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Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law
July 22, 2011 11:28 AM   Subscribe

After researching Texas's unusually generous adverse possession laws, Kenneth Robinson filed a $16 Affadavit of Adverse Possession and moved into a home in Flower Mound, TX worth an estimated $300,000.

The original owner vacated the house after a foreclosure, and the business which then owned the mortgage went after business shortly thereafter, leaving the home as vacant and unclaimed property; Robinson says he found the key and moved in legally. He's gambling that the murky chain of ownership and the expense required to evict him will keep anyone from removing him from the property for three years, at which point he can ask the court to grant him the title. The neighbors, however, are not pleased.
posted by KathrynT (130 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
so where are those HOAs to start sticking him with dues ? Where are the code-compliance folks who let the grass grow ruckus ? Where are the housing authority that allow someone to live in a house with no power or water ? (Around here, that will get your occupancy cert yanked in a heartbeat..)
posted by k5.user at 11:31 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, adverse possession. If there's a more insane, nonsensical common law doctrine that's still in active use, I'm taking nominations.

I understand condemnation after a period of abandonment. I don't understand why open, hostile occupation of land should give anyone a legally enforceable right to do anything.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:32 AM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


As the resident of a neighborhood with several uninhabitated, dilapidated houses, I applaud this man, and wish he'd move here.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:32 AM on July 22, 2011 [32 favorites]


He has not moved in legally. He's squatting. Filing that affidavit just starts the clock ticking for the three year period for adverse possession in Texas.

Also, to get clear title to the property, he'll need to pay the property taxes for the years he possessed the property. Can't see that happening.

This is going nowhere, and the people with the website saying this works should be sued into oblivion.
posted by valkyryn at 11:33 AM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I understand condemnation after a period of abandonment. I don't understand why open, hostile occupation of land should give anyone a legally enforceable right to do anything.

Not that I necessarily think it makes sense, but when land becomes abandonded, who should own it, and why?
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:33 AM on July 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Ah, Flower Mound. One of the dozens of cookie cutter suburban hells in DFW. *shudder*
posted by kmz at 11:35 AM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


valkyryn: If he lives for 3 years rent-free, there's a good chance he'll have saved up enough money for the property taxes.

Personally, I think this is awesome, even if he ends up having to move out sometime in the next 3 years. There are so many abandoned properties around this country, and so many people living in squalid, overcrowded conditions or on the street.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:35 AM on July 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


"The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying 'This is mine,' and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody." - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
posted by rebent at 11:37 AM on July 22, 2011 [82 favorites]


Property laws are weird anyway. So some ancestor of your drove some stakes in a ground and said "I own this." That ancestor sold it to someone else. If no one stuck around to keep it why shouldn't someone else come along and drive some stakes in the ground?
posted by cjorgensen at 11:38 AM on July 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


I understand condemnation after a period of abandonment. I don't understand why open, hostile occupation of land should give anyone a legally enforceable right to do anything.

Because continued use of the limited resource of real property is a much greater public interest than any one person's proprietary interest in it. It just has to be "open and hostile" in order to keep someone from taking land this way through trickery.

I like the neighbors here. It affects them not one whit whether he succeeds at this or not, but dammit, if you get a house you should have to pay $300,000 for it. Or inherit it, possibly through another somewhat arcane legal doctrine, but not through this somewhat arcane legal doctrine.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:44 AM on July 22, 2011 [31 favorites]


Adverse possession is not a terrible idea, in principle. Two things.

Say you put up a fence. Fence stays up for twenty years. Then, your neighbor decides to sell the property, so he gets a surveyor out, and the surveyor says the fence is on the neighbor's property. No one's ever complained about it. Is it just to force you to take down the fence after all this time? I mean, the neighbor has had two decades in which to enforce his rights, and by doing nothing, it's not unreasonable to say that he's waived them.

The implication here is that if the landowner of the house that Robinson has moved into can't be bothered to force him out... who's to say they should keep the property? I mean really, it's not that hard. This is Texas we're talking about, not California or New York City. More than that, if the potential owners can't figure out their own damn paperwork to establish who actually does own the house... f*ck 'em. This may just be one of the consequences of getting so damn clever with property transactions. I still think it's a longshot, but if Robinson does pull it off, I won't shed any tears, because it's so damned easy to stop him.

Second, and the reason for my "Meh" on this, is that there's an obvious way around this. Say the neighbor takes a look at the fence the day after you put it up and says, "You know, I think that might be on my property. If it is, I hereby give you permission to put that fence there. I may change my mind later, but you're good for now." All of a sudden, your possession is not "adverse," and the neighbor can ask you to take the fence down at any time. He's given you permission, and he can revoke that permission. So to completely defeat Robinson's claim, all the owner needs to do is file a competing affidavit saying that they give him permission to live in the house for the time being. All done. This will take about fifteen minutes. Sure, it will cost a hundred bucks or so to get a local attorney to do the paperwork, but that's peanuts on a $300k property.

In short, the only way Robinson gets title to this house is if the actual owners are either so apathetic or so incompetent that they deserve to lose it. He's breaking the law, i.e. trespassing, and while I'm not going to applaud him for that--what he's doing is wrong--avoiding this kind of scenario is one of the fundamental responsibilities of property ownership, so I'll shed no tears for anyone who loses property this way.
posted by valkyryn at 11:44 AM on July 22, 2011 [33 favorites]


So this mound, it flowers?
posted by hermitosis at 11:47 AM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


"...worth an estimated $300,000."

It's worth what someone would pay for it. Sure, someone might pay that for it, so it might be worth that...but who do they pay?

The entity that held the mortgage went *poof*. Adverse possession is a simple and effective way of reallocatting the title. The state gets its tax revenue, and someone gets some property.

As for it being a nonsensical law, I can certainly think of worse, or that are misapplied in such a way as to make the law itself worse than useless.
posted by Xoebe at 11:48 AM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


When I was in law school, I found Property to be the weirdest class of all. And adverse possession one of the weirdest doctrines.

On the other hand, when you heard it explained, it made a bit more sense. Like, if you had people who moved onto a piece of property nobody ever used or visited and just lived there for like 20 years, and the person who owned the property knew or could have known they were there and did nothing, then at some point, do the people who own the property give up the right to swoop in and kick off the people who now, for all intents and purposes, live there?

I remember our discussion of this, too, which was really funny -- the professor was talking about what would happen in a situation where there was just unused land -- somebody owned it, but it was just vacant and nobody ever visited it, and somebody put up a shack on it. And one guy raised his hand and said, "Well, I just can't imagine that; that doesn't make sense to me. There isn't just land out there that people own but nobody ever sees or uses or does anything with, where they wouldn't stop you from putting up your own shack on it."

And the professor paused, and with perhaps the greatest comic timing I've ever heard in an academic setting, she dryly said, "You must be a *city* boy."

It was one of the most awesome smackdowns I saw during those years, right alongside the guy who snarked that he didn't understand how Oregon continued to have laws against pumping your own gas, because who was protecting those jobs, "the powerful, politically connected gas-pumping guys?" The professor in whatever class that was gave a very similar pause before saying, as gently as possible, "Well, they call it organized labor."
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:50 AM on July 22, 2011 [60 favorites]


Sounds like his new neighbors are down-right pricks about the whole thing. They'd rather the house sit empty and rot than have someone figure out a way to legally own and take care of the place for next to nothing.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 11:51 AM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I can't applaud him, but this is the logical outcome of letting title chains get so screwed up that nobody knows who owns property any more. It's almost like they've managed to bring back the idea of the frontier with unclaimed land, just in the suburbs.
posted by immlass at 11:53 AM on July 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Everyone is a prick when it comes to someone else not paying their dues. It'd be nice if the world was free from envy, but somehow people think getting somewhere the easy way devalues the sacrifices of everyone who got there the hard way. Why people can't just say I'm envious, but good for him and leave it at that I don't know.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:56 AM on July 22, 2011 [22 favorites]


God, this is a wonderful story just for the part about the HOA getting trolled. I fucking loathe HOAs.
posted by mullingitover at 11:58 AM on July 22, 2011 [27 favorites]


Here's what jumped out at me about the neighbors.

