Help! Bought vacant lot, but there’s no trespassin signs on it

22 Replies

Hi!

I'm a new investor and bought a vacant lot as a quit claim deed from a bank. The bank hadn't paid taxes on the lot for the past 8 years. So, I paid the taxes and the bank gave me a quit claim deed.

When I went to see the lot, there is a fence around it and no trespassing signs on the fence. The neighbors, who are renting from the owner of the adjacent lot, believe that are renting the lot next to them (my lot) and use it (my lot) for storage. I'm not sure how to find the owners contact information but I did find the adjacent owners home address on property appraiser.

Any ideas on how I should proceed With this? Should I go to owners home? Send a letter? Sue? Sheriff? No idea... and I don’t want to be aggressive. I just want my lot lol. 

@Alexis Monroe  If the neighbours are renting the lot, tell them you've bought it and they need to move their stuff.  Then tell them when they need to have it moved by.  They should have contact info for the previous owner as someone was getting the rent money.  If it is the owner of the adjacent lot that is renting it to them (ie collecting money for renting land that isn't theirs), then talk to the owner and he can sort it out with the tenants.  He never had the right to collect money on something that he doesn't own.

@Theresa Harris Okay thanks! That makes sense. The renters may be using it unauthorized. Or the owner could be collecting more rent from them unauthorized to use the land. 

Do you think I should bring a sheriff with me to the renters home? And the owners home since I don’t have contact info for the owner. 

I really could see that conversation being ugly so just trying to go about as smooth as possible

what state is this in? Fences and NTS can ripen into adverse possession after a statutory period of time. There isn't enough info here for me to advise, but you need to find out how long the possessor has had the lot under claim, how the bank acquired title, is there a survey, is everyone clear where the vacant property lies, etc. You need more information to untangle this mess.

Clint

Originally posted by @Clint Shelley :

what state is this in? Fences and NTS can ripen into adverse possession after a statutory period of time. There isn't enough info here for me to advise, but you need to find out how long the possessor has had the lot under claim, how the bank acquired title, is there a survey, is everyone clear where the vacant property lies, etc. You need more information to untangle this mess.

Clint

normally one of the test for adverse possession is to pay the back tax's  so if the OP paid the tax's not sure they could perfect a adverse claim

but seems to me one would need to survey it unless its very obvious based on houses on 3 sides etc.

this can be a mess.

OP why did you buy a vacant lot and did U not inspect it first   just curious.

 

Originally posted by @Alexis Monroe :

@Theresa Harris Okay thanks! That makes sense. The renters may be using it unauthorized. Or the owner could be collecting more rent from them unauthorized to use the land. 

Do you think I should bring a sheriff with me to the renters home? And the owners home since I don’t have contact info for the owner. 

I really could see that conversation being ugly so just trying to go about as smooth as possible

 I definitely wouldn't go alone.  Do you have a big friend you can take with you but you do the talking?  If you haven't talked to them yet and are just assuming that they are using the lot; play dumb.  Introduce yourself as the new owner of the lot next door and tell them about your plans and bet that they will be happy to have a nice new house next to them.

What's your intentions for the lot? Planning to flip it? Build on it? or maybe rent it to the people who are using it now?

There is no need to find the previous owner....You are the owner now.  Just deal with the people who are Supposedly renting Your lot, do with them whatever You want.

@Jay Hinrichs yes Survey sounds good. I bought it without inspecting it because when I ran the comps on the lot, it just made sense for what I purchased it for. The bank clearly owned it since 2005. I ran a title search and there weren’t any recorded adverse possessors so it just made sense to purchase. 

@Alexis Monroe It's your lot.....take down the signs, take out the fence or not, it's all yours now, do whatever you like. BTW, the previous owner hasn't even owned for five years. I've bought a few properties at foreclosure auction, it never crossed my mind to track down the previous to see what I could do with My house.

@Alexis Monroe - You have 4 parties apparently claiming past or present control of this lot (yourself, previous owner, adjacent lot owner and current renters).  I agree that the previous owner is out of the picture due to your purchase.  Now you have to untangle what is going on with the other 2 parties.

It seems that you have only received information from the party supposedly renting the lot for storage.  I would contact the party said to be collecting the rent.  You said you have this party's address so write a concise letter introducing yourself as the property owner and asking for clarification of the situation that enables them to rent out the lot.  Send the letter registered mail, return receipt requested.

While waiting for a response talk to the "renters" again and try to get details about the amount of rent paid and any agreement (written or oral) pertaining to their tenancy on your lot.  No need to be adversarial at this point - you just want information.

