately deal with problem tenants. However, the tenants also have rights. If they are thrown out in violation of their contract with the owner, then they should sue and the penalty should be severe against the owner. This way the owner will not egregiously evict residents and still have the power to quickly remove problem residents.

How many renters do you think are going to be ready to take on a legal battle with a landlord-- especially if the reward is that they get to keep renting from the jerk? Your plan would essentially make it easy for a landlord to kick you out mid-lease with no warning for no reason.
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