Mr. Robinson has moved in.

Mr. Robinson appears to be a black man.

Flower Mound residents aren't cool with that.
posted by Windopaene at 12:01 PM on July 22, 2011 [20 favorites]


Heh. These articles neglect to mention what might be the most important fact about what's happened here:

Kenneth Robinson is black. His new neighbors, who are so livid that he's moved in, are white.
posted by koeselitz at 12:01 PM on July 22, 2011 [38 favorites]


http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/48/4826232.html shows me that flower mound is just over 90% white, and back in 2000 the median home value was around $180K. Having a black guy potentially get access to a $300K house there for "only $16" has to be some kind of American Race Relations Bingo bonus prize.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:02 PM on July 22, 2011 [64 favorites]


Everyone is a prick when it comes to someone else not paying their dues. It'd be nice if the world was free from envy, but somehow people think getting somewhere the easy way devalues the sacrifices of everyone who got there the hard way. Why people can't just say I'm envious, but good for him and leave it at that I don't know.

You've got a point, but then look at the MetaFilter reaction to Freegans and dumpster divers. There is a viceral hatred of that too, and yet it isn't something they really envy.. Like, they resent the fact that after struggling to do well in their version of the game, somebody comes along and doesn't care at all about their games rules.
posted by Chuckles at 12:04 PM on July 22, 2011 [17 favorites]


How dare you jump to the exact same conclusions I did about race I did before I had a chance to post it!
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:07 PM on July 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


dammit. i swear i previewed but then i made one more edit and ... beaten!
posted by rmd1023 at 12:08 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like Valkyryn said, it is absolutely trivial to either give consent to the occupancy, which would destroy the adverse possession claim for the price of a certified letter and an affidavit filing. It is almost as trivial for the actual owner of the property (whoever that is) to call the sheriff for a trespass or file for an eviction.

The only reason this even approaches a story of interest is that there is apparently no one who is coming forward as owning the the property. If the owner of the property can't get it together in 3 or 5 years (3 years is, IIRC, if you have "color of title," and I doubt whatever form he picked up at the clerk's office satisfied that requirement -- 5 years is where you just pay the property taxes), well, that's not a failure of adverse possession.
posted by seventyfour at 12:09 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have to say, though, that with some of the utterly complicated real estate transactions that have been flying around, having a few people pushing the adverse possession angle a bit might provide a bit more in the way of consequences for some of these companies that have been playing fast and loose with things.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:11 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Aside:

Now, I wonder if the HOA has a path, though, to foreclose upon the property given nonpayment of HOA dues or fines? I know that they would normally, the question is how would they proceed without knowing the owner of the property? That's the path I'd investigate with a friendly judge, and just designate the owner whoever is at the end of the chain of title. Then the HOA can foreclosure upon and sell the plot + house.
posted by seventyfour at 12:12 PM on July 22, 2011


He's breaking the law, i.e. trespassing

Is he? Is this a matter where it's trespassing only if one can legitimately make this claim, such as the actual property owner? The article says the original owner might be the one to legally run him off. But only if they can pay off the mortgage. They presumably can't, and the mortgage holder went belly up, at which point the property may have been a toxic asset that nobody was willing to touch, leaving it in limbo until this guy filed the paperwork to the claim.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:13 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


In short, the only way Robinson gets title to this house is if the actual owners are either so apathetic or so incompetent that they deserve to lose it. He's breaking the law, i.e. trespassing, and while I'm not going to applaud him for that--what he's doing is wrong--avoiding this kind of scenario is one of the fundamental responsibilities of property ownership, so I'll shed no tears for anyone who loses property this way.

Yeah, one of the better aspects of common law property rules is that they encourage you to at least monitor your property.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:14 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


@seventyfour,

And that's more or less repugnant than what this guy is doing? I'm confused on how that option is being presented.
posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 12:14 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Having a black guy potentially get access to a $300K house there for "only $16" has to be some kind of American Race Relations Bingo bonus prize.

Yeah, the story here is not about cunning legal expertise and entrepreneurship. It's racism, pointing the finger at this trickster black guy. If a young white kid had figured this out, the neighbors & banks would be OK with it.
posted by mattbucher at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


it is absolutely trivial to either give consent to the occupancy, which would destroy the adverse possession claim for the price of a certified letter and an affidavit filing. It is almost as trivial for the actual owner of the property (whoever that is) to call the sheriff for a trespass or file for an eviction.

Well, that's they key, isn't it? I sincerely doubt that anyone can actually prove they own this house.

What really stands out for me, though, is the headline on the story: "Stranger Moves Into Foreclosed Home". I see bias here even on the part of the media. Sure he's a stranger to the neighborhood, but can't you say that about every new person who moves into the neighborhood?
posted by anastasiav at 12:17 PM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


@Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin,

I dislike HOAs, and would personally never live subject to the whims of a condo or homeowners' association. I wasn't making judgment as to the morality of the potential strategy, I was just wondering how the HOA could address the issue.
posted by seventyfour at 12:17 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now, I wonder if the HOA has a path, though, to foreclose upon the property given nonpayment of HOA dues or fines?

Does the HOA have any rights in adverse possession? I suppose the HOA could seek out the owners and draw up a contract to buy it in lieu of unpaid dues.
posted by pwnguin at 12:18 PM on July 22, 2011


I was just wondering how the HOA could address the issue.

They could have printed out an online form and sent it, along with $16, to the county.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:20 PM on July 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


He doesn't have "colour of title" - which is some basis to believe he owns the house (a will, an agreement, whatever). The Texas law requires that colour of title.
posted by jb at 12:21 PM on July 22, 2011


As I understand it, the origin of adverse possession laws is that, in their absence, no one could ever be completely, 100% sure that they own property. It's always theoretically possible that the chain of title (of which you hold the last link) was screwed up 200 years ago, and someone with the right paperwork could come along and say "because Cletus didn't file the transfer with the assessor's office in 1853, the sale was not complete, and the resulting transfers of title are all invalid. The property remained in the original hands, where it came to me through estate transfer. You have 24 hours to vacate". In other words, it exists to protect existing owners who purchased the property in good faith and with apparent proper diligence to paperwork, from "long lost" claims that are, in fact, proper, but having been unenforced for a sufficiently long period, are considered abandoned.

You get screwy results like this because of the laws, but they're not crazy in their intended form.
posted by fatbird at 12:22 PM on July 22, 2011 [13 favorites]


Would the neighbors prefer if someone with a meth lab or street gangs just squatted in the place and piled out the back door every time an official-looking vehicle came around?..
posted by CheesesOfNazareth at 12:22 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


If a young white kid had figured this out, the neighbors & banks would be OK with it.

No they would not. This has the potential to massively compromise property values in the neighborhood, regardless of who's doing the adverse possessing. First of all, it suggests that there are vacant homes in the area, which is always a bad thing, and not just vacant, but vacant to the point that the property owner can't even be bothered to run off squatters.

Second, if Robinson manages to pull this off, it nukes the average of the year's transaction prices. As these are partly what future prices are based on, this does bad things to existing homeowners.

