Man pretends empty house is his, rents it out, and becomes official owner under squatters' rights


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/11/01/man-pretends-empty-house-is-hi.html


#2

I can see how this argument would have gone:

“Do you have some sort of legal precedent for just turning up and deciding that this property was now yours?”

"Sure. It’s called Australia. "


#3

I think the relevant question is how long the real owners knew about the property, yet did nothing to take care of it. If they only discovered it belonged to them after the squatter had already been there for a while, I can understand being irate. If they knew about it for several years, but did nothing until they found they were in danger of losing the property, I have less sympathy.


#4

The old owner died a fair while ago, the family wasn’t aware of the property until they were notified when the developer started the adverse possession proceedings.

So the family has lost something that they didn’t know they had.

I don’t see any heros or victims in the case.


#5

But why weren’t they aware of the property until then? Shouldn’t the executor of the deceased owner’s estate have notified them, or something along those lines?


#6

Well, the family lost out on whatever the value of the home was, but they also missed out on the tremendous effort of cleaning out, fixing up, and then maintaining the old home so it’s kind of a wash.

I find it interesting that they awarded Bill Gertos the squatters rights even though he wasn’t physically in the house. I guess none of his renters were in there for 12 years? Probably he was the one paying the taxes on the property.

Another strange twist in the story: Apparently the grandfather was just renting it. From whom? Why did the original landlord fail to find new tenants?


#7

Yes, one of those heirs should have become the executor of the estate and executed the will (if there was one). It seems like nobody wanted to do the work so they all tried to ignore the problem. On the plus side they ignored the problem long enough and it went away.


#8

If he hadn’t done that, eventually the city would have taken action over rundown condition or back-taxes owing. Maybe the city would have located these lazy relatives, maybe not. If not, they’d seize the property, auction it off. Gone.

eta: I misunderstood the situation, thought the person who died was the owner.


#9

This is the part that has me scratching my head. I live in the US, but I’m pretty sure that my property tax bill isn’t available to just anybody. And certainly not to the point where they could take my house away by paying that bill long enough.


#10

If the family didn’t know about it, then who was accepting rent payments from the previous tenant who rented it from 1947 till their death in 1998?

My guess is they knew about the property, but decided renting it to a new tenant wasn’t worth repairing it, and they didn’t find out about Mr. Gertos renting it out as his until twelve years had passed and it was too late under the law.


#11

Squatter’s rights is best known in legal circles as “adverse possession”

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/adverse-possession-trespassers-become-owners-46934.html

The gist of it is:

  1. The “squatter” has to know the land isn’t rightfully theirs to begin with
  2. The person has to act like the owner in an open and obvious way. So that people would probably mistake them as the owner. Usually this means building on the property, fencing it in, or in this case renting it out.
    3, The real owner has to not challenge this use of the property for anywhere from 10-25 years depending on the place.

The whole idea of it is from English Common Law as a way to penalize people who leave potentially usable land fallow and neglected. Essentially if you were too lazy to not visit your own property and eject the interloper for over 10+ years, you don’t deserve to be the owner it.


#12

I assume he was just opening the old guy’s mail. Stealing mail might not be quite such an actionable offense in Australia. Or he went to the city with the address and just paid it directly.

I don’t think land valuations are confidential knowledge, you can probably just ask the clerk to pull it up for you.


#13

Yeah, I have to admit that if they couldn’t be bothered to check in on the property, find out about Gertos and have his tenants evicted for over a decade, how badly did they really want it? Like others though, I do wonder who was paying the property tax bill.


#14

Yeah, that’s the problem; again, American, but there are ID requirements for me to pay my property tax bill. I have a hard time believing that this guy paid these taxes (and that’s supposing IF any were paid) without committing some sort of fraud. But he’s a tax accountant so maybe he’s got every rule memorized.


#15

Is it a crime to pay someone else’s taxes? I don’t think the government would care just so long as they got paid.


#16

Whenever I’ve looked into this in the states, this is the crux. That always made attempting an adverse takeover seem like an unwise bet, but it probably is an important safeguard because it makes sure the person has some skin in the game besides just maintenance. I would hate to pay many thousands of dollars in taxes for 5 years and then someone comes along and says “thanks for taking care of it, bye bye.” Delinquent properties often have back taxes that need to be taken care of as well. It’s funny because while the the concept is rooted in making sure resources are used and not hoarded, it ends up looking like the gov’t doesn’t care about any high fallootin’ ideals like resource use or property rights, as long as the bag of money shows up, they just want their cut of the action.

The problem I see here is that since he was renting it he didn’t really have any skin in the game- I’m sure maintenance plus taxes was covered by the rent.


#17

That was the thinking in the 11th century when they came up with the idea.

Plus it made things easier when Normans were pillaging Saxon lands. They were able to keep title by showing continuous ownership. (Most of our property and inheritance laws come from the creative ways Normans tried to take and keep power after 1066)


#18

Maybe he was renting it out? Like Gertos? that seems a bit more logical, and also a bit more believable that his heirs didn’t know he had it.


#19

Having never attempted to pay anyone’s property tax bill other than my own, and none at all in Australia, I don’t know. But in my experience the governments are more interested in bills being paid than where the money comes from, as Al Capone learned the hard way.


#20

I’m an American too and there are zero ID requirements. I just mail a check to the address with the tax id number printed on it and it is paid. You can include the stub if you’re being nice, but it’s not necessary.