A controversial yet opportunistic way of living rent-free in our society is to homestead-squat on vacant rural land, but how do you do it?
To successfully homestead-squat on vacant rural land you must do so with caution, as this practice is technically illegal. After squatting on vacant rural land long enough, with regular upkeep and property tax payments, you may be able to acquire the land through adverse possession.
Homestead-squatting in the United States tends to raise a lot of eyebrows, as its legality falls into a grey area of the law. Officially, squatting is illegal in any way shape, or form on lands that are owned by the government. However, homestead-squatting on privately owned lands has a lot of loopholes attached to it, as this process can in some cases even result in the squatter gaining rights to the property. This is a complicated way of living, let alone acquiring land, but for many, it’s a realistic way to adapt to the housing crisis and become a legitimate property owner. Let’s dive into how to homestead-squat on vacant rural lands.
Squatting is technically illegal on government land and can be punishable by law. Before you commit to homestead-squatting on someone else’s private property, you should be aware of the legal trouble you can get yourself into, as well as the potential dangers that come with squatting.
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Process of Homestead-Squatting
Given that squatting is such a grey area within our society, it can be quite confusing as to whether you are legitimately allowed to do it or not. This is due to the perception that all squatters are homeless and are violating numerous laws by living this way.
In most cases, when you see people squatting on public lands such as under bridges, on sidewalks, and other government-owned public facilities, this is a perfect example of illegal squatting and it is prohibited by law.
However, there are many situations where a person is homestead-squatting but may appear to be just another average resident living in a house - they may even be your neighbor! The way this works is that the squatter has usually received permission from the landowner to set up shop and live there for an agreed period of time (for which they overstayed), or the person began squatting illegally but did so over such a long period of time that they were able to gain legal access to the property.
This type of homestead-squatting occurs all over the United States and can often be overlooked by authorities and official landowners. This is especially common on vacant rural lands that have little to no oversight and likely have very little value to the landowner. In this situation, squatters often find themselves to be in a fortunate and unique position of living rent-free. However, the process of making this lifestyle legal and realistic is complicated, which is why we are going to highlight the procedures and legal issues of homestead squatting.
The bottom line is that homestead-squatting is typically an illegal practice and you may encounter quite a few speed bumps in your quest for free housing. Most property owners will not take too kindly to strangers illegally settling in on their vacant land and will likely try to kick you out, evict you, take legal action, or worse.
With that being said, this does not seem to slow down squatters from pursuing their rent-free lifestyle, as there are a lot of loopholes to this practice that squatters take full advantage of, which is why many of them are able to pull off this lifestyle successfully.
While squatting on vacant rural land may seem relatively straightforward - as all you essentially have to do is find a plot of vacant land to live on - there are some tricks to this trade that can make this practice more practical, comfortable, and elusive.
To get you started on homestead-squatting on rural vacant land, we are going to take you through the process of finding your ideal spot to set up shop.
Finding the Right Location
Much like with any real estate venture, location is everything - even with squatting. Your location can determine the level of comfort you have in your new living space, but it can also determine the legality of your lifestyle.
Before you begin squatting you should take a look at the laws pertaining to this practice in the state that you are living in. In addition, you should review the laws that other states within the country have for squatting, as each state differs on how they view this practice.
Once, you’ve grasped the legal rights of squatters for your state, you should begin looking for a vacant plot of rural land that is not owned by the government, as this is illegal on federal lands. If you are in it to win it and want to ultimately acquire possession of the property that you are squatting on, you should be ready to establish yourself on the vacant rural land for as long as possible - ideally for the next 5 - 7 years in most states.
The reason for this is that most states have a requirement that a squatter must remain on the private property for at least 5 - 7 years before they can begin the legal process of owning the land. However, you will find that some states require as much as 30 years for you to have legal ownership, which is why choosing the right state to do this in is paramount.
Picking Your Squat Plot
Next, you are going to want to find a suitable living environment for you to begin your squat. In most cases, the best way to approach this is to find an abandoned home or building that doesn’t have any other inhabitants.
This is an essential part of the process of successful homestead-squatting, as if there are already squatters there, you may have legal challenges with acquiring possession later on. On top of that, if you start squatting in a building or home that is simply temporarily uninhabited such as a vacation home, you may be faced with immediate trespassing charges and confronted by a hostile landowner.
Once you have found a suitable place to begin squatting, you have officially gotten through the first step to begin the process of becoming a legal property owner. However, you should buckle up because the journey to becoming a landowner through this process will be long, require patience, determination, and the acceptance of any legal risk involved.
If you are determined to squat in your new home permanently, you are going to want to make your home environment as livable as possible. You are going to want to do this not only for your own comfort but also due to giving the appearance that you actually live there.
The more established you look like a squatter, the higher the chance that you will be perceived as an official resident or even a landowner. This not only mitigates your chances of being confronted by authorities but also lessens your chances of being invaded by unwelcomed squatters.
