Property Rights by Squatting: Land Ownership Risk and Adverse Possession Statutes

Matthew Baker, Thomas Miceli, C. F. Sirmans and Geoffrey K. Turnbull


A fundamental aspect of private property is the right to exclude trespassers or squatters. Nonetheless, in all 50 states a trespasser can acquire ownership by continuously occupying a parcel of land until the statutorily set period of limitations runs out. Although these adverse possession statutes appear to weaken property rights, this paper explains how such limits are valuable to property owners by balancing the risk of claims from past legitimate owners against the cost of expelling future trespassers or squatters. The empirical analysis using data from 46 states provides evidence that is consistent with the theory. (JEL K11, Q15)