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In this photo taken July 20, 2010, show a hillside covered with homes in Happy Valley, Oregon. (AP). In this photo taken July 20, 2010, show a hillside covered with homes in Happy Valley, Oregon. (AP).

In this photo taken July 20, 2010, show a hillside covered with homes in Happy Valley, Oregon. (AP).

Maria Briceño
By Maria Briceño April 5, 2024

Social media influencer claims a law lets people invade abandoned houses. Is that true?

If Your Time is short

  • There’s no federal law that lets people inhabit an abandoned house. 

  • States have varying adverse possession laws.

  • In many states, to claim possession, a person must live in the property for a set amount of years, submit documentation and pay property taxes.

  • How does PolitiFact decide our ratings? Learn more here.

On TikTok and Instagram, viral videos show a man telling people that there’s a legal way for them to invade an abandoned house.

"I found out that there is a law that says that if a house is not inhabited we can expropriate it," the influencer Leonel Moreno, who goes by "Leito Oficial" says in Spanish on a March 16 Instagram video.

Moreno is a Venezuelan migrant who came to the U.S. in 2022. His 2023  videos telling people how to "take advantage of the U.S. system" went viral.

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson told PolitiFact that Moreno was placed into an Alternatives to Detention program after he arrived in the U.S. That program required him to report to an Enforcement and Removal Operations Office within 60 days of his U.S. arrival. Because he didn’t report to the office, immigration officers arrested Moreno on March 29 in Gahanna, Ohio. He is  detained pending further immigration proceedings, the ICE spokesperson said on April 4. 

In the Instagram video, Moreno said taking over houses will help people avoid living on the streets or burdening the public. He added that a law says people can take an abandoned deteriorated house, repair and live in it, and eventually be able to sell it.

The conservative X account Libs of TikTok, which has about 3 million followers, reposted the video with the caption: "Holy smokes. Tiktoker is advising illegals on how to take over Americans’ homes via progressive squatters’ rights laws. This tiktoker boasts that his friends already took over 7 homes. Unreal."

Other Instagram users with thousands of followers also shared the video

These posts were flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

No federal law allows seizure of abandoned houses, squatter rights vary by state

There is no U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development authority that lets a person take over an uninhabited house, a department spokesperson told PolitiFact. Experts also told us that there’s no federal law that lets people take over abandoned houses.

But Moreno appears to be referring to adverse possession laws, commonly called squatters’ rights.

All 50 states have adverse possession laws. Each state has its own rules on how property owners can remove squatters, and how squatters can take possession of a property.

These laws apply when a person has illegally occupied a space for a specific amount of time; in some states that’s seven years, in others up to 20 years.

A squatter can be someone who stops paying rent or who enters a property and occupies it without lawful documentation or permission to be there. However, former tenants cannot apply for adverse possession because they were initially in the property with the owner’s permission.

Some states, such as Georgia, Illinois and Wisconsin, require showing "good faith" to take adverse possession. In other words, the people claiming the property must demonstrate that they had basis to believe that they own the property, even if they were mistaken. 

Typically, to obtain adverse possession, people must have lived in a house for a continuous period and have occupied the property without permission. It  must also be obvious to the owner that the occupants are in there. 

Squatters can make a case for an adverse possession claim if they provide evidence that they’ve paid the property’s taxes or utility bills. A difference between a squatter and a trespasser is that a trespasser  breaks into a property to vandalize it or stays there briefly. 

Featured Fact-check

How adverse possession rules vary

PolitiFact examined adverse possession laws in several large states. 

We found that in most states, squatters can be prosecuted for trespassing, usually a misdemeanor. 

Some states have criminalized squatting. On March 27, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law H.B. 621, which lets homeowners ask law enforcement to immediately remove squatters from their property. The law, which takes effect July 1, criminalizes causing $1,000 or more in damage to a property unlawfully occupied, using false documentation to stay in or to list the property and making false written statements to obtain property rights.

Jose Rivas, a criminal defense attorney in Florida, told PolitiFact that the Instagram video misinforms viewers, because in Florida, squatters can be charged with trespassing.

