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  1. #1
    TheHolyCity is offline Junior Member
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    Question Legality of moving into a vacant/unoccupied house

    I live in Charleston, South Carolina. My girlfriend and I are currently looking for an affordable place to rent in a specific neighborhood we really like. Yesterday (11/18/08), while driving around looking for "For Rent" signs and calling about the places we found, we came upon a really nice place that was obviously vacant (no blinds on the windows, empty inside).

    The really odd thing about this place was the fact that, despite being in a neighborhood where all the houses and lawns are extremely well kept, the lawn looked as if it hadn't been mowed in a year. The grass was literally 2 ft. high or more, filled with weeds, and brown. This place obviously stood out from the houses around it, and we noticed a small orange sign or sticker of some kind on the door, so we pulled in the driveway and got out to check the place out, simply out of curiosity.

    The sticker on the door said something to the effect of: this property has been inspected and found to be vacant. Our best guess was that the neighbors had probably called about the lawn being unkempt and the house being empty for so long, which eventually elicited a visit by the inspection agency who left the sticker concluding, yes, the place was in fact vacant. The sticker was over 2 months old, dated 9/4/08.

    Our curiosity now sparked even more by this mysterious house, we decided to peek in the windows. The place was indeed completely empty inside AND absolutely beautiful! I mean, this place had gorgeous hardwoods, granite countertops, nice paint, the works! We tried the front door and, to our surprise, found it unlocked!

    So now the question I must ask, regardless of how absurd it seems, is this:
    What would happen if we simply moved in to this place? I mean, what if we called and had the power and water turned on in our name, mowed the lawn, changed the locks, and just moved right in? Would this be illegal? I've heard of "squatting" and heard that in certain situations it doesn't constitute trespassing or breaking and entering. Is this one of those situations? I mean, there is obviously no one living in the place, the height of the grass indicates no one has lived there since at least before the summer, there are no "No Trespassing" signs, and the door is unlocked.

    I have no intention of "stealing" the house or any desire to do so, but it seems silly to let such a beautiful house just sit there, unoccupied and going to waste while we, a clean and responsible (albeit poor and somewhat desperate) couple, could be enjoying and taking care of the place.. I mean, if the owner showed up it would obviously be extremely embarrassing for us, but we would certainly move right out and give the house back..

    Does anyone out there know the legality of doing something like this? It seems sketchy, I know, but there's a certain logic to it too.. Wouldn't it be better for the house, the property, and the overall vibe of the neighborhood for the place to be lived in and taken care of?
  2. #2
    OldandTired is offline Member
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    Just the mere entering the house could have landed you in cuffs and in the back seat of a patrol car. It is unlawful, whether the door is unlocked or not, to enter property that you have no legal rights to.

    If you were to foolishly decide to just, "move in", your next address will be that of the county jail.

    If you wish to occupy the residence, go to the county tax office, with the address of the residence, and learn who the owner is. Contact the owner and attempt to make a deal on the house.

    It's a lot easier than having to eat jail food.
  3. #3
    TheHolyCity is offline Junior Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by OldandTired View Post
    If you were to foolishly decide to just, "move in", your next address will be that of the county jail.
    This is, of course, the natural first supposition. However, as I said before, it is my understanding that there are situations where "squatting" does not constitute trespassing or breaking and entering. To be more precise, there are ways a "squatter" can prevent being arrested as a trespasser by appearing as a tenant.