All of this matters, because this house seems to be in a fairly nice subdivision, and those sorts of places have historically been constructed and sold more or less as units. So the property law situation with all the other houses in the neighborhood is quite likely similar to the one Robinson is squatting in. This will serve as a pretty big discouragement to anyone trying to get good title to any of the other homes.

In short, the race of the guy in question need not have anything to do with what's going on here. It's entirely possible that the neighbors are just a bunch of racists, but the fact that Robinson is black, by itself, is not sufficient grounds for coming to that conclusion.
posted by valkyryn at 12:23 PM on July 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


Given that actual physical possession of the property is necessary for adverse possession, it's pretty nonsensical to suggest the HOA could exorcise it, somehow, given that organizations do not physically exist.
posted by mek at 12:23 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


You get screwy results like this because of the laws, but they're not crazy in their intended form.

I'm not totally sure this is a screwy result. The common law requires property owners to exercise some minimum amount of effort in monitoring their property. If they can't be bothered to run off squatters, they lose. That's always been true.
posted by valkyryn at 12:24 PM on July 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


exercise, would be the word I was looking for. They're certainly trying to exorcise it.
posted by mek at 12:25 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


mek beat me to it. The HOA can't exercise adverse possession because it can't physically be present on the property.
posted by Navelgazer at 12:25 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Second, if Robinson manages to pull this off, it nukes the average of the year's transaction prices. As these are partly what future prices are based on, this does bad things to existing homeowners.

I doubt that those prices include adverse possessions, those are just the prices at which property is sold.
posted by atrazine at 12:25 PM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Yes, the HOA could find the owners and buy the property, subject to any outstanding mortgage. Problem is finding the owners. If you could find the owners, none of this would be an issue.
Texas law doesn't require colour of title except in the 3 year adverse possession rule. The 5 and 10 year rules don't so require.

Now that I think about it, the chances that this guy won't be kicked out via an foreclosure for unpaid assessment liens or fines is about zero, I would expect that someone at the HOA will figure that out soon enough.

My guess is that the HOA could have an adverse possession claim, as I'd guess that "person" in the statute allows corporate persons. How would the HOA occupy? Well, the could HOA put a fence up around the thing, or use it as a clubhouse, that would suffice. I'm checking for a cite on that.
posted by seventyfour at 12:30 PM on July 22, 2011


Yeah, I think the effect on good-faith purchasers is one reason for adverse possession, but I don't recall it being the only reason. I think not displacing original adverse possessors is a perfectly normal operation of these laws -- though I do seem to recall they originally anticipated land that was kind of being ignored by the owner, not necessarily land with a paper trail that resulted in there being no clear owner. So yes, I think it's an unusual response, but not really a dysfunctional one. It wouldn't be that tough, after all, to only apply the protection to good-faith purchasers/inheritors/whatever if that were the intent. I'm rusty, but I seem to recall there are other areas of law where good-faith purchasers are protected where the people they purchased from (who didn't act in good faith) wouldn't be.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:30 PM on July 22, 2011


If anyone wants to do this to the house next door to ours that has been sitting vacant since October, they're welcome to give it a try.
posted by drezdn at 12:30 PM on July 22, 2011


mattbucherYeah, the story here is not about cunning legal expertise and entrepreneurship. It's racism, pointing the finger at this trickster black guy. If a young white kid had figured this out, the neighbors & banks would be OK with it.

Oh, hardly. See my followup comment about how if this sort of thing becomes more common it would provide some consequences for companies that have allowed and participated in fucked up title transfers and crazy transactions, where currently there are none.

(And it's also an American Class Relations bingo prize, too. Even if the guy could afford to buy the house, the whole "WAIT, SIXTEEN DOLLARS??" makes it crazy-weird.)
posted by rmd1023 at 12:31 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


valkyryn, I don't get that having someone exercise adverse possession is somehow worse than having a vacant house sit vacant indefinitely while the mortgage holder winds its way through the bankruptcy process. Having someone occupy a property under Adverse Possession doesn't "suggest that there are vacant homes in the area" -- there is a vacant home in the area, at least one, Adverse Possessors or no. And home prices aren't based solely on average transactions- having the average go wonky for one year doesn't mean that future sellers are worse off. Average sales are one measure, comparing specific similar properties is another.

I have a hard time seeing how letting a house sit abandoned is preferable to having someone seeking to own it live in it and care for it.
posted by ambrosia at 12:33 PM on July 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh, hey, Arizona only has a two year time limit. Time to start looking for failed mortgage companies the area.

Except then I guess you'd be living in Arizona.
posted by logicpunk at 12:34 PM on July 22, 2011 [18 favorites]


Yeah, if you don't leave after two years, does Arizona make make you live there?
posted by seventyfour at 12:36 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh, snap! The guy is black? No wonder the neighbors were so upset about someone putting work into the property so as to keep their property values from slipping.
posted by Slackermagee at 12:39 PM on July 22, 2011


You've got a point, but then look at the MetaFilter reaction to Freegans and dumpster divers.

I think that's more due to the hilarious internal dissonance between MeFi trending hard-left, and simultaneously being square as all hell. The panicked squeaking when any weird sub/counter-culture is put in the spotlight is fairly predictable.
posted by FatherDagon at 12:52 PM on July 22, 2011 [33 favorites]


I can't applaud him

I can. And I will. In a society bent toward the rich, by the rich, for the rich I can't see how anyone could not applaud them, other than out of a sense of "wish I'd thought of that". So a little guy has figured out how to legally weasel a property out from under it's mortgage holder, who isn't another little guy, but a bankrupt mortgage-holding company (see those? they are my tears). More power to him. There are so few ways to fight back as a consumer and human being in an ever-increasing corporatist nightmare. This kind of stuff should be happening consistently. No one will ever get into any kind of trouble for bringing the world-economy to its knees, but the neighbors in Flower Mound have a problem with this? I bet they'd back Scott Walker too.

This is what people do before they come out waving pitchforks and torches (read that: handguns and rifles). If stuff like this starts becoming a crime. Then some folks are going to have to watch their backs and I am not one of them.
posted by IvoShandor at 12:54 PM on July 22, 2011 [41 favorites]


If stuff like this starts becoming a crime.

It already is.
posted by valkyryn at 12:56 PM on July 22, 2011


It already is.

That's not how I understood the situation. The linked article said that the police wouldn't do anything about it because it's not a criminal matter. Did I miss something that you're privy to or am I just crazy?
posted by IvoShandor at 12:57 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


but not through this somewhat arcane legal doctrine.

This is why I obtain all my property through extended siege warfare. There really isn't a better example of 'open and hostile' that I can think of.

HOA hate me because I invariable dig up the laws with my siege engines, but fuck-em. Their houses will be mine eventually to.
posted by quin at 12:58 PM on July 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


A slice of our property was lost to adverse possession (it was lost before we bought the place). Before this house was built, the neighbor put his vegetable garden on the property, about 15 feet into our place. It's been there 20 years. When a survey was done about a decade ago, the mistake was discovered, but the neighbor said "fuck you, that's mine" to the people who built this house.

We offered to let the neighbors continue using the land for as long as they continued to live there but that the property line would revert to the "real" line when they moved or died (they're old), but, again, they said "fuck you."

That's how adverse possession works. If I owned vacant land, I would be super-super diligent about going out every few months and making sure nothing was happening on it, otherwise you lose it, especially since everyone seems to be a land hog.
posted by maxwelton at 12:58 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


He has not moved in legally. He's squatting.

Yeah, that's what adverse possession is, in part; it's a means for squatters to gain the legal right to the property that they've been using but no one else was (or even cared much about).