So, you are going to want to make your place homey. This means cleaning up your living environment, tidying up the structure and appearance of the home, as well as, hopefully getting full access to utilities. This process should include the following:
- Fixing broken windows
- Painting the interior and exterior of the home
- Sweeping and mopping
- Replacing or fixing broken structures
- Connecting water, gas, and electric utilities
Many squatters do not bother going the extra mile to make their squat plot seem like a livable home, which often leads to them being forced out of the property much easier than those that do. Before you fully commit to establishing yourself in your new home by tidying up, you should be completely sure that this is the right place for you to squat, as well as confirming that the building is safe to live in.
Once you’ve made your area livable, you should be prepared to go through the long waiting period of acquiring the property, which will take years! Alternatively, to locating a building, many squatters choose to simply tow an old trailer or mobile home onto vacant rural land to avoid the process of finding a building and cleaning it up.
Be Aware Of
While you live and wait through your state’s waiting process to become a property owner, there are a number of things you should be aware of to ensure your safety, as well as mitigate your risk.
- Unwanted visitors - since you are not the legal owner of the property and are squatting without permission, you should be aware that you don’t have any legal authority to kick out any unwanted visitors from the property - nor will you be able to call the police for assistance.
- Stand Your Ground Law -many states have Stand Your Ground laws which entail that a person is legally allowed to defend themselves (even with firearms) if they feel threatened. This can be troubling for squatters that are confronted by the legal landowners and demand that you leave. If you protest their request and refuse to leave their private property, they may be in their legal right to use their firearm against you.
Squatting can be a dangerous practice and you should approach it with careful consideration to ensure that your safety is prioritized.
For most squatters, reaching a point where they are able to begin the process of legally acquiring the land they have been living on is a fantasy, as this very rarely occurs. The primary reason for this is that squatting is technically illegal and tends to not get a lot of sympathy in the judicial process. However, instances of property acquisition do happen and can be achieved through adverse possession.
If you have been patient since the beginning and had a long-term goal for your squatting lifestyle, then you may be in a unique position to gain legal rights to the property. As stated above, most of this will have to do with your state’s legal process and requirements for squatting and adverse possession.
Successful adverse possession requires a lot of work and commitment by the squatter and in many ways requires you to follow through with all the same property responsibilities that a normal landowner would have to adhere to - besides paying rent.
It’s for this reason that we highlighted the importance of truly establishing yourself in your living space so that you do not appear to be a normal drifter or homeless person. This means that you would have had to have shown extreme hardship throughout the entire time that you were in possession of the property. In addition, you should have complied with the following:
Taxes & Tips
A defeating factor that tends to stop most squatters from legally acquiring land dead in the water is that they did not pay property taxes on the land. This can be frustrating for many squatters that are attempting to acquire unused and perhaps, worthless land, which is denied to them because they did not pay property taxes.
Paying rent, mortgages, and property taxes tend to be the main reasons that people opt for squatting in the first place. So, it’s no surprise that they are caught off guard when the deal-breaker for their adverse possession is a lack of paying someone for the land.
With that being said, if you are legitimately interested in acquiring your land through adverse possession, you should absolutely be paying your property taxes for as long as you have been squatting there.
If you’ve come this far in the homestead-squatting process, you are likely driven enough to take all the steps necessary to take your land acquisition seriously, which is why it never hurts to go the extra mile.
Make Yourself Known
A great way to gain legal traction during your adverse possession is to make yourself known to the property owner.
This does not necessarily mean that you need to gain full permission to the property, but it will work in your favor if the court is convinced that the owner knew you were there and did little to nothing to remove you until you began going through your adverse possession process.
Convince the Community
Regardless of how rural your squat plot is, you will likely have a nearby town within the vicinity that you will rely on for groceries and other goods.
While you do want to tread lightly to ensure that the legitimate owner of your vacant rural land is not a reputable member of the community, gaining a favorable reputation within the community could greatly help solidify you as the perceived landowner.
One of the common reasons that properties become abandoned is due to the original owner having financial troubles in which they were likely not able to pay their property taxes.
This can be an opportunistic prospect for committed squatters, as this presents a way to get leverage over an abandoned property as a squatter.
If you begin your squat and start paying off the taxes on the property, in addition to continuing your own payments, you will find that this provides great leverage for adverse possession within the court. While it is unsavory to pay off someone else’s debts, it may be the best way to get your foot in the door.
About THE AUTHOR
Brittany has been in the land business since 2020 when the world was starting to shut down. Since then, we’ve sold to dozens of people from ATV weekend warriors to camping enthusiasts to retired truck drivers. Our inventory spans mostly in the western United States. We’ve been trained by experience, land acquisition courses, and hundreds of hours meeting with county assessors and clerks, zoning officials, realtors, and land investors. We’ve answered hundreds of questions from people regarding the buying and use of land.Read More About Brittany Melling