Once the situation is clear to you, brainstorm to devise a solution. Perhaps the rent collector would be interested in purchasing your interest to preserve his rental flow; perhaps the "renters" themselves could purchase the lot to keep their storage space.

Seems to me there are a number of mutually beneficial outcomes if you are careful not to proactively burn any bridges

@Wayne Brooks and @Theresa Harris have the general approach that I would take as well -assert your ownership.  Of course, be as pleasant in tone and approach as you know how to be, yet equally firm in declaring the property to be yours, and rent paid to someone else creates no obligation on you.  Then and take down the signs or post your own and rearrange the fence to suit your needs.

If this property is in Florida, then @Jay Hinrichs is correct that an adverse possessor needs either a claim on title or to have paid the property taxes.  

https://statelaws.findlaw.com/florida-law/florida-adverse-possession-laws.html
"In Florida, the requirements for adverse possession include the following: (1) the person claiming adverse possession must possess the land openly, notoriously, and in a visible manner such that it is in conflict with the owner’s right to the property; (2) this person must either have some sort of title on which to base claim of title or the person must have paid property taxes on the land claimed to be adversely possessed; and (3) this person must possess the land continuously and exclusively for a period of at least seven years [2]. Florida’s law on adverse possession has certain elements built in that protect property owners and allow property owners to respond to adverse possessors claims through several legal maneuvers. For example, a prospective adverse possessor may be transformed into a trespasser if asked to leave the property by its rightful owner [2]. Thus, the law makes a clear delineation between owner and adverse possessor where the term “owner” refers to the original legal owner of a property rather than the adverse possessor of a property.

Under Florida laws governing adverse possession, where an individual or occupier defies an order to leave the property as personally communicated by the owner of the property, or if the trespasser does anything to cause destruction to the property, that trespasser is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree [Florida Statutes section 810.09] [2]. Additionally, in establishing adverse possession, where one who becomes a trespasser is armed with a firearm or other dangerous weapon during the trespass, that person is guilty of a felony in the third degree under Florida Statutes. Thus, while adverse possession is often passionately viewed by real estate owners as an unreasonable and unfair process for others to make hostile claims of ownership, there are remedies to secure property owners’ interests and rights."

I will bet that the bank put up the signs and fence up and the neighbors are just parking their crap there. Tell them you just bought it and they need to move their stuff.

You legally own it. I'd just go act like the owner. Send a certified letter to the "renters" telling them how much rent will be and where they can send you money along with a month to month lease for your "storage area" for them to sign if they want to continue renting until the lot sells; make sure you have the right to show the property any time and tell them how long they have to sign and pay or move the stuff. Might as well make a few extra bucks while you wait for a buyer.

Originally posted by @Alexis Monroe :

Hi!

I’m a new investor and bought a vacant lot as a quit claim deed from a bank. The bank hadn’t paid taxes on the lot for the past 8 years. So, I paid the taxes and the bank gave me a quit claim deed. 

When I went to see the lot, there is a fence around it and no trespassing signs on the fence. The neighbors, who are renting from the owner of the adjacent lot, believe that are renting the lot next to them (my lot) and use it (my lot) for storage. I’m not sure how to find the owners contact information but I did find the adjacent owners home address on property appraiser.

Any ideas on how I should proceed With this? Should I go to owners home? Send a letter? Sue? Sheriff? No idea... and I don’t want to be aggressive. I just want my lot lol. 

Adverse possession. It's a thing. Before you worry too much about being rude or aggressive, maybe consider how other parties are currently treating you. Do you thank people after they slap you in the face too?

Id like to tell you my own story of a close call that could have been significant (not all cases are significant to value). This is the property I live at.

So I buy a house on Lookout Drive. There is a small development of houses, built in a later era than mine, built above my street on the plateau above mine (the highest "lookout"). At first glance, it appears more appropriate to have named their street Lookout and mine something else, as those houses are all on the highest ground. However as it turns out, I happen to own the highest elevation of the entire "lookout", except that it is buried in trees and shrubs and a steep cliff impedes humans from accessing the plateau (my house is at the bottom of the cliff). I didn't realize all this until later, I simply purchased a decent house on a decent lot and didn't think any more of it at the time.