I don't really get the reactions to this that, e.g., his neighbors have (momentarily doing them the service of assuming it's not race-based), of getting up in arms because he's squatting. So what? Is squatting in itself bad? No one's using the house anyway, right? Good on him, that's what I say.
posted by kenko at 12:59 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


IvoShandor: “If stuff like this starts becoming a crime.”

valkyryn: “It already is.”

That's something you might want to take up with the Flower Mound Police Department. According to the local news report I watched yesterday, they judged it a civil matter and refused to evict the guy.

Don't you think they were the first ones the angry homeowners called?
posted by koeselitz at 12:59 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is it just to force you to take down the fence after all this time?

Judging from your own other comments on this post, haven't you been committing a crime, and trespassing, every time you wandered near that part of your fence?
posted by kenko at 1:00 PM on July 22, 2011


The HOA doesn't have to rely on adverse possession to intervene, they can use the existing HOA dues that were presumably attached to the title in a difficult-to-remove manner. HOA rules generally have a procedure for foreclosing on a property that is sufficiently in arrears on dues. If no one knows who own the title, presumably no one has been paying HOA dues for quite some time, and the HOA just hasn't foreclosed because then they would be on the hook for the mortgage. Or they don't know who to foreclose on.
posted by nomisxid at 1:00 PM on July 22, 2011


Fuck the neighbors. Mind your own business, Nosey Parker.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:01 PM on July 22, 2011


Adverse possession does make a lot of sense. Property deeds can get strange - paperwork gets lost, multiple deeds might have the same land listed but given to different people, etc. We had to go through this when my grandmother died - she owned a lot of property up in Newfoundland (for those unfamiliar, think Alaska wilderness). At one point our family owned almost the entire town she lived in but, over time, she and her siblings and parents donated a lot of the land to build a school or parks, or just flat out given away to people. When she died my family had to go up there and figure out what she owned. Lots of competing deeds, lots of homes built on land technically ours and one recently built highway went through one lot entirely.

Anyway, it's hard to keep track of this stuff. It doesn't make much sense to evict a family who built their home on our land 20 years ago. You'd be surprised how often stuff like this happens (the estate lawyer seemed pretty familiar with the issue).

Granted, this is a somewhat different situation, but I wanted to share another view of adverse possession and how it's not all "look at Texas, it's so crazy!"
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 1:01 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also

the mortgage went after business shortly

"after" should be "out of " I think, if someone wants to bother to fix it.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:02 PM on July 22, 2011


He now wants to share with others how to do it, by leading seminars.

I'm interested in how:
1. You find a key to a home that's been empty for over a year.
2. You live in the DFW area for years without electricity or water. Today's high: 102 degrees.

He believes that if they do evict him, he can keep the refrigerator, etc., and maybe get a payment out of it.
posted by Houstonian at 1:03 PM on July 22, 2011


This article has interesting information and links, including a link to the house's MLS listing when it was for sale, tax information, questions about the pool in the backyard, links to other "adverse possession" cases in Seattle and Florida, and a link to someone who beat this guy to the seminar idea... a seminar plus listings of homes where you can just move in.
posted by Houstonian at 1:15 PM on July 22, 2011


To get a key to a home that's been empty for a year:
1. Buy a lock. Be sure to keep the key that comes with the lock!
2. Break in. Don't get caught.
3. Replace the lock on the door with the lock from step 1.
4. Profit!
posted by 0xFCAF at 1:21 PM on July 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


1. You find a key to a home that's been empty for over a year.
2. You live in the DFW area for years without electricity or water. Today's high: 102 degrees.


Artesian well & solar?
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:32 PM on July 22, 2011


The elements of this claim in Ohio, as well as most other states, are exclusive possession and open, notorious, continuous, and adverse use of the disputed property for a period of twenty-one years.

I have a friend who who lost his house after a bankruptcy. He kept living there rent free because no one told him to leave. As he was preparing for move out to Texas, a bank contacted him and began talking about negotiating payments. He thought they were trying to sell his house back to him (purchased for $89k, now valued at $24k) and was amused and followed up.

Turned out that this bank had been sold his house loan from his previous bank - even though he had lost the house. The conversation he had went something like this:

"No, we're not trying to sell the house. We want to renegotiate your mortgage so that you don't lose the house."

"I already lost the house. I thought you were trying to sell it back."

"Wait, you've already lost the house? Then why are you still living there?"

"No one told me to leave."

"You need to leave immediately."

"No. I've got thirty days from when you send your eviction notice and it'll take you at least thirty days to get that paperwork ready. By then I'll be in Texas. Piss off."

The house is still abandoned. No for sale sign, the neighbors have to mow the yard. I checked and the keys I had to his house still work. That bank was sold a loan for a house that was already foreclosed. When I check the records, the house is still in my friend's name. Sometimes I wonder if I should just take possession of the sucker. Being "open and notorious" sounds fun.
posted by charred husk at 1:36 PM on July 22, 2011 [23 favorites]


So I looked up the address, and found this:

The average list price for similar homes for sale is $272,178 and the average sales price for similar recently sold homes is $153,401.

The discrepancy between what sellers in the area think their houses are worth and what the market thinks their houses are worth can't be making the neighbors happy either.
posted by ambrosia at 1:45 PM on July 22, 2011 [13 favorites]


Is he cutting the grass and keeping the place up? I wouldn't give a tin shit what color he was. The plague of our last neighborhood was all the rentals, frankly. Most were owned by people tryng to cash in on the rental jackpot craze that swept Atlanta a few years back. Problem was that there was very little incentive for anyone to invest money in stuff like paint or regular lawn mowing. Margina are thin on that first place you rent out, so they wanted to get buy on as little as posible. Values slid, people moved out, more rentals, repeat. Occasional letters from the HOA would go to the owner of record, which was usually some LLC with a po box.

I would have been fine with someone moving in and actually owning the place. Cut the grass, pull the trees growing out of the gutter, and please don't let your pool turn into a mosquito pond. That's really about all I'd ask.
posted by jquinby at 1:51 PM on July 22, 2011


People keep saying he has to live there without electricity and water. A call or two to the utilities and he should have water and power! It takes less than 15 minutes usually!
posted by vespabelle at 2:06 PM on July 22, 2011


I don't understand why open, hostile occupation of land should give anyone a legally enforceable right to do anything.

Neither did the Native Americans. *rimshot*
posted by nzero at 2:08 PM on July 22, 2011 [13 favorites]


1adam12 writes "I understand condemnation after a period of abandonment. I don't understand why open, hostile occupation of land should give anyone a legally enforceable right to do anything."

Because this is essentially how title for all land was established in the first place.

valkyryn writes "More than that, if the potential owners can't figure out their own damn paperwork to establish who actually does own the house... f*ck 'em. This may just be one of the consequences of getting so damn clever with property transactions."

I believe this is an intended consequence. Basically past a certain point the law concedes that possession = ownership to simplify the system. Otherwise a difficult to judge case of fouled paperwork 50 years ago could invalidate any title.

Houstonian writes "I'm interested in how:
"1. You find a key to a home that's been empty for over a year.
"2. You live in the DFW area for years without electricity or water. Today's high: 102 degrees."


Contrary to popular belief humans have lived, even in Texas, without A/C or city water just fine for centuries.
posted by Mitheral at 2:09 PM on July 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


People keep saying he has to live there without electricity and water. A call or two to the utilities and he should have water and power! It takes less than 15 minutes usually!

