(NewsNation) — A man was able to access a Louisiana couple’s empty property, change the locks and have the utilities put in his name.
Although he was arrested when he tried to list the home for sale, the man returned after his release, according to multiple news reports.
Real estate attorney Pierre Debbas joined NewsNation to answer questions about how common the scenario is and how homeowners can protect themselves.
Could he get away with it?
The short answer is “not a chance,” Debbas said.
He said the only way to prove ownership of a home is through a deed that would be recorded with the city or county where the property is located.
A squatter could hypothetically argue for rights of use and occupancy, depending on local laws, but “there’s no way a squatter can go ahead and turn around and try to sell a property claiming it’s theirs,” Debbas said.
How was he able to get this far?
According to Debbas, the charade likely involved a series of fraudulent documents.
“The whole point of title insurance is to hedge against issues like this,” he said. “So if that gentleman were to sell this property in a manner that they’re not permitted to do so, the title insurance company would have to confirm who the rightful owner is before they insure any buyer’s acquisition of this property.”
A “rather unorthodox concept,” Debbas added that so-called squatter’s rights could grant occupancy rights to someone staying at an unoccupied property for more than 30 days.
“It really is a bizarre concept if you think about it, but I’m imagining this person is just conducting a series of fraudulent documents,” he said.
What happens if someone claims squatter’s rights?
If a squatter does attain occupancy rights, the homeowner would need to seek an eviction order, which could take four to six months in New York, Debbas said.
“That means the law enables a squatter to almost be able to occupy a property for six to seven months and unlawfully occupy it, which I think is something that is an extreme flaw in the law in most states of the country,” he said.
How common is it?
According to Debbas, this case is entertaining but uncommon.
He said some laws in some areas allow ownership after occupying a vacant property for 10 years.
“That’s something that we don’t see in modern-day. It’s a law that was written hundreds of years ago when society wasn’t as developed as it is today, but it, generally speaking, is not something that’s common whatsoever,” Debbas said.
NewsNation digital reporter Katie Smith contributed to this report.