Real property holdings are often the most valuable asset someone owns. Whether an individual invests in parcels of unimproved land to profit off of its future value or buys residential real estate to live in, that property may constitute a significant portion of the owner’s personal wealth.
People in Georgia often spend three decades paying off their mortgages. They invest in maintaining and upgrading properties and pay taxes. Unfortunately, sometimes other people also find one’s property desirable and might try to lay claim to the property in a less-traditional manner.
Squatting or adverse possession involves someone living at a property without permission from the actual owner. Can someone who is illegally occupying a property try to become its owner in Georgia?
Georgia recognizes adverse possession claims
The bad news for Georgia property owners is that those who take unofficial possession of the property might eventually try to claim legal ownership of it. Adverse possession claims require civil court proceedings, and those proceedings might result in the courts declaring the squatter the new owner of the property.
Fortunately, the requirements for adverse possession claims are relatively difficult for people to meet. Specifically, the law generally requires that they maintain regular, uninterrupted possession of the property for 20 years. They need to live at the property and openly use it without anyone evicting them or living on the property while the squatter isn’t there. For example, someone breaking into a cabin that people use as a summer house during the winter months would not be able to claim adverse possession because they stay there for a few months each year when the owner does not occupy the property.
How can people defend against adverse possession claims?
The simplest way to prevent the loss of real property through adverse possession proceedings is to regularly inspect real property holdings. Even vacant land could be subject to adverse possession claims by those living there illegally or encroaching on the boundary from a neighboring parcel.
Property owners who regularly inspect their holdings can quickly uncover signs of unauthorized possession and address the issue. If the adverse possession claim actually goes to court, people may need to gather proof that the plaintiff attempting to claim possession of the property does not meet all of the statutory requirements for an adverse possession claim.
There is a lot to potentially lose when someone else tries to secure ownership of vacant land or residential property in Georgia. As such, learning more about the law and acting to protect personal investments with the assistance of an attorney may benefit those with real property holdings.