So I move in and of course begin to explore my property, searching for the lot lines, like any new owner would (most would have done it before buying). Everything is old and buried and then there is the cliff and vegetation, making it impossible to verify the back lines without some serious work on the front end. So I carve a hole (literally) through the vegetation and up the only part of the cliff a human could climb. I get to the top and find my back neighbor who has a really nice and perfectly landscaped yard on the other side of my wilderness. The shape of my parcel is a trapezoid, so it is very difficult to figure out the lot lines, but it does appear my neighbor is over the line, but how much I can't tell. I also find a trail from his property to mine, in a place there ought to be no misunderstanding, where he has been dumping trash. I also find he has made a habit of throwing his tree, shrub and grass clippings over the cliff. I find one property marker stake, but not the other, and even if I did find the second, the problem is again the vegetation, which is so thick that I couldn't see through it in the winter (he didn't clear the forest along his entire lot line, just on one side). So I'm stumped, and I decide to introduce myself and see what he has to say about it, expecting him to not be aware himself, and apologetic if it turned out he was encroaching, and we might have beers and laughs after that right?

Instead, my neighbor was instantly adverse. He was not friendly whatsoever, and acted annoyed I would even approach him on the subject, as if I was being the bad guy (how dare I!?!). So I pushed on with the awkward conversation, stating I was unsure of the lot lines, but from my initial impression, thought he might be over the line. So he goes on to tell me that he knows exactly where the lines are, and admits to the encroachment. Then he has the audacity to say, "I thought it was just a wasteland, and what are you going to use it for anyways...?"!!!! He then gives me a rough point of where he believes the line is, I ask him to remove the trash and retreat his encroachment (landscaping) and that was the end of that conversation (while my cat is rubbing all over his legs - lol). He promptly removes the trash, and retreats his landscaping a bit.

So the next year I go up there again to do some more work on the plateau. Turns out I have a nice chunk of level ground at the top, spanning the entire length of the cliff line, and I own the highest "lookout" in the entire subdivision. You can see over a massive valley from there, and it is quite the view. I can certainly understand how my neighbor wanted to cut down my forest for the view. During this season, I find the property marker I had found the previous year had been pulled up and was laying on the ground!?!? What the? Also, my best efforts to identify the lines suggested the property line was much different that what my neighbor had roughly pointed out and retreated his landscaping to. So, time to pony up some $ and get a survey right? Only problem with that is the property is so over-grown you can't sight the lines in winter, forget about summer. So, I wait another season. Two years have gone by at this point.

So I go up at the end of winter to find my neighbor has redone their landscaping, including planting numerous trees, half of them clearly beyond his line (the line he himself defined to me). I also found the stake that had been pulled up and laid on the ground had been put back in...hmm... So, I hire a surveyor at the referral of my other neighbor, who shares a marker with me and our adverse back neighbor. Turns out that surveyor was the one who actually set the controversial stake in the first place and sure enough, it was put back 2 feet in my encroaching neighbors favor. So, the surveyor sets a new marker, leaves the tampered marker in place, and then writes a survey up that shows both markers, noting on the survey that one marker appears to have been tampered with, and submits that for public record (YES!). He finds the other marker from the original plotting and finally, I know where the lines are. So I go to town and start cutting a hole along the lot line so it can be sighted. I had the surveyor place a few stakes along the line too, and then strung a line along the entire thing. I put up orange cones too, along with the red flags, and the string line went right through all their stuff. So then the wife comes out and starts asking me what I'm doing, like I'm trespassing or something. So I explain to her I just had a GPS survey done, accurate down to the 1/4 inch, this is the line, their NEW landscaping is STILL over the line and I further don't appreciate the dumping of vacuum cleaner crap (with glass in it) or garden clippings on my property (which they were still dumping over the cliff). Instead of being embarrassed and apologizing, she had the audacity to mention the other neighbor who is encroaching on their property with a dog fence (the neighbor who referred the surveyor), and said they are ok with that because that neighbor is "nice" (as if I am not a nice person and as if that has any relevance towards an argument for them taking over my property), and then asks me to remove the cones and red flags as they are not attractive. Unbelievable. I just looked at her in astonishment, pondering if there was any way I could sue them for the cost of the survey and walked away, right after I sat in front of her and took about 1000 pictures. I decided those two were made for each other. They then promptly retreated their landscaping beds, but left the trees planted on my side, along with a couple of large decorative boulders. I started pulling out the tree stumps they threw over the cliff over the years and placed them on top of the decorative boulders. I placed rocks along the line. I removed the cones and string line, but left the flags the surveyor placed. They removed the stumps from the tops of the rocks (well, they are unattractive of course, not going to let a little trespassing get in the way of that right?) and bent over the flags, but left the rocks and flags in place. That's where we stand today. I am going to have an attorney send them a certified letter stating they must remove their trees and any other property or it will be considered abandoned, just to button up the whole mess once and for all. 

