The 16 Dollar House Use Of Adverse Possession Unlikely To Be Repeated Successfully

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The 16 dollar house story of Ken Robinson, an individual who for a time claimed a $300,000 Texas home for his own via adverse possession, recently caused a stir across the country. John Carlin, with Chang and Carlin, LLP, provides analysis on whether the law of adverse possession could be applied successfully in the future.

"While many are intrigued by the 16 dollar house story and may see potential in this tactic, the reality is that there are significant challenges to successfully utilizing adverse possession." -John Carlin

The 16 dollar house story of Ken Robinson, an individual who for a time claimed a $300,000 Texas home for his own via adverse possession, recently caused a stir across the country. The tale of an individual single-handedly fighting back against the abusive practices of mortgage companies and banks captured the attention of a public still looking for justice four years after the housing bubble burst.

Ken Robinson was able to ‘squat’ in the house for 7 months, but was unable to successfully retain the title to the home he carefully selected as his target. Due to Mr. Robinson’s recent eviction, the question remains: Could adverse possession be successfully used to procure real estate for a fraction of its original value?

John Carlin, a partner at Chang and Carlin, LLP notes the challenges of a person would face: “Adverse selection is a fascinating aspect of real estate property rights law. While many are intrigued by the 16 dollar house story and may see potential in this tactic, the reality is that there are significant challenges to successfully utilizing adverse possession. Time is the primary obstacle. It is very unlikely that a bank or mortgage company would lose track of a property long enough for a squatter to seize the property’s title. That said, it is not out of the realm of possibility that someone could slip through the cracks.”

Understanding the Law of Adverse Possession:
According to Cornell Law, adverse possession is a doctrine under which a person in possession of land owned by someone else may acquire valid title to it, so long as certain common law requirements are met, and the adverse possessor is in possession for a sufficient period of time, as defined by a statute of limitations.

The reason the law exists is to allow a propertyholder to be secure in their title. Without this legal protection, long-lost descendants of any former owner, possessor or lienholder of centuries past could potentially make a claim on the property. However, it also leaves the door open for rivals to take over a property as long as they put in the time. In fact, a typical statute of limitations will require possession for around 7 years, if under color of title, or 20 years if not.

Additionally, according to author and Yale Law School Professor Carol M. Rose in her book ‘Property and Persuasion’, “The doctrine of adverse possession thus transfers property from the title owner to another who is essentially a trespasser, if the trespasser's presence is open to everyone and lasts continuously for a given period of time, and so long as the title owner takes no action to get rid of him during that time.” She continues, “Possession as the basis of property ownership, then, seems to amount to something like yelling loudly enough to all who may be interested. The first to say, "This is mine," in a way that the public understands, gets the prize, and the law will help him keep it against someone else who says, "No, it is mine." But if the original communicator dallies too long and allows the public to believe the interloper, he will find that the interloper has stepped into his shoes and has become the owner.”

In Ken Robinson’s 16 dollar house case, one of two events must take place to get him to leave:

1. The original owner would have to pay off their mortgage and the bank would have to file a lawsuit against the squatter to get him evicted.
2. If that doesn't happen, under Texas occupancy laws, Robinson would have been entitled to the house after three years of adverse possession.

Mr. Robinson was indeed forced out after Bank of America stepped up to claim ownership of the home. It is possible that a lower profile case could slip through the cracks, but depending on state laws, it can take a significant number of years for property title to officially transfer to a ‘squatter’. Therefore, a successful 16 dollar house case could turn out to be just another urban legend.

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