I had to demonstrate ownership to have water and power turned on at my house, and before that I had to show a rental agreement to have it turned on at my apartment.
posted by nzero at 2:09 PM on July 22, 2011


So...anyone in the Dallas area live next to an abandoned home and want a great new neighbor?
posted by zylocomotion at 2:13 PM on July 22, 2011


In NYC I've never had to show jack shit in terms of ID to get any kind of electricity or water, much less show that I was owning or renting. I could call and say "yeah, my name is Made Up Name Jr. and I would like electricity and gas, please" and they'd be like "okay cool but we might have to read your meter at some point in the next 3 years". Done and done.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:13 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


In NYC I've never had to show jack shit in terms of ID to get any kind of electricity or water, much less show that I was owning or renting. I could call and say "yeah, my name is Made Up Name Jr. and I would like electricity and gas, please" and they'd be like "okay cool but we might have to read your meter at some point in the next 3 years". Done and done.

Cool. My anecdotal evidence is from Georgia, no idea what the story is in Tx.
posted by nzero at 2:14 PM on July 22, 2011


Indeed. There are probably different utility companies in different municipalities as well with different policies.

If I didn't have A/C in Texas I would spend 3/4 of my time lying on the floor or purchasing bags of ice.

I have Texas friends where the water is so bad they can't drink it anyway and have to buy their drinking water at Wal-Mart, so maybe that's not such a big problem.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:20 PM on July 22, 2011


Utility companies don't really care, unless the previous person left a huge balance on the account for the address, in which case you might need to show purchase records or a lease to prove that you didn't live there before a certain date. However I doubt that the electrical utility will look carefully at what appears to be a second generation faxed photocopy of a lease with a person's name and address scrawled on it.
posted by thewalrus at 2:22 PM on July 22, 2011


This is awesome. a bunch of people who live in some upper-middle-class neighborhood get their panties in a twist because someone that they don't believe has the clout to own a house actually is doing it.

good for him. It's funny.

Wasn't there something from about 10 years ago in Colorado where a county attorney or city official claimed ownership of their neighbors yard because they put up a shed and the neighbor never said anything about it? they caught some heat.
posted by zombieApoc at 2:26 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Contrary to popular belief humans have lived, even in Texas, without A/C or city water just fine for centuries.

Sure, people used to have homes that were not built air-tight, with high ceilings and (in southern US, even as late as the 1960s) use whole-house fans to draw the heat out of their homes, which were surrounded by large trees. They used to go down to the creek to wash their clothes, or dug a water well and maybe even used a windmill to draw the water out of the ground. The side of the porch would have a galvanized wash tub, and that would be for your weekly bath. They used to use kerosene lamps to light their room at night, and light their way to the outhouse. If they were really fancy folks, they had an icebox and the ice delivery service would bring ice in 25 or 50 pound deliveries. By horse and wagon.

None of these things are really happening in Flower Mound today. His reality is that it's tremendously hot in his home, he can't flush the toilet, he's got a pool out back that can't be maintained, and a yard that is dying. It's hard to live in today's urban or suburban setting the way people used to live, without sewage, water, and electricity -- we're just not building homes for that way of life. I've always had to prove residency to get utilities turned on in Texas, and I'd guess that's true in Flower Mound. My guess is that he has another, true residence somewhere and really just visits this home.
posted by Houstonian at 2:36 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I did want to mention -- I'm not sure what difference it makes whether he broke in or found a key. You can't find a key to your neighbor's house under the mat and just go inside. I could be wrong, but my gut reaction is that either he's trespassing or he isn't. If he's trespassing on the property, he's trespassing whether he's on the lawn, inside the house having entered with a key, or inside the house having entered by breaking the window. He might be guilty of breaking and entering if he broke the window, but I'm not sure how he's not also guilty of breaking and entering if he found a key under the mat (for instance) that he wasn't authorized to use and went inside knowing he didn't have the owner's permission to enter.

I'm not saying it is or isn't criminal; I'm just saying since he's not claiming anybody gave him the key or gave him permission to be in the house, I'm not sure why it's important whether he stumbled across a key or not. If nobody has the right to keep him from being there, why would they have the right to keep him from picking the lock? "You have the legal right to enter that house you don't own, provided you can figure out where the key is hidden" doesn't sound right. Maybe it is right, but it doesn't sound right.

And I must say -- it's certainly possible that the neighbors don't like him for racial reasons (I get why that suspicion was raised), but I think there are plenty of other reasons they might be uncomfortable. This seems, for lack of a better word, like the kind of thing a crank does, and nobody is really excited about a neighbor who has done a lot of legal research to locate bizarre-sounding property rights you've never heard of that he then announces he's asserting because he filed an obscure document you've also never heard of. That isn't the kind of guy people think is going to be a great, cooperative neighbor. "Detailed knowledge of mysterious legal technicalities that can be wielded like swords" is not on anyone's list of desired qualities in neighbors, so I think it's maybe a little unfair to the neighbors to assume for sure that if he were white, they'd be like, "Hey, more power to him! Welcome to the neighborhood!" I think there are rational reasons a person might not like this method of acquiring property in the neighborhood other than race. Whether they have any ability to do anything about it, of course, is entirely a separate question.

Again, that doesn't mean it isn't about race; it could certainly be both. It just seems to me like there are other possible reasons they might be unhappy.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 2:36 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Linda_Holmes: finding the key makes the difference between this being a criminal matter or a purely civil one, if I had to guess. Breaking and entering is a criminal matter. For the police to take him out otherwise they'd need the owners (whoever they are) to call up and exercise their rights in the matter, which no "owner" has done.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:42 PM on July 22, 2011


Not that I necessarily think it makes sense, but when land becomes abandonded, who should own it, and why?
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:33 PM on July 22


the people US Americans stole it from first?
posted by liza at 2:50 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


IADNAL but I'm pretty sure you don't have to literally "break and enter" to be guilty of B&E. As I understand it, "finding" a key and using it without permission is no different than breaking a window and crawling in, aside from the lack of property damage.
posted by purplecrackers at 2:53 PM on July 22, 2011


That depends on the property owner saying you don't have permission which, as I understand it, is the problem. There either is no actual property owner or he/she/they have yet to come forward.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:09 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


One pragmatic upside of adverse possession (at least squatting laws as they're enforced in a lot of European cities), is that it breaks a sort of vicious cycle of property speculation that destroys neighborhoods in cities. It goes something like this:

1. In a poor-but-well-located neighborhood, a property investor buys an empty property (for bonus points, buy an occupied rental property and force out the underprivileged tenants using dubious tactics).

2. The investor speculates that the property will be worth tons of money once the neighborhood gets gentrified, but first s/he needs to wait. S/he keeps the property empty to avoid the costs associated with rental and occupation (as well as the legal complications of removing low-rent tenants once rents go up).

3. Tons of other property investors do the same thing in the same neighborhood.

4. The neighborhood becomes more and more visibly abandoned, property values keep going down, the streets become more dangerous.

And so on. In places like Paris, Berlin, London, and a lot of other hyper-expensive housing economies, adverse possession discourages landowners from allowing valuable real estate to go fallow, while also providing a way for abandoned properties to be turned into much-needed housing. I wouldn't say that it's a fantastic legal concept in principle, but it certainly serves a function in certain urban spaces.
posted by LMGM at 3:11 PM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


"after" should be "out of " I think, if someone wants to bother to fix it.

Yes, absolutely. I proofread and everything!! Mods?
posted by KathrynT at 3:14 PM on July 22, 2011


Why people can't just say I'm envious, but good for him and leave it at that I don't know.
posted by BrotherCaine


Ebiblisterical.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:40 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


No they would not. This has the potential to massively compromise property values in the neighborhood, regardless of who's doing the adverse possessing. First of all, it suggests that there are vacant homes in the area, which is always a bad thing, and not just vacant, but vacant to the point that the property owner can't even be bothered to run off squatters.

Well, that is in fact the case; it's hardly the adverse possessor's fault that everyone would prefer to pretend otherwise.

