Foreclosure squatters claim ‘adverse possession,’ take over vacant homes

Foreclosed homes can often sit vacant for months, even a year or more, until the banks are able to market and sell them effectively.

Many homes even sit vacant for months before the foreclosure process begins, with cash-strapped homeowners just “walking away” because they see the writing on the wall.

It doesn’t take long to notice a foreclosure: Untidy yards, tall grass and overstuffed mailboxes are dead giveaways that no one is home.

These signs often attract a criminal element and scavengers who are looking to strip empty houses of anything valuable and resell it elsewhere for cash.

It’s a sad situation. And one that made Jill Lane of Seattle, Wash., downright ill.

So she decided to do something about it, moving into an abandoned $3.3 million mansion, changing the locks and doing everything else as if she and her family were the rightful owners.

There was just one problem: They clearly weren’t. She was arrested on charges of trespassing two weeks after she set up shop, according to Money Central.

But Jill is certainly not alone. “Squatters” are throwing stakes their stakes down just about everywhere throughout the nation, in some cases, claiming “adverse possession.”

What’s adverse possession? Here’s a brief description:

Adverse possession allows non-owners of a property to eventually take ownership if they pay the taxes, occupy, maintain and improve the land for a period of years — seven in Florida. The purpose was to prevent abandoned properties from sitting idle with no one paying taxes on them…. It’s been used mostly to take over abandoned farmland or settle boundary disputes, such as a fence or building encroaching on a neighbor’s property.

To be crystal clear, “adverse possession” is a “quirky” law that dates back to 16th-century England. It’s certainly not a good defense for “squatters” if and when they are hauled into courtrooms to face judges.

Fortunately, there are other initiatives in the works that are designed to keep foreclosed homes occupied and roofs over otherwise homeless peoples heads. In fact, Freddie Mac let’s residents rent their homes after foreclosure. Fannie Mae, too, allows distressed homeowners the option to stick around for a year at a significantly reduced cost.

Want to know if a house on your block is in foreclosure? Check out our new “Street Foreclosure Alerts” right here.

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