Recently a Texas man, Kenneth Robinson, made national headlines when he moved into a foreclosed home in Dallas, Texas after paying a $16 filing fee. The house is worth $330,000.00 and if Robinson stays in the house for three years, it’s his.
Robinson is utilizing Texas’ adverse possession law to take ownership of the home for a steal of a price. Adverse possession is the legal terminology for what most people know as “squatters.” Essentially, adverse possession means that a person claims ownership of property which they did not pay for by possessing the property.
In Minnesota, it takes much longer than three years to take ownership of a property by adverse possession. A claim of adverse possession in Minnesota has five basic elements. The claimant must show that he had actual, exclusive, open, continuous and hostile possession of the property for a period greater than 15 years. If the claimant can provide evidence of these elements in court, he can become the owner of the property involved and the court confirms his ownership.
Actual Possession: the claimant must have been in possession of the property for the statutory 15 year period; sporadic use is not enough.
Open Possession: the record owner of the property has to be on notice through the claimant’s open possession that his property is being seized. It does not matter whether the owner sees the possession, just that the possession be visible.
Exclusive Possession: obviously the claimant cannot claim adverse possession through others’ use.
Hostile Possession: this does not refer to personal animosity; rather, “hostile” in this case goes to the adverse possessor’s intent; in other words, the adverse possessor must have the intent to claim ownership of the property from the legal owner. If the adverse possessor acknowledges in some way that the legal owner is, in fact, the legal owner, the hostile requirement is not met. Similarly, if the legal owner consents to the adverse possessor’s use of his property, there is no hostility.
Continuous Possession: the adverse possession must continue for the duration of the statutory period of 15 years. If the adverse possessor goes five years on, five years off and five years on again, the “continuous” element is not met. Note, though, that an adverse possession claimant can “tack” periods of ownership together; i.e., if Person A adversely possesses for 7 years and Person B comes along and adversely possesses for the next 8 years, the 15 year period may be satisfied.
An adverse possession claim in Minnesota, while not unheard of, is extremely difficult to prove. Nonetheless, and especially given the current real estate environment, if you are an owner of property, it is a good idea to inspect such property on a regular basis to ensure that no “squatter” is setting up camp in an attempt to take ownership of your property.