The Oakland branch of the Occupy movement has passed a resolution favoring the seizure of foreclosed and abondoned homes.
There are a lot of homes available for squatters in the state because of unpaid mortgages and loans. California has the nation’s second-highest foreclosure rate according to RealtyTrac. Nevada ranks #1.
While the Occupy movement started in New York with Occupy Wall Street, it has a large number of local groups. Because the groups are independent, the views of one local chapter may not represent the views of related organizations or groups with similar names.
In this case, a Twitter announcement mentions that the Oakland group’s general assembly passed a proposal to encourage squatters. Think of it as squatting and squat-ins.
A New Trend?
It’s likely that the Oakland idea will spread nationally for several reasons.
First, there are a lot of unoccupied homes.
Second, there are a lot of people who need housing, lack jobs and are seeing an end to unemployment benefits.
Third, evicting people is not a fun job — there are already a huge number of foreclosures to process and over-worked local sheriff offices might not get around to a given property for a long time, perhaps months or even years.
Fourth, squatting provides a direct and visible way to confront lenders. While few may understand the complex financial instruments or arcane bets made by Wall Street, foreclosures are easy-to-see and local. Squatting can be a form of civil disobedience which is non-violent and results in public sympathy.
Is there a defense by lenders to avoid TV crews and lots of local coverage? Look for more lenders to suddenly adopt rental programs for foreclosed properties. For instance, since 2009 Fannie Mae has had a Deed for Lease program. In essence the idea is to allow foreclosed families to rent back their property. This allows borrowers to remain in place while giving Fannie Mae monthly income and fewer maintenance and security headaches.
It’s actually possible — though highly unlikely — to gain title to property through squatting under a concept generally called adverse possession or — formally — an easement by prescription.
The rules for adverse possession vary by state but are typically similar to the standard used in Pennsylvania:
“Adverse possession is commonly known as squatters rights. It is a legal doctrine that allows a person to acquire ownership of the property of another. Adverse possession involves the taking away of property rights by operation of law. Thus, while not typically a local government matter, it is a significant issue of fundamental importance. Paramount among the elements required for adverse possession is proof of possession for 21 years.
“However, mere possession of the land by a claimant is not sufficient to confer title under this doctrine. The claimant also must establish by credible, clear, and definitive proof that all the other constituent elements of adverse possession exist. The possession must be actual, continuous, exclusive, visible, notorious, distinct, and hostile.”
Adverse possession can work in a number of situations — think of a fence built six inches over a property line. The fence stays in place for years and years, no one complains, and over time it redefines the property boundaries largely by the fact that it’s in place and accepted. The extra six inches of land was never sold off but title changes through the magic of adverse possession.