    For example, just doing some minimal searching on the web I found the following information:

    "Squatting is a pretty simple concept. It's setting up camp on a parcel of land or moving into an abandoned or unused dwelling... Squatters who take over land or dwellings have the law to contend with... But there are plenty of legal loopholes that squatters can take advantage of..." [[url]http://people.howstuffworks.com/squatting.htm][/url]

    "The key to squatting successfully lies in the tenant's rights. States grant rights to people who live in a home but do not own it. This protects tenants from being kicked out without notice from a landlord. In most states, tenant rights are extended to anyone living in a home for period of time -- usually 30 days. Squatters exploit these rights to stay in a home as long as possible. By setting up housekeeping, like making repairs, adding some curtains, and settling into the home in a generally respectable manner, the appearance of tenants' rights can be established." [[url]http://people.howstuffworks.com/squatting1.htm][/url]

    "Getting tenants' rights as a squatter is difficult but it's not impossible, and early on what's most important is at least acquiring the appearance of tenants' rights, since the most basic aspect of a tenant is that she is someone the police won't arrest as a trespasser... Creating the appearance of a tenancy is based first on the fact that police are not supposed to arrest you as a trespasser unless they are acting on the complaint of the property owner. More importantly, police training in a trespassing situation instructs them to first determine if the person may be a tenant... If the burden is shifted back to the owner, that means the police will tell him it's a "civil matter" and must be addressed in court (i.e., through a formal eviction)... If you have a place looking like your home and have some mail and utility bills, you're likely to be successful in a face off with the police, even if the owner is there as well... In most cases, though, the first complaint will actually come from a neighbor who's suspicious. In such a case, having documentation is doubly valuable. But also gently remind the police that they need some type of complaint from the owner to evict you as a trespasser." [[url]http://www.sftu.org/squat.html][/url]

    Based on this information, it seems that if I were to FIRST turn on the utilities in my name and have the initial bills and some other mail sent to the house, THEN begin to move in in the traditional manner (openly, during the day, with a moving truck and boxes, etc.) It would be against protocol and highly unlikely that the police would arrest me as a trespasser. Thus, I could theoretically continue to live in the house unfettered until the owner finally did show up, at which point he or she would have to proceed with a formal eviction. However, if this happened, as I said before, I would, humbly and with much embarrassment, simply move out and relinquish the property.
    Last edited by TheHolyCity; 11-19-2008 at 08:44 PM.
  4. #4
    OldandTired is offline Member
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    This doesn't even dignify a response. You seem to have all of the answers. Be sure to come back and let us know how all of this went for ya.
  5. #5
    nextwife is offline Senior Member
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    How do you know it hasn't recently been sold, and they just haven't moved in yet? Is being foreclosed or already foreclosed? Part of an estate that is being probated and someone will show up any day? Bought to be razed and a different home to be built there? A house across the street and three doors down from me was recently sold for almost a MILLION dollars and promptly bulldozed.

    The absence of an occupant by no means gives you the right to move in!
  6. #6
    >Charlotte< is offline Senior Member
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    First of all, there's this:

    ARTICLE 7. SUMMARY EJECTMENT OF TRESPASSERS
    SECTION 15-67-610. Duty of magistrate in case of trespass. [SC ST SEC 15-67-610]

    If any person shall have gone into or shall hereafter go into possession of any lands or tenements of another without his consent or without warrant of law, the owner of the land so trespassed upon may apply to any magistrate to serve a notice on such trespasser to quit the premises, and if, after the expiration of five days from the personal service of such notice, such trespasser refuses or neglects to quit then such magistrate shall issue his warrant to any sheriff or constable requiring him forthwith to eject such trespasser, using such force as may be necessary.


    On a more practical note, from the time you move in to the time the police throw you out what if you accidentally cause some kind of damage? What if the reason nobody lives there is because it needs to be rewired, and when you turn the power on there's an electrical fire? What if there's a plumbing problem and you cause water damage? Even worse, if there's a rotten spot somewhere on the floor and you fall through it and break your leg, are you going to come back here asking how you can sue the owner?

    Finally, if this is house is located downtown anywhere south of Calhoun Street you have to be out of your mind to think you're just going to move in and, when the owner shows up, get away with a simple "Ooops, sorry, we'll leave."

    Seriously. It's a dumb idea. Don't.
  7. #7
    swrdmbo is offline Member
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    In our area the gas and electric companies require proof of a lease before they will begin service.

    Are you going to falsify that as well??

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