Kenneth Robinson lives on Waterford Drive in Flower Mound, Texas, but he doesn’t own or rent the home he claims he has a right to live in.
The home was in foreclosure, and the owner abandoned the property. That’s when Robinson swooped in and, after submitting a $16 filing fee at the local courthouse, claimed the law of “adverse possession” gave him the right to occupy the home.
Adverse possession is a common law concept developed in the 1800s. According to Lucas A. Ferrara, a partner in Newman Ferrara, a New York City real estate law firm, adverse possession was enacted to ensure that property wasn’t abandoned and was “maintained and monitored.” It requires the posting of a clear, public notice that someone is at the property — hence the court filing — and that someone would remain there for a specific period of time, usually 10 years.
After the time requirement is satisfied, the Robinsons of the world have the opportunity to claim clear title to the property. In the meantime, the original property owner could fight the action, but it would be costly. And since the house has already been abandoned it’s not likely the original owner would wage an expensive legal battle to get it back. The mortgage holder would have to fight a court action too.
I see two possible scenarios emerging from this story.
In the first scenario, the law reforms the culture: The specter of adverse possession prevents people from abandoning property. Instead, after having this sort of thing brought to their attention, they decide either to stick with the property or not to acquire it in the first place, given that “just walking away” begins to look less attractive as a possible future option.
In the second scenario, the culture reforms the law: Adverse possession is just too weird and strikes us nowadays as unfairly getting something for nothing. Better to let the house stay vacant and maybe even let the title go bad, we collectively decide. The Robinsons of the world aren’t the disciplinarians of a political economy dictating that we use it or lose it. They’re grifters, and we already know what to do with grifters.