5 squatters who lost — and 1 who won

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When squatters lay claim to real estate, people tend to notice. Squatting, known in legal circles as “adverse possession,” is a method of getting title to someone else’s property by occupying it. Lawyers say the practice is a leftover from a different time.

“Obtaining property by adverse possession is extremely rare,” says Thomas Simeone, a lawyer in Washington, D.C. “In the past, when there were more tracts of undeveloped land and less certainty over boundaries, adverse possession was more likely. Nowadays, it is far less likely.”

While rules for adverse possession vary by state, Simeone says five things must happen, generally, for a squatter to take legal title to real estate:

  • The squatter must physically occupy the property.
  • The squatter must treat the property as the rightful owner would.
  • The squatter must act as the sole owner.
  • The occupation must be open and obvious, meaning that anyone can see that the squatter is acting as the owner.
  • The occupation must last for a specified statutory period, which, depending on jurisdiction, varies between seven and 20 years.

Here are five examples of squatters who failed — and one who succeeded.