Trespasser hopping the fence for adverse possession

Adverse Possession Laws (and How One Handyman Fought Back)

Adverse possession, aka squatters rights, refers to a third party intentionally occupying a property to establish ownership over time – and it’s the bane of many landlords’ existence. Though laws vary by state and county, trespassers who enter a property they don’t own must meet specific requirements to possess the home.

Let’s go over the broad circumstances where a squatter can claim your property, then break down how one handyman saved his mom’s home from a similar fate.

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Requirements for Adverse Possession

While each jurisdiction has its own requirements, there are commonly shared overarching benchmarks – including:

  • Continuous possession of the land/property: The squatter must occupy the property continuously over a set period. Typically, the timeframe sits between five to 20 years.
  • Hostile possession: The trespasser didn’t lawfully gain possession of the property, such as through a lease or contract.
  • Open possession: The squatting is not a secret; it’s nearly obvious from the sidewalk.
  • Actual possession: The squatter must be using the land or property for its intended purpose.
  • Exclusive ownership: The trespasser behaves as if the property is theirs, meaning they are likely to pay property taxes while using the space.

If a squatter meets all of the stipulations outlined by the state and county, they can assume ownership of the property – leaving the original owner high and dry. That’s why one man took it upon himself to solve his mother’s squatting problem in an unconventional way: by becoming the squatter himself.

Flash Shelton Out-squats Trespassers

Flash Shelton isn’t just the founder of the United Handyman Association – he’s also a good son. After his father passed away and he attempted to sell the residence, he found squatters. Unfortunately, the local police said their hands were tied.

So Flash got creative.

“As soon as [the police] saw there was furniture in the house, they said I had a squatter situation, they had basically no jurisdiction, and they couldn’t do anything,” Shelton told Fox Business. “So, I dissected the laws over a weekend and basically figured out that until there’s civil action, the squatters didn’t have any rights, so if I could switch places with them and become the squatter myself, I would assume those squatter rights.”

As a precaution, Flash had his mother draw up and notarize a lease agreement. Then, he waited for the squatters to leave. Flash arrived at the home around 4 am and saw the squatters leave around 8. At that point, he put up cameras all around and inside the property. Then he changed the locks.

“They didn’t have a lease, so that never came into play. But when they came back, I just laid it out for them, told them that it was all locked up, cameras, and the only way they would get back in the house is if they broke in on camera, and I would prosecute. I told them they had a day to get their stuff out or the furniture was not theirs anymore.”

Flash’s unconventional methodology worked. The squatters left within the day.

When asked why he took this approach, Flash said, “The law would prevent me from physically removing them. However, being that I wasn’t the homeowner, I had more rights. As a tenant, I would actually have more rights than [the squatters].”

Now Flash runs a business offering similar services to other property owners struggling with trespassers. He’s also advocating for legislative change.

“I feel bad,” he said. “I can’t help everyone, but if we can change the squatter laws, I feel like that’s the way I can help everyone.”

While TurboTenant doesn’t recommend out-squatting the squatters yourself, we make it easy for landlords to create customizable state-specific lease agreements in less than 15 minutes. Protect your property by including provisions regarding unwanted guests, holdover tenants, and so much more in just a few clicks!

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