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Squat in a Foreclosed Home


One of the more interesting stories coming out of the housing crisis was the people squatting in foreclosed houses. Through a certain lens, this looks like an example of great neighborhood resourcefulness—putting something unused to good use. Of course, foreclosed or not, most property still belongs to someone, and that someone might not be thrilled to have you depreciate his asset while you live in it for free. If you’re going to do it, here’s what you need to know.

Be low-profile. This goes without saying, but any changes to the façade of the house or yard will alert people to your presence within. To wit: No arugula gardens in the back; no bikes chained outside. For this reason, you are better off in a multi-family building than a house, where home-owning neighbors are more likely to alert the authorities if they see you coming and going.
Know what’s legal. Setting up shop on empty land isn’t always illegal. “If the land is unclaimed, then it’s called homesteading, not squatting,” says Kenny Ching, a Reno, Nevada-based lawyer. “Unfortunately, there are virtually no unclaimed lands remaining in the United States.”
And know what’s illegal. “In addition to trespassing or loitering charges, there are a couple of other dangers,” says Ching. “The property owner has a right to physically remove a squatter who refuses to leave the property after a verbal warning.” Meanwhile,the squatter can be liable for any damage he or she causes to the property.
Stick it out if you can. “In the unlikely event you’ve been occupying the property for five to ten years,” says Ching, “you could obtain an ownership interest in the property based on the legal doctrine of adverse possession.”

Disclaimer: This material is offered only for general informational purposes. It is not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinions.

Illustration by Trevor Burks.

This article first appeared in The GOOD Guide to Better Neighborhoods. You can read more of the guide here, or you can read more of the GOOD Neighborhoods Issue here.

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