I am a property appraiser and am aware of adverse possession. This is why I was savvy enough to make a stink about it. Turns out, they had been occupying my property for 16 years and after just 4 more, could have made a claim of adverse possession. In my case, it would have made my property less valuable and theirs more valuable, due to the view. Because of the way they acted, I have a feeling they knew exactly what they were doing (or maybe they really are that variety of a-hole, like the people who think they have exclusive rights to the common arm rest on an airplane). I consider it a close call. They are also lucky I did not install a fence, paint it rainbow colors, and add no trespassing and no dumping signs every four feet for added measure...but you know...I'm not a nice guy remember? 

That was a long story I know, but you need to take control of your property immediately with zero reservations or worries if you are being aggressive or rude - it is the other parties who are being rude to you - you need to put that into perspective.

In the adverse possession cases I have been involved with in court (Alabama), who pays the taxes matters very little in the light of other evidence. Every time this fact was brought up, the judges didn't bat an eye. It was merely a footnote. Now sure, you can always find a case where it matters more. This is usually when there is no other parole testimony or evidence of title. Tax payments are merely evidence of ownership, not proof of ownership. Alabama has a 10 and a 20 year statutory period for AP, with 20 being the best test for AP and prescription. Adverse possession is an attack on land and title. It is defeated by objective notice followed by removal before the statutory time period, or by the failure of the attacker to meet all of the conditions needed to ripen into title. If I was the OP, I would do the following: 1. Ask the adjoiner who owns the parcel. Then you show them your evidence of title, and see how they react. To adverse possess, they have to knowingly fence off and take the land of others. So there is the AP defeated. You then may have to worry about acquiescence. 2. After you hear their answer, send them a Notice of Ejectment (specified number of days to remove materials/signs/property) through your atty. Take good notes to recall any conversations you have with anyone 3. Get an attorney. 4. This will tell how serious your problem is. IF the conditions for AP have occurred, then your previous owner(s) has lost the property, the adjoiner would just need to petition the court to codify this fact in the record. AP transfer is an unwritten conveyance until the judge slams the gavel. Then it's in the record. You may or may not have a mess. Sometimes, they will just remove the fence and go away, especially if it's a small lot, or they don't have any money. You could offer to rent/sell to them or they can remove their stuff.


I would not remove their materials. From your perspective, their fence/signs/personal property are trespassing, but you could be found liable for damage from removal. If your car breaks down in my parking lot, I can't just get rid of the thing. Wait to see how it plays out first. I haven't touched on the fact that the bank may have lost the property by non-payment of taxes, or the previous owner may have sold the lot to the adjoiner on an unrecorded note, or any other ways it went sideways. Your deed may have as much validity as a QC deed to the local Walmart. Hard to say.

I have been in at least 25 AP cases. Of those, 5 cases where the title holder lost more than 10 acres to AP. One was 36 acres. I have a client that I will be in court with next month, whose land and title is "under attack". There was no fencing up at the time of the survey (2 years ago). So we will see.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes.

Clint

Thank you all for your stories and input!

I ended up sending a no trespassing letter, placing a “for sale” sign in the lot and the renters gave me the adjacent owners phone number.

I spoke with him and he apologized for thinking my lot was his and that he would immediately move his things. Turns out, when he bought it 8 years ago, he thought he was buying my lot as well. Goes to say why surveys are so important!! But I’m happy I’m finally able to have my lot without any issues!

So do you really believe the neighbor thought they were buying the next door lot too? That sounds far fetched. Glad you got it sorted out.

Originally posted by @Alexis Monroe :

Hi!

I’m a new investor and bought a vacant lot as a quit claim deed from a bank. The bank hadn’t paid taxes on the lot for the past 8 years. So, I paid the taxes and the bank gave me a quit claim deed. 

When I went to see the lot, there is a fence around it and no trespassing signs on the fence. The neighbors, who are renting from the owner of the adjacent lot, believe that are renting the lot next to them (my lot) and use it (my lot) for storage. I’m not sure how to find the owners contact information but I did find the adjacent owners home address on property appraiser.

Any ideas on how I should proceed With this? Should I go to owners home? Send a letter? Sue? Sheriff? No idea... and I don’t want to be aggressive. I just want my lot lol. 

You're going to need to file an eviction on them as you would with any other tenant.

 

Originally posted by @Alexis Monroe :

Thank you all for your stories and input!

I ended up sending a no trespassing letter, placing a “for sale” sign in the lot and the renters gave me the adjacent owners phone number.

I spoke with him and he apologized for thinking my lot was his and that he would immediately move his things. Turns out, when he bought it 8 years ago, he thought he was buying my lot as well. Goes to say why surveys are so important!! But I’m happy I’m finally able to have my lot without any issues!

I'm glad it is all sorted out.