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If there is a rent or eviction moratorium in place for an extended period in a particular jurisdiction, so that tenants are not paying rent, can they eventually acquire adverse possession?

By "a rent or eviction moratorium" is intended a situation where landlords are prohibited from carrying out evictions for non-payment of rent, and possibly for some other reasons as well.

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  • Yep, I thought that was the case. I suppose a related question would be whether a tenant could claim what some call "squatters rights"
    – Rock Ape
    Aug 2 at 22:20
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    A "rent moratorium" is when the government pays your rent for you as a matter of policy. What's gone on for the last year is an eviction moratorium. Anyone who got "clever" and decided that means they can get away with not paying rent and therefore it's a rent moratorium... haha, that person is in for a very rude surprise. Aug 3 at 6:23
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    @Rock Ape "squatters rights" is just an informal name for adverse possession Aug 3 at 13:23
  • @David Siegel Hmm, I'm considering answering my related question myself and have found this: The property must not be in use or already occupied for squatters to begin an adverse possession claim, although I've not read the detail.
    – Rock Ape
    Aug 3 at 13:30
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    @Rock ape I think there are some errors on that page, I would try to find a 2nd source before using it. Aug 3 at 13:34
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No

A tenant cannot acquire adverse possession. As describe in the LII Article on "Adverse Possesion", one of the requirements for establishing adverse possession is that possession must be:

Hostile--In this context, "hostile" does not mean "unfriendly." Rather, it means that the possession infringes on the rights of the true owner. If the true owner consents or gives license to the adverse possessor's use of the property, possession is not hostile and it is not really adverse possession. Renters cannot be adverse possessors of the rented property, regardless of how long they possess it.

(My emphasis)

This is the classic common law rule. The Justia article on the topic says:

The occupation must be hostile and adverse to the interests of the true owner. If a landowner has given a person permission to use the property, the possession is not considered hostile. However, a landowner is not required to have actual knowledge of the occupation, so long as the occupation is adverse to the owner's property interests. For example, a landowner may be unaware that his neighbor's fence extends several feet over his property line. The occupation is sufficiently hostile, however, because the landowner has not given his neighbor permission to encroach upon his property in this manner.

The Nolo article on this topic says:

Adverse Possession Requires a Hostile Claim

The word "hostile" doesn't mean that the trespasser rides in on a horse with six-shooters blazing. Instead, courts follow one of three legal definitions of "hostile" when it comes to adverse possession.

  • Simple occupation. This rule (followed by most states today) defines "hostile" as the mere occupation of the land. The trespasser doesn't have to know that the land belongs to someone else.

  • Awareness of trespassing. This rule requires that the trespasser be cognizant that his or her use of the property amounts to trespassing (meaning the trespasser has no legal right to be on the property).

  • Good faith mistake. A few states follow this rule, which requires the trespasser to have made an innocent good faith mistake in occupying the property in the first place, such as by relying on an invalid or incorrect deed.

The Wikipedia article says:

In general, a property owner has the right to recover possession of their property from unauthorised possessors through legal action such as ejectment. However, in the English common law tradition, courts have long ruled that when someone occupies a piece of property without permission and the property's owner does not exercise their right to recover their property for a significant period of time, not only is the original owner prevented from exercising their right to exclude, but an entirely new title to the property "springs up" in the adverse possessor. In effect, the adverse possessor becomes the property's new owner.

....

Although the elements of an adverse possession action are different in every jurisdiction, a person claiming adverse possession is usually required to prove non-permissive use of the property that is actual, open and notorious, exclusive, adverse and continuous for the statutory period

....

Renters, hunters or others who enter the land with permission are not taking possession that is hostile to the title owner's rights.

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    Are they still really a renter when they're not paying rent, but their eviction has been forbidden by the government?
    – nick012000
    Aug 3 at 6:54
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    @nick012000 they still have a tenancy agreement, regardless of the fact that they may have breached it. Just because no action can be taken against them at the moment doesnt make that tenancy agreement void.
    – Moo
    Aug 3 at 9:34
  • @nick012000 Whether or not they are paying rent, they continue to owe more and more rent. That debt is an asset for the property owner. So far from being adverse, the tenant's occupation of the property benefits the property owner. Aug 3 at 17:23
  • It's really just a fine example of "people already thought of this & no, you can't pull a fast one on the system like this."
    – Tiger Guy
    Aug 3 at 23:28
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Adverse possession occurs when you occupy property exclusively (not shared) continuously for an extended period of time (e.g. 30 years).

Rent moratorium: NO.

The mechanism is simple: your rent is being paid for you by the government or whoever organized the rent moratorium, or your rent is being statutorially set to $0.

That means your occupancy is consensual and agreed, and due rent is being paid (even if $0), and it qualifies as normal rental activity. This resets the clock on adverse possession.

Eviction moratorium: No, because of that

What's happening right now in most jurisdictions is eviction moratoriums. That means You still owe your rent, however the landlord's right to resolve disputes by evicting people has been suspended because that would drive people into homelessness and shelters, and those are a hotbed of COVID-19. (that rationale is fading fast, since sheltering-in-place no longer has the importance it once did.)

Once, a criminal decided that since lemon juice makes invisible ink, rubbing lemon juice will make you invisible to security cameras. While being stuffed into the back of the police car, the crook exclaimed "But I used the juice!"

Similarly, a few people have decided that suspending evictions means they don't have to pay rent. That's going to turn into a complete disaster for them, but it is certainly a hostile, overt act, which controls the property exclusively, and the landlord knows it. So does "not paying rent" count toward adverse possession?

No. Adverse possession only works if you never had permission to be there, so it is excluded to tenants, even tenants who are late on rent. This means you must first end your tenancy by vacating the premises. Which certainly could happen during an eviction moratorium, simply by moving out.

And then, the tenant would have to somehow re-occupy the property, so they become squatters. And then, the landlord would have to release control of the property to the point where they were no longer paying property taxes or doing maintenance.

That's quite a long chain of events, and you would need a particular situation for it to work.

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  • The lack of an “n” in your last paragraph sort of completely reverses its meaning…
    – Moo
    Aug 3 at 9:38
  • Can you quote sources to supposrt the distinction between "Rent moratorium" and "Eviction moratorium" that you are making here, or to support your statement that "not paying rent" counts toward adverse possession under the latter, and tha special; action by "courts or legislatures" might be needed to avoid adverse possession if the moratorium lasts? Aug 3 at 13:30
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    @David Siegel I think this answer is using “rent moratorium” to mean that rent is stopped (you don’t need to pay rent), vs “eviction moratorium” which would stop evictions, but you still owe rent. This is an important distinction, because many people don’t understand that if they don’t pay rent for 6 months, that they owe their landlord a debt for 6 months of rent. As a practical matter, this probably means that as soon as the moratorium is lifted, there will be many people who are evicted because they are unable to pay the rent that they thought they didn’t owe.
    – Patrick M
    Aug 3 at 15:42
  • It’s not answering the literal question, but if the question isn’t hypothetical, this is important information for the person who is asking it.
    – Patrick M
    Aug 3 at 15:44
  • @DavidSiegel see edit. Aug 3 at 16:19

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