Do Squatters Have Rights in Vancouver?

Will this be how you finally own property in this city?

November 13, 2018

By Stacey McLachlan / Photo: Byron Eggenschwiler

As you probably assumed from my classy-ass tone, offshore billionaires are the primary demographic for this column (“Write what you know!” they said). So, dear readers, I know you’ve all experienced this age-old problem: you’ve got a cozy little 35-bedroom investment property in Shaughnessy but no one around to dust the chandeliers! And there are a lot of them (one for each bedroom and also one above the toilet, because you’re not a rube).

The thing is, here in Vancouver, we have a lot of people who would be really happy to live inside your multimillion-dollar cobweb-filled mansion instead of, say, outside—but there’s always that looming fear: what if they get too cozy and invoke Squatter’s Rights? 

Squatter’s Rights: it’s a phrase we’re all familiar with, not just because “squat” is fun to say but because it’s a law that brings playground-level concepts like “finders keepers” and “losers weepers” into the harsh light of a courtroom. In some parts of the world, it takes less time to acquire property via squatting than it does to get a Saturday-night reservation at Savio Volpe—in California, a house can be yours in just five years. But here in B.C., it’s almost impossible for someone to squat their way up the property ladder, even though that does sound like a great Vancouver-specific glute exercise (CrossFit gyms, take note). According to section 28 of the British Columbia Limitations Act, someone can only acquire land rights by “adverse possession” if they settled in before July 1, 1975. And even if they have been there since then, they’ll need to prove they occupied the land for 20 to 60 years prior to that, continuously and exclusively in an “open, notorious and continuous manner” (e.g. yelling, “Ooh, look at meeee! I live in a houuuuse!” each morning for their neighbours to hear, exactly like a confident, normal homeowner does).

It’s almost impossible for someone to squat their way up the property ladder, even though that does sound like a great Vancouver-specific glute exercise (CrossFit gyms, take note).

Of course, the fact that squatting is an unlikely path to property ownership hasn’t stopped people from trying, many in the name of housing activism, like the iconic three-month squat at Woodward’s in 2002 that led to the incorporation of social housing into the redevelopment, or the less-iconic 24-hour Grandview Squat in 2016 that led to…nothing.  But to scoop up property from under the nose of us Rich Uncle Pennybags types, any potential claims would’ve had to be initiated between 1915 and 1955—so if the threat of squatting is causing you to lose sleep in your caviar-stuffed bed, please stop reading now and go check your basement for libertarian 102-year-olds who have just been waiting to pounce.

Got a question for City Informer? stacey.mclachlan@vanmag.com

(Illustration: Byron Eggenschwiler)

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