Everyone has heard of squatters and squatters are everyone’s worst nightmare. The act of squatting although is not technically illegal, is an unlawful act of trespassing and squatters do not have any rights to occupy the property. However, in most states, depending on the circumstances, a squatter can claim possession of a property.
KEY TAKE OUTS:
- A guide to understanding what a squatter is, what you need to know about squatters and how to prevent squatters. Squatters are something we all don’t want to ever come by, however, it is a reality of the property world.
What is squatting and adverse possession
Squatting is when an individual (also known as a squatter) occupies a property which is either abandoned or unoccupied and does so without the consent of the legal owner.
Adverse possession, also known as possessory possession, is when an individual can claim title to a property from the true legal owner, based on the time that they have occupied the same property for.
Claiming adverse possession
For a squatter to claim adverse possession, they need to have occupied the same property for a minimum of 12 consecutive years. Once a squatter has occupied a property for the required period, they then need to prove actual physical and factual possession of the property along with intention to possess the property. Some examples of this include:
- Factual possession is showing physical control, which includes changing the locks on the property;
- Actual physical possession of a property includes the squatters belongings being stored on the property; and
- An intention of possession can be shown by way the squatter’s intention to maintain a property including repairing and/or renovating the property.
The above requirements of adverse possession are true and applicable in both New South Wales and Queensland.
If a squatter can’t prove all the above, and/or the legal owner is able to prove permission of occupancy, i.e. by way of a tenancy agreement, then the squatter will be unable to claim adverse possession and is deemed to be trespassing.
Prevention of squatting is simple, and it is something everyone can do. Actions to prevent squatting include:
- Ensuring your property is always secure, this include all doors and windows are securely locked, alarm system installed on the property and screen doors are installed;
- All windows are closed and locked when the property is not occupied; and
- Property is continuously maintained. If a property looks run down or uncared for, it will stand out to squatters and show that it may be unoccupied.
Overall, no person wants to find out their property has been overtaken by squatters and more so, that a squatter is making a legal claim to own their property. Unfortunately, this was the harsh reality for a New South Wales Inner West Sydney owner in November 2018, when a squatter claimed adverse possession to their property.
Bill Gertos found the abandoned vacant Inner West Sydney home in 1998; after changing the locks, he renovated the property and then continued to lease the property until he made a claim for adverse possession in 2017. The judge found: “Mr Gertos succeeded in taking and maintaining physical custody of the land” and was successful in obtaining ownership of the property.
It is very important we all do what we can to protect our property along with our title to a property, and if we ever come past a squatter in our own properties or a neighbour’s property, we should contact police for assistance or seek appropriate legal advice on how to remove a squatter.
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This blog is merely general and non-specific information on the subject matter and is not and should not be considered or relied on as legal advice. Coutts is not responsible for any cost, expense, loss or liability whatsoever in relation to this blog, including all or any reliance on this blog or use or application of this blog by you.