You may have seen the news story about the man in Texas that supposedly paid $16 for a luxury home worth over $300,000 in an exclusive gated community.
The story is an interesting one, but not a new one. In fact "adverse possession" laws have been around for hundreds of years dating back to English common law and are in effect in pretty much every state in America. The premise is that someone who is in possession of a property and obviously using it after a certain period of time should not be able to be kicked out of the property by the heirs of some old owner due to some old title claim. The adverse possession laws also are in place so that abandoned properties at some point can get back into being productive and useful to society. You can read more about the history and definitions of adverse possession on Wikipedia.
The general common law requirements for adverse possession can be found in the acronym H.O.T.C.A.N.E. The occupant's possession must be Hostile (not with someone else's approval like a lease or easement), Open (not trying to be concealed or hidden from others), paying property Taxes on the house, Continuous use for whatever the statutory period is (no occasional or seasonal use), Actual use of the property (not simply walking your dog in the lawn every morning), Notorious (obvious to everyone often by fencing off land or occupying a home), Exclusive (one owner cannot use adverse possession to eliminate the rights of other co-owners).
Many states have their own additional rules as well regarding adverse possession. In Florida, the requirement is 7 years of continuous adverse possession. Some states require 20 years or more of continuous use. The rules typically differ if there is "color of title" which means some sort of legitimate written claim to the title like a deed or inheritance as opposed to someone simply squatting in a property.
The Florida law on this subject can be found in Chapter 95, Florida Statutes, FS 95.16 and 95.18. Due to abuses similar to those in the Texas story, the Florida legislature made significant changes to 95.18 this past Spring by passing Senate Bill #1142 which requires the possessor to notify the county property appraiser and the record owner what they are doing with the property among other things. You can watch some of these adverse possession abuses in the story below.
In all of these cases however, the reason the record owner abandoned the home was because it was in foreclosure. The law in pretty much every state will allow the foreclosing bank to eventually force the adverse possessing occupant to move out and be evicted. The only exception would be if the occupant were on a legitimate lease that complied with federal foreclosure laws, then the tenant might be able to stay for a certain period of time. However if someone were a tenant under a written lease, then they would be out of compliance with the "hostile" part of the adverse possession laws anyway - sort of a catch-22 for them.
This article is meant to be for educational purposes only. I am not a lawyer and don't pretend to be one. Pretty interesting stories though.