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How to "Steal" Off the Grid Land in Ontario

Okay so let us pretend that you live in Toronto or Kitchener or wherever and you dream of leaving your current life and living off the grid somewhere - and eventually owning the land you are living on.

There are two routes.

Option A. Buy the land you are intending to live on, preferably someplace relatively remote so that is there no electricity or water/sewage and you have to rely on getting your own electricity and water (and managing your own sewage).

Option B. Squat on someone else's land, usually without them knowing you are living there. Basically you would be a homeless squatter, but there are laws concerning this and squatters do actually have rights which would allow you to eventually legally claim ownership of a chunk of land (