How to Claim Squatter's Rights to Stop Paying Your Rent

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By Jacob Harper
VICE
July 21, 2016

One of the best subplots of HBO's Silicon Valley this season was exploring how broke people manage to find housing in one of America's most expensive cities. The answer, as it turns out, is squatting: In one episode, an Airbnb guest declines to move out of an expensive condo; later, a tenant simply decides to stop paying rent, announcing that he can stay there for one year before being forcibly evicted.

While those plots are obviously fictional, there are plenty of broke Americans who are struggling to pay their rent every month. Which raises the question: How long, and under what circumstances, can someone live on a property, rent-free, without penalty of the law?

The most basic form of rent-free living is squatting, or occupying an abandoned home or building. Rules vary from state to state, but for the most part, the law is on the side of squatters. Let's say you move into an abandoned house in California, for example. If you discover who the owner is, you can offer to maintain the property in return for a free place to stay. If you can't locate the owner, you can stake a claim to the property and stay there until the owner asks you to leave. Rules vary from state to state, but in California, if you pay the property taxes on an abandoned property for five years, the property becomes yours free and clear.

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