"In the context of the video, the actual owner will have plenty of opportunity to remove an illegal occupant (‘squatter’) before a squatter would be able to take ownership," said Shawn Eaton, operations director at Eaton Realty, a Florida real estate company. 

In Florida, if squatters want to claim a house that isn’t theirs, they can do so after living there seven years (even if they are illegally in the country), but they must pay property taxes and only one person can claim the property, according to World Population Review, an independent organization that publishes and analyzes demographic data.

In New York City, where many newly arrived migrants have settled, people may claim adverse possession regardless of their immigration status. If someone stays without permission in a property for more than 30 days, the owner must provide a written 10-day eviction notice. If a person has occupied the property without permission for fewer than 30 days, a written notice isn’t required.

Someone who came illegally to the U.S., or anyone else, can claim adverse possession in New York, but the person will have to "show clear and convincing evidence, which is a very high standard, that you have exclusively occupied the property for 10 or more years, continuously," said Joshua Price, a New York real estate attorney. 

"You can't, you can't just move into somebody's house and say, ‘I'm here now, adverse possession, I own this house,’ Price said. "It doesn't work like that."

In Texas, it can take at least three years for a squatter to obtain a property title under adverse possession, depending on how long the property has been occupied. People in the country illegally can also use this law to try to take ownership of a property, said Teri A. Walter, a civil trial lawyer in Texas. 

"Citizenship is not an element of adverse possession under any statute, so it doesn't matter," Walter said.

One mistake people often make when they file for adverse possession claims is saying they share the property with someone else, Walter said. In Texas, people cannot claim possession if they allow other trespassers or claimants inside the property, she said.

In California, squatters can claim a property after living in it for five years, making house improvements and paying taxes. The owners have  to know the squatters are there without their consent. In other states, such as Illinois, people must continuously occupy the property for 20 years before claiming legal ownership.

The Instagram video omits these nuances and details and makes it sound as if legally taking over an abandoned house is as straightforward, and easy, as walking into it.

Our ruling

An Instagram post claims that a U.S. law says that "if a house is not inhabited, we can expropriate it."

People can try to move into abandoned houses, but property owners would have an opportunity to remove them before they could file for ownership, experts said. People in these houses could also be charged with trespassing, depending on the state.

Some states’ adverse possession laws pave the way for people to eventually own a house they didn’t buy or legally inherit. But the Instagram post leaves out significant legal context.

We rate this claim Mostly False. 


Our Sources

Instagram post, March 20, 2024

Instagram post, March 20, 2024

Instagram post, march 16, 2024

X post, March 20, 2024

TikTok post, March 16, 2024

AAOA, Squatters’ Rights: A Guide to State Law & How-To Evict, accessed March 21, 2024

World Population Review, Squatters Rights by State 2024, accessed March 21, 2024

Fox News, Venezuelan migrant brags about living off taxpayers, urges followers to 'unite' behind Times Square shooter, March 25, 2024

Email interview with Teri A. Walter, a board certified, civil trial lawyer in Texas, March 21, 2024

Email interview with Shawn Eaton, the director of operations of Eaton Realty, March 21, 2024

Online Sunshine, The 2023 Florida Statutes (including Special Session C), accessed March 21, 2024

Email interview with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development spokesperson, March 21, 2024

Phone interview with Josh C Price, a New York real estate attorney, March 25, 2024

Phone interview with Jose Rivas, a criminal defense attorney in Florida, March 25, 2024

Email interview with an ICE spokesperson, April 4, 2024

Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. New York Real Estate Attorneys, Analyzing Adverse Possession Laws and Cases of the States East of the Mississippi River, accessed april 4, 2024

Factchequeado, Necesita contexto el video de "Leito Oficial" donde dice que en Estados Unidos se puede "invadir casas abandonadas", April 2, 2024

Cornell Law School, Adverse possession, accessed April 4, 2024

Nolos, Phrogging or Squatting a Crime?, accessed April 4, 2024

The Florida Senate, CS/CS/HB 621: Property Rights, accessed April 2, 2024

ICE, Alternatives to Detention, accessed April 5, 2024

Condominium Associates, How to Prevent Squatters from Taking Over Your HOA, March 16, 2023 2023

Innago, Illinois Squatter’s Rights, December 16, 2023

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