Second, if Robinson manages to pull this off, it nukes the average of the year's transaction prices. As these are partly what future prices are based on, this does bad things to existing homeowners.

I don't really see why. He's not buying the property for $16, that's just the filing fee for his claim to have found the property abandoned. One presumes that the property tax for the next 3 years will be based either on the previous sale value or a county assessor's estimation of its worth independent of Robinson's adverse possession.

If I found a wallet with $300,000 in it, handed it into the police, and nobody claimed it as lost property within the statutory period, the value of the money in the wallet wouldn't have fallen to zero. Of course, whether it climbed out of the wallet and got lost in the evidence storage room during that time is another question entirely. Likewise, if I died and bequeathed my house to someone, they wouldn't have purchased it as such, but nobody suggests that receiving property for 'free' via a will or through the probate process should figure into transaction prices (do they? I hope not). Hell, suppose that I really, really like you, and decide to sell my $300,000 house for $1 because I am so generous. That would theoretically affect transaction prices, but somehow I doubt that the county would use the $1 price to calculate your property taxes. Surely there's some requirement for a public notice of sale or similar to have taken place before exchange price can be taken into account for tax or valuation purposes. Otherwise inside sales would be virtually impossible, or market prices could be manipulated to an insane degree by a small group of people selling each other multiple properties at $1 each.

Incidentally, I find it funny that everyone reads it as 'Robinson = black'. My last name is Robinson (or was before I got married and we bridged our surnames), and I'm white like wonderbread.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:40 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


anigbrowl, I don't know on what basis people were making their assumptions, but Kenneth Robinson is black.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:43 PM on July 22, 2011


I don't really have any problem with him doing it (actually, I think it's great), but it seems pretty unlikely it will take ten years for the owners of this house to figure out who owns the place and evict him.

Of course, at that point, he can probably just find another empty place... The circle of life, I guess.
posted by ayedub at 4:45 PM on July 22, 2011


anigbrowl, I don't know on what basis people were making their assumptions, but Kenneth Robinson is black.

I don't mean him in particular. I was just pointing out that such assumptions are widely made, to the point where one comment above just bolds the name as if that were sufficient explanation by itself. This isn't the first time I've come across the assumption, but the demographics seem to be quite variable across the US.
posted by anigbrowl at 5:29 PM on July 22, 2011


In the OP's link, comments suggest the Texas law regarding adverse possession takes not three years but ten. Anyone here know anything about that?
posted by stinkycheese at 5:39 PM on July 22, 2011


We don't have to pussyfoot around the issue of whether or not this is criminal. You can find these things out in five seconds on Google.

Texas Criminal Code ยง 30.05. CRIMINAL TRESPASS.
(a) A person commits an
offense if he enters or remains on or in property, including an
aircraft or other vehicle, of another without effective consent or
he enters or remains in a building of another without effective
consent and he:
(1) had notice that the entry was forbidden; or
(2) received notice to depart but failed to do so.

Well right off the bat we can discount (2); if there were owners coming forward, they would have given him notice by now but that's not the case.

So as to (1), did he have notice the entry was forbidden?


(b) For purposes of this section:
. . .
(2) "Notice" means:
(A) oral or written communication by the owner or
someone with apparent authority to act for the owner;
(B) fencing or other enclosure obviously
designed to exclude intruders or to contain livestock;
(C) a sign or signs posted on the property or at
the entrance to the building, reasonably likely to come to the
attention of intruders, indicating that entry is forbidden;
(D) the placement of identifying purple paint
marks on trees or posts on the property, provided that the marks
are:
(i) vertical lines of not less than eight
inches in length and not less than one inch in width;
(ii) placed so that the bottom of the mark
is not less than three feet from the ground or more than five feet
from the ground; and
(iii) placed at locations that are readily
visible to any person approaching the property and no more than:
(a) 100 feet apart on forest land; or
(b) 1,000 feet apart on land other
than forest land; or
(E) the visible presence on the property of a
crop grown for human consumption that is under cultivation, in the
process of being harvested, or marketable if harvested at the time
of entry.

So, he had no notice sufficient to satisfy that element of the crime so long as there was no apparent written or oral communication (nope), fencing to keep people out (assuming not), a "Keep Out" sign (probably not), some purple paint on some trees (???), or, like, corn or something growing in the backyard (delicious but doubtful).

Most likely not a crime unless and until the owners get their act together.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 5:50 PM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


I want to thank valkyryn for explaining the meaning and purpose of adverse possession laws so patiently in this thread. I remember my lawyer grandfather explaining Texas adverse possession laws to me as a child. Even before this thread, I knew that he wouldn't be able to keep the house unless no one could prove they owned it for several years. Robinson thinks this is unlikely, but I think it is. I didn't think about the idea of giving him permission to stay there, which obviously would be pretty easy.

comments suggest the Texas law regarding adverse possession takes not three years but ten

There are varying statutes of limitations depending on the circumstances Tex. Civil Practice & Remedies Code, Chapter 16, Subchapter B.
posted by grouse at 5:51 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the comments above and the first link in the post, I'd say it's ten years, or five years if property taxes are paid, or three years if "color of title". The latter seems to mean documents claiming to show title which are not valid. That would be something like a disputed will or defective title documents or the like.
posted by GeckoDundee at 5:52 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


From grouse's link:
"Color of title" means a consecutive chain of transfers to the person in possession that:

(A) is not regular because of a muniment that is not properly recorded or is only in writing or because of a similar defect that does not want of intrinsic fairness or honesty; or

(B) is based on a certificate of headright, land warrant, or land scrip.
posted by GeckoDundee at 5:56 PM on July 22, 2011


I've always had to prove residency to get utilities turned on in Texas

I haven't!
posted by polyhedron at 6:12 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, I find it funny that everyone reads it as 'Robinson = black'.

anigbrowl, in the video linked by the OP (second link), they interview the Mr. Robinson in question.
posted by ambrosia at 6:13 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not totally sure this is a screwy result. The common law requires property owners to exercise some minimum amount of effort in monitoring their property. If they can't be bothered to run off squatters, they lose. That's always been true.

My vague memory about adverse possession from law school is that it has nothing to do with encouraging owners to "monitor their property" or "run off squatters." Rather, it is in the interest of judicial economy/conservation of judicial resources that open possession of property for a certain length of time is stronger evidence of ownership than mere paperwork evidencing ownership.

The easily outraged lay person (as many of you in this thread confirm) views this as "if you live in a house you don't own for three years, you get to KEEP it!!!!! Kewl !!!!!" But in fact it is a fairly ancient recognition of the fact that ownership is best evidenced by who actually lives there and has lived there for a good long while. In the VAST majority of cases this conserves judicial resources while securing the "right" result. However, since these odd, occasional instances where someone uses adverse possession to get property they "shouldn't" have, are the only time adverse possession doctrine gets any publicity, people conclude that adverse possession is a loophole in the law allowing you to sneakily get title to property you really shouldn't have.

That's exactly wrong. It's a doctrine meant to conserve judicial resources and ensure that the right person ends up with the property. These odd uses of it (such as the one in this article) are unrepresentative of why adverse possession doctrine exists.
posted by jayder at 6:19 PM on July 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


grouse: what makes it tricky, and what Robinson is banking on, is that the individual owner abandoned it in default. Claiming ownership would not be in his best interests, most likely. Moreover, he defaulted to a creditor no longer in existence. Apparently if you trace this to the end of the line, Bank of America could eventually prove ownership, but they're not commenting on whether they plan to do that yet. As has been noted, the price noted on the house is likely twice its actual market value, and BofA would have to go through a lot of hoops to get their title settled properly. It very well may be not worth their while to do so. And now Robinson is registered as an adverse possessor, in such a way that if BofA does take title (which, again, may cost them more than the house is worth in fees and entanglements and investigation) they have to negotiate with him first.

