Many have heard of squatter’s rights, the concept that if you live in an empty structure, eventually that structure becomes yours. Based on these rights, squatters in some countries may break into a condemned or abandoned building, based on their extended day, may eventually be permitted to live there.
Adverse possession laws in Georgia are sometimes referred to as squatter’s rights, however they are more legitimized. In this article, we will discuss adverse possible in Georgia and how these laws can be applied to different scenarios.
History of adverse possession in Georgia
The beginnings of adverse possession law in Georgia has its roots in the early frontier days of America when pioneers and settlers would happen upon a piece of land, build on it, make a home, and eventually stake a legal claim to property ownership.
The premise of these laws is that land should not be left to depreciate untended when there are people who would happily possess that land and improve it. Since land and/or buildings left to decay and fall to ruin is bad for communities that surround it, the law encourages squatter’s rights for those who move on to the otherwise idle land and make it productive. These laws also have historical ties to the imprecise nature in which land was bought and sold throughout North America and Europe during the first few centuries of colonialism. During this time, people were under the belief that once they settled on a piece of land, they legitimately owned the land, so they established themselves and their families on it, lived unhindered for years, and then eventually were entitled to legally own the land.
Georgia adverse possession laws
Adverse possession laws in Georgia do not make it easy for someone to simply sneak onto an abandoned home and gain ownership. Georgia state law requires that the person who is trespassing (i.e. the person who is not the property owner) must:
- Live publicly on a piece of land. This indicates that the public knows that they live there. The individual cannot break in or sneak in and hide on a piece of land for twenty years without anyone knowing and gain possession of the land.
- Live on this piece of land or property on a regular basis. An individual cannot just claim that the land is theirs and then move out of state.
- Be the sole person living on the property, with their family. A group of unrelated individuals cannot claim possession of a piece of land.
- Live on the land for a statutory period of 20 years, or 7 if they have what is called “title of color”.
- Make continual improvements to the property as they would their rightful property.
Georgia adverse possession statute
The statutory period for adverse possession is 20 years or 7 with a “title of color”. Title of color is a legal term which dictates that the statutory period can be cut down to 7 years if the trespasser has legal documentation that supports their ownership of the property. The title of color is specific to situations where an individual’s ownership is called into question despite their belief that they are the property owner. They must then go to the courts and prove that they were on the property in a lawful fashion.
Examples of the documents needed for a lawful claim may include tax payment records to prove that the trespasser in question has been making regular property tax payments for the land or even a deed to the land. In some cases that deed might be faulty or fake, but it is still grounds for the trespasser legitimately believing that they were the rightful owner of the property.
The case of Childs v. Simmons dictated that a person who is claiming possession of a property must have some degree of legal sense of ownership. As outlined above, in order to meet the definition of state law, the trespasser must publicly and regularly make improvements in good faith to this property, the same way they would if they owned the deed to the property.
Moreover, it’s up to the trespasser to prove to state courts that they cultivated or used this land in a very public way. This means that improvements were made and occupations were done in such a way that everyone in the town or the nearby properties knew that the person lived there.
Proving adverse possession laws in Georgia
Why does it matter that the person who is technically squatting draws attention to themselves?
Georgia state code has a legal principle in place that the rightful owner or property owner is given the opportunity to be made aware that someone else has been squatting on a part of their land.
Therefore, it is up to the trespasser, once the 20 years or 7 years has passed, to prove to the court that they own the land. They must prove that they have legal documentation for a Color of Title or that they have made public improvements to the land and lived there regularly by paying property taxes.
The burden of proof for the individual claiming ownership is quite high and the courts will not grant the legal title to the land until such time as the burden of proof has been met.
There are cases where the trespasser has taken over a piece of land and live there for the designated length of time, publicly making improvements and trying to prove adverse possession laws in Georgia, but the legal landowner can counter with claims such as:
- Being the legal landowner but not being of age to live there on their own. This situation occurs when a young child inherits a piece of property and is technically the legal land owner but is unable to move to that property until they turn 18.
- Having mental instability. The legal landowner’s family and attorney would be more adept at proving the property’s owner’s mental state on behalf of the property owner who, regardless of their mental state, is the legal property owner.
- Imprisonment. When a legal property owner is serving time in prison, they are unable to care for their property. However, during that time, they are still the legal land owner.
As the legal land owner, you do have recourse to stop someone from proving that they have a claim to your property.
Recourse to adverse possession in Georgia
If you are a landowner, perhaps with a large property, and you notice that people are very publicly taking up part of your land without your permission, you can put a stop to the adverse possession claim y following these steps:
- First, speak to the trespasser and ask that they refrain from entering your property or trespassing, and they remove any structures from your property. If this was truly a mistake, people are very likely to do as you ask and leave your property.
- If they do not leave, the second legal method is to bring about legal action to evict the trespassers. After proving that you are the legal property owner, you can submit an eviction notice with the help of an attorney. To do so, you will be required to ask a Georgia State Court to issue a document declaring that you are in fact the true owner and that you hold the title to the land, after which you can issue an eviction notice to the trespassers.
Georgia adverse possession laws do not make it possible for squatters to come in like a thief in the night and take over a piece of property. However, these laws are in place for long-term scenarios where someone has lived on a piece of land they believed to be theirs, made improvements to the property, and established themselves for decades in an unchallenged fashion.
Georgia has implemented laws that require property improvements and continuous and public living to give legitimate land owners or property owners the time to come up with legal recourse and counter any adverse possession claim. If you are in either situation as the trespasser or the property owner, consider reaching out to an attorney to learn more about your rights.