Squatting Is Not Going To Get You A Mansion

I do NOT recommend adverse possession as the way to acquire a new home. See, “Squatting in Style.”  Seven (7) years is a long time. Adverse possession does have legitimate uses and legitimate purposes. I have been involved in many adverse possession cases. Most adverse possession cases involve boundary disputes and strips of land not entire houses. Squatting in a $2,500,000.00 home is never going to work.

I also think the Boca Raton police officers who decided this was a “civil matter” need a course in remedial law. I am not aware of a requirement that some one actually see you breaking into a home as a requirement to arrest someone for breaking and entering. If that were the case hardly anyone would ever be prosecuted for breaking and entering. If you do not own the house and you are in it uninvited, you have committed a crime.

By the way, the remedy for illegal squatting is not an eviction lawsuit. The squatter is not a “tenant.” The proper remedy to remove a squatter is a suit for ejectment. Frankly, the better remedy is for the police to do their job and remove the squatter upon a complaint from the owner. There really is no such thing as “adverse possession paperwork” that would allow you to hold property against the owner other than a final judgment from a court.

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Judges Aren’t the Lone Ranger

Some clients naively assume that judges are appointed to protect them and have broad powers to do whatever they feel is “fair” and “just.”  Of course, what is “fair” and “just” in the eyes of the client is whatever relief they feel they need.  However, it is not the role of the judge to dispense some sort of rough justice according to what they deem is fair.  They are as constrained by the law as anyone else. This is where we get the saying, “We are a nation of laws and not of men.”

It is not unusual for a judge to feel badly as she executes her duties, but a good judge does her duty as she believes the law requires.  The judge is concerned with the law and not necessarily with the negative consequences of the application of the law to a particular individual. A judge cannot save you from a bad bargain and is expressly prohibited from rewriting a contract for the parties even if it unfair to one of them.  The judge can only grant those remedies that are allowed by law in a particular case. There are usually other judges above them in the hierarchy who will reverse their decisions if they believe they overstepped their bounds or misapplied the law.  Judges hate to be reversed.

I thought about this today because a client expressed the vain hope that the judge would rewrite his agreement to grant more favorable terms to him.  The judge could not possibly do this.  I also came across a sad case involving a Milwaukee man who was losing his $240,000.00 home due to a $2,600.00 zoning code violation.  He had illegally parked a vehicle with expired tags in the driveway of the home.  Unfortunately, the gentleman had numerous personal and mental issues and the situation just snowballed.  I got the feeling the judge felt bad about it when he found out, but as he said,

The city was entitled to a judgment,” [Judge Richard] Sankovitz told Public Investigator on Thursday. “There hadn’t been an answer to the complaint.

The moral of this story?  You’ve got to look out for yourself first.  Don’t count on a judge to save you later.  He may not be able to do so.  Judges aren’t the Lone Ranger riding the prairie in search of wrongs to right.  They’re people constrained by the law just like everyone else.

The Rule of Law

 

Today I’m going to take a break from writing tips to climb on my soapbox. I have an apparently self-loathing lawyer friend who likes to complain that we lawyers are carbuncles on the face of humanity I like to point out to him that one of the founding principles of America is that we “are a government of laws and not of men.” That is, we are all governed by the rule of law. It is the rule of law that has made America the richest nation on earth and the last remaining superpower. Lawyers have always played a significant role in American society. It is nothing new. America has grown in wealth because of this and not in spite of this.

 

We have laws that create stable capital markets. Intellectual property law protects innovators and creators allowing them to profit from their creations. Businesses, credit card companies, and banks can all extend credit because of the rule of law. Minority shareholders can invest knowing that their rights are protected. Foreign investors can buy real property, bonds, and shares secure in the knowledge that some arbitrary and capricious decree will not deprive them of their property. Americans can buy homes and other property knowing that their property rights are protected by the rule of law. In short, it is the rule of law that makes the American economy function.

 

I was reminded of this while reading Thomas L. Friedman’s book “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century.” He has a section where he talks about the sclerotic regulatory and legal systems of other countries where a bankruptcy can take ten years or a routine collection matter can take “27 procedures” and “more than 550 days.” Small business owners cannot get credit because of inefficient courts and poor mechanisms for enforcing debts. The adoption of efficient regulatory and legal systems is one of the major differences between emerging economic powers like China and India and the also rans like Egypt, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.

 

Mexico is located on the same continent as the U.S. and has relatively abundant resources, including oil. Yet, according to Mr. Freidman, Mexico imports statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe from China. Mexico has a large supply of cheap labor and yet it languishes in poverty while China races ahead. A Mexican citizen can buy a condominium anywhere in America and know that his investment is respected and protected, but an American cannot do the same in Mexico. China’s economic reforms have created enough comfort for foreign citizens to invest there and do business with China. This is one of the key differences between the countries. These differences are due in part to the rule of law.

 

Is there room for reform? Sure. Things can always be made better. Procedures, especially for smaller matters, could be streamlined. Could we use fewer lawyers and more engineers? Absolutely. But the next time you sit in your own home and bash lawyers, remember that it is a well established system of laws that allowed you to borrow the purchase price of your home, record the deed, and protect it against all others.

 

 

Copyright Notice: All Rights Reserved Harry Thomas Hackney, P.A. 2007