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Legal Questions about Squatting

Squatting refers to living in abandoned, unoccupied, or disputed spaces that a person does not legally own. This is often confused with “adverse possession”, which is a method through which a person can claim ownership of property, including land and any structures built on it—without payment. In the latter case, typically, the person must possess the property in a public manner and improve it. Only rarely do squatters meet the legal conditions for adverse possession.

Below are some of the frequently asked on laws pertaining to squatting.

Can squatting rights be obtained if the property was foreclosed but we never moved out?

To claim adverse possession, or what you are referring to here as “squatter's rights”, you need to have occupied the property for a certain period of time, typically 5 years, and you must be do so in a way that is considered “open and notorious”. In addition, adverse possession is usually applicable to people who had no rights to the property at all. If you once had a right to the property but never moved out, then you are tenants at sufferance of the property holder.

My brother has been squatting at my deceased mother’s house. As executor, can I deduct what would be a fair amount from his inheritance to cover the expenses and upkeep of the house?

As the executor, you are liable to maintain the upkeep of the property till the house is either transferred to the heirs or sold and the proceeds distributed among them. Since the estate owns the house until it is sold or transferred, as the executor, you may choose to evict your sibling who would then have no legal right to continue to reside there.

What are the penalties for squatters living in a house that is owned by a bank in New York?

Unless they have been staying in the house for more than 30 days, they would be deemed as trespassers. However, in the former case, they would be deemed an "occupant" and the bank would have to formally and legally evict them from the premises by serving notice and then filing a petition in court. Further, after the hearing, the courts may permit the sheriffs to forcibly evict the squatters. Based on evidence, they could possibly be charged with criminal trespass in New York ranging from a Level B Misdemeanor, to a Level A Misdemeanor and a Level D Felony.

How do I remove squatters who have taken up residence on a piece of land where I have a vacancy restaurant?

You may first approach the sheriff to evict them. They may escort you to the property, at which point you can inform the people they are trespassing and are being asked to leave. If they do not leave, you may file a lawsuit for ejectment and criminal trespassing. Also, you may have to put up signs against trespassing.

While the basic requirement for adverse possession is that the claimant possesses it exclusively and openly, making no secret of it, the laws may vary from state to state. Some states require that the person must believe or was led to believe that he had exclusive right to possess the property. In addition, some states stipulate payment of property taxes for a specified time, while a few others require improvements be made to the land or property for it to be a legal claim. If you feel that you have been dispossessed wrongfully, it is best to seek the opinion of legal experts.
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