In reality, this could take five years or more. Provided that Robinson has somewhere else to sleep and just uses the home during the day, he could possibly get away with this.

(I'll also note that he's doing this exactly in the way the law intended, being as public about his use of the property as is within his means to do so. He could have just paid the $16 and hung out quietly in usage of the land. Instead, he is being as open and notorious as possible. Personally, I'm a fan.)
posted by Navelgazer at 6:24 PM on July 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


jayder, I would even argue that this isn't against the purpose of adverse possession doctrine. The state has an interest in keeping abandoned property from languishing, and this is (much like analogized above) basically the same thing as finding the wallet with tons of cash in it and publicly posting that you found it. If nobody claims it after a certain amount of time, it's yours to keep, and you did your due diligence. Robinson is doing his due diligence here, even if he obviously hopes no owner comes forward to stop him. Better to have property occupied and abandoned.
posted by Navelgazer at 6:42 PM on July 22, 2011


My vague memory about adverse possession from law school is that it has nothing to do with encouraging owners to "monitor their property" or "run off squatters." Rather, it is in the interest of judicial economy/conservation of judicial resources that open possession of property for a certain length of time is stronger evidence of ownership than mere paperwork evidencing ownership.

Right. And those of the "law and economics" school will talk a lot about "best and highest use." And technically, it's not squatting. Which is more of a legal distinction, and probably also has to do with the legal definition versus the lay definition of squatting. As I remember it, one who is (attempting to) adversely possessing is trying to stay on the land for the statutory period (plus disabilities), but the squatter is not attempting to take title or ownership or anything-he's just using the land. Which sounds like a distinction without a difference, but isn't. He would be a squatter, for example, if he was sneaking on to the property, not using it continuously, since, as my AdPo mantra for memorizing the elements in Property was "open, notorious, hostile continuous! (The exclamation point is because I tended to memorize/repeat these sorts of things while working out, and was doing lots of high knees box work at the time.)
posted by atomicstone at 6:47 PM on July 22, 2011


Usually, in prestigeous reports such as DOing Business, countries are ranked and compared also according to how much protection the State supplies to rights such as the property right. Now, having considered the very sorry state of chain of ownership in the Usa, a state that hasn't developed overnight, I wonder: are these prestigeous competitive reports an huge bluff, or are they simply overated and marketed as guidance papers that actually fail to accurately depict the situation?
posted by elpapacito at 6:48 PM on July 22, 2011


atomicstone has it right. The thing is, if Adverse Possession doctrine were just about settling rightful title then there wouldn't be a "color of title" distinction. The doctrine doesn't even include a good faith clause. What the "open, notorious, hostile, continuous" requirements do is prevent anyone from claiming title through trickery. The adverse possessor as to shout out that they are using the land without permission, and basically invite the title-holder to either stop them or expressly permit them to do so. Otherwise, hey, here's one guy making use of the land (and who will pay property taxes on it) vs. someone who is making no effort to use it. And it's all out in the open. Give the land to the guy who will use it.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:02 PM on July 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I wonder if Mrs. Robinson is....well, you know, Coo Coo Ca-Choo.

Wo Wo Wo
posted by webhund at 7:05 PM on July 22, 2011


atomicstone has it right
Hey, Navelgazer, can you call my old Property Prof? He was less than impressed with my knowledge of vested remainders in fee simple absolute subject to a condition subsequent. So, maybe a good word will help!
posted by atomicstone at 7:11 PM on July 22, 2011


Additionally, I really do think the uproar here is because of race, and there are some subtle but insidious indicators of that throughout the stories in the press. From the kvue story Houstonian linked above: "The man who says he's a former Marine, entrepreneur and real estate agent moved into the house a month ago, claiming 'adverse possession.'"

Oh, he "says" he's a former Marine? Is there reason to doubt this? If so, wouldn't this be very, very easy to check up on?

I truly believe that if I did this same thing (30 year old white guy with legal training, from a wealthy family and with some small ties to the area - my godparents live in Denton) there would be very little news about it at all. Maybe I'm wrong, but this seems to be about how Kenneth Robinson personally shouldn't be in the neighborhood.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:13 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


oh, god, atomicstone. I hated my Property Prof, and he's the only professor I've ever hated (Richard Chused, you know why!) Property is my worst subject and I've got the bar in four days and I've been spending all day studying property and I still hate it and don't get half of it.

But Adverse Possession is unique in property law in that it is not so boring that death seems like a reasonable alternative. So I know adverse possession pretty well. And so, it seems, do you.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:15 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Navelgazer: I hope the fertile octogenarian kills him/herself. Nothing personal.
Also, good luck! Does this count as knowing me? Because I know A LOT of people who hve taken the bar in MANY different states and have never known anyone who didn't pass. I'm pretty sure this means knowing me is awesome luck.
posted by atomicstone at 7:21 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Possibly? I live in the DC area and went to Georgetown Law. I've actually failed the bar twice now, but there were mighty antagonistic forces working against my studying the previous times, and I'm taking it in a much easier state this time (Pennsylvania) with much greater studying efficacy this time around. So let's hope.

(also, yes, the fiertile octogenarian who sells stankacre to fifteen different people, none of whom record their deeds... GAH!)

Anyway, my Property Prof, at the end of the first semester of 1L year, gave us a 30-page fact pattern to study and memorize for our final to be based on. This basically cut into all of our time for studying for all of our other finals, and in the end his final was based entirely on two paragraphs of the thing. He also wrote the book for his class, which was actually all about Women's, African Americans', and Native Americans' rights to land through history, which is a worthy subject but not the best way to teach basic property principles, which is of course all that he tested us on, and then he went off to teach elsewhere after that semester, meaning that his book couldn't be bought back. Oh! And in the first week, I got called up in the Socratic Lottery, and on his first question, I literally got to say, "Um" as I flipped back to the case he was talking about before he said, "Nevermind, I guess," and moved elsewhere, never to return to me all semester. What a piece of shit that guy was. I still hate property law like the plague.
posted by Navelgazer at 7:30 PM on July 22, 2011


As someone who has zero vested interest in this case, I really just have to say "Good for you, Mr Robinson!"

Also, Mr Robinson's Neighborhood.
posted by Vindaloo at 8:04 PM on July 22, 2011


And it just occurred to me that it's possible the previous owner of the property in fact knows that Robinson is doing this, and left him the key. That owner could not, in fact, say that they had done so, because that would be tantamount to granting permission, which would void the adverse possession.

(Probably not what happened, but it would be interesting.)
posted by Navelgazer at 11:22 PM on July 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


No they would not. This has the potential to massively compromise property values in the neighborhood, regardless of who's doing the adverse possessing. First of all, it suggests that there are vacant homes in the area, which is always a bad thing, and not just vacant, but vacant to the point that the property owner can't even be bothered to run off squatters.

Second, if Robinson manages to pull this off, it nukes the average of the year's transaction prices. As these are partly what future prices are based on, this does bad things to existing homeowners.
Ugh. "property values" the concern over "property values" is a major driver of bullshit, IMO. It gives people an economic motive to get in everyone else's business.
posted by delmoi at 12:59 AM on July 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I truly believe that if I did this same thing (30 year old white guy with legal training, from a wealthy family and with some small ties to the area - my godparents live in Denton) there would be very little news about it at all.

I'm pretty sure that the company that supposedly owned the title and went under had other similar properties in the area, foreclosed on, empty, and with the title now in limbo.

If you really want to do this, I'm sure you can easily find a similar house.

Go for it!
posted by DreamerFi at 2:32 AM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


"fencing or other enclosure obviously designed to exclude intruders or to contain livestock"

Does a locked door not satisfy this requirement? Does this really mean that you can find your neighbor's key under the mat and just go inside their house, and you're not trespassing unless they ask you to leave? I'm certainly no expert in criminal law, let alone criminal law in Texas, but that seems really, really super-weird that a fence around the property would mean you couldn't even go on the property at all, but all the doors being locked doesn't mean you can't go inside the house without permission.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:47 AM on July 23, 2011


Is it just to force you to take down the fence after all this time?

Judging from your own other comments on this post, haven't you been committing a crime, and trespassing, every time you wandered near that part of your fence?


Not if you haven't been asked to leave.

I'm certainly no expert in criminal law, let alone criminal law in Texas, but that seems really, really super-weird that a fence around the property would mean you couldn't even go on the property at all, but all the doors being locked doesn't mean you can't go inside the house without permission.

I think in this case, there is nobody to complain, so it doesn't matter. Trespassing requires that the owner complain. Breaking and entering requires breaking, and he had the key.
posted by gjc at 7:03 AM on July 23, 2011


"Breaking and entering requires breaking"

My recollection from law school (so long ago!) is that under the traditional definition, this is not true. My recollection is that, for instance, going through an open window or opening an unlocked door is still an adequate "breaking" if you're not authorized to do it. You don't have to break anything. I have no idea, of course, whether Texas has a different definition. But it is not my recollection that if a burglar happens to be able to locate your spare key, he can't be convicted of breaking and entering because he didn't break anything.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 7:16 AM on July 23, 2011


My recollection is that, for instance, going through an open window or opening an unlocked door is still an adequate "breaking" if you're not authorized to do it.

The Texas burglary statute doesn't require anything to be broken, but it does require an offender to be entering for the purposes of committing a felony, theft, or assault.
posted by grouse at 8:25 AM on July 23, 2011


To the neighbors,

You already won the lottery having been born to a white, upper-middle class, American family. Let Mr. Robinson have his victory, he earned it by being clever, lucky, and committing to at least three years of hard work to make his gamble pay off.
posted by VTX at 9:01 AM on July 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


What the "open, notorious, hostile, continuous" requirements do is prevent anyone from claiming title through trickery. The adverse possessor as to shout out that they are using the land without permission, and basically invite the title-holder to either stop them or expressly permit them to do so. Otherwise, hey, here's one guy making use of the land (and who will pay property taxes on it) vs. someone who is making no effort to use it. And it's all out in the open. Give the land to the guy who will use it.

This suggestion that adverse possession doctrine reflects a deliberate policy choice to reward the person who will actually use land is wrong, I think. If that were in fact the basis for adverse possession doctrine, it would undermine a property owner's right NOT to presently use their property, which would be quite a radical infringement upon property rights as they've developed in Anglo-American law. I am pretty sure adverse possession has nothing to do with encouraging property owners to use their land.

Rather, it is recognized by courts and legislatures that after a person has openly lived on a property for a certain number of years, and the chain of title says something different, the papers must be wrong. It's a doctrine of conservatism with regard to divesting people of property in which they have an open and settled interest.

I also think that adverse possession doctrine probably comes up far more frequently in very unglamorous disputes among neighbors over, say, a one-inch intrusion of a neighbor's shed on the property of the homeowner next door. Neighbors often accidentally get small portions of property that way, through adverse possession, when such disputes end up in court, years after the offending shed was built. I really think that any apparent effect of adverse possession in encouraging active use of property is incidental, having nothing to do with the real policies underlying the development of the doctrine.
posted by jayder at 1:16 PM on July 23, 2011


In New York, there's no B&E that I'm aware of, but there's burglary, defined as entering or remaining unlawfully in a building with the intent to commit a crime therein. People who break, then enter, often get charged with criminal mischief for the damage to the door.

IANAL, but it would seem that if you don't have a key, and all the doors and windows are locked, it would be very difficult to claim adverse possession of a house in New York, because of the problem of needing to commit criminal mischief to break in. Unless the title is in limbo and it's not clear that the house is the property of another person, but even you'd probably have to run it by the police chief or city attorney or something just to make sure they don't swoop in and arrest you.
posted by bugmuncher at 4:08 PM on July 23, 2011


I'm thinking also that the previous occupants might have leapt at the chance of 16 dollars and back taxes to stay in the house. Were they forcibly evicted?

As to the race thing - anyone interviewed the 10% plus black population of the town as to how they feel about this? Fun to call people you don't know racist, though I expect their reaction would have been the same for Cletus the Slack Jawed Yokel.

What kind of good faith is this guy putting into this operation? Is he paying the back taxes? That might be a gesture.

Perhaps I missed it, but no one seems to have mentioned that someone has lost the purchase price. A lot of glee over evil banks, and certainly they were stupid, perhaps evil, but the people left holding the bag are more likely to be a teachers pension fund in Iceland. All debts get paid - it's just a question of who by. From a who-gains, who-loses perspective, this guy is trying to be with the quick buck guys who got into this mess in the first place.

Then there's this - someone who squats a derelict part of town and helps renew it, has some skin in the game, works like a dog to rebuild the area, that guy is some kind of hero. This guy, this guy is riding on the intrinsic value the neighborhood already has. He's trying to ride that for what he can get out of it. Not much heroic there, and not a whole lot of risk to him. It's not as if that house couldn't sell to someone at something rather closer to market value.

ANd perhaps help those Icelandic teachers in the process.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:41 PM on July 23, 2011



Several years ago a friend of mine found a house that he liked that was abandoned. He tracked down the owner and bought a quit-claim deed from him for $500. He then recorded the deed and had the locks changed. So he moved in under color of title. He then called up the utility companies and had everything connected. Then he told the homeowner's association that he had moved in and started paying the dues. So no one, except the foreclosing bank, had a right to complain. He called up the bank (Suntrust) and offered to buy the home. But they were more interested in proceeding with a foreclosure. One year later, he's still in the home and now has a nice little nest egg. One day a realtor shows up and is shocked to find someone living in the house. It took them another six months to get the eviction papers filed. He settled that case by agreeing to move voluntarily within thirty days. Not a bad investment for $500.
posted by tesseract420 at 1:47 AM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


bugmuncher writes "IANAL, but it would seem that if you don't have a key, and all the doors and windows are locked, it would be very difficult to claim adverse possession of a house in New York, because of the problem of needing to commit criminal mischief to break in."

It proably wouldn't be hard to find someone willing to break in the day before you wanted to move in so that one could just walk through the open door.
posted by Mitheral at 11:35 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


You've got a point, but then look at the MetaFilter reaction to Freegans and dumpster divers.

What I object to, which by the way isn't true of all freegans or dumpster divers, are those who seem to feel that they are superior because they do this, and that there is something wrong with me and everyone else who actually buys things and contributes to the wastefulness of consumption while conveniently ignoring the fact that it is this wastefulness that they are benefiting from and without which they would have no dumpsters to dive into.

The truth is that dumpster divers/freegans play an important role in the market ecosystem. They are like the bacteria or scavengers who make use of resources that would otherwise go to waste. So long as they are comfortable with that role I'm totally fine with them. A buzzard shouldn't look down on a hyena just because the hyena was the one who actually performed the kill.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:04 AM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not a bad investment for $500.

That's actually one of my dreams, but my family isn't amenable. It seems like there are far too many abandoned buildings. It used to be just urban areas, but now it's almost everywhere (aside from the few high-rent cities).
posted by mrgrimm at 3:48 PM on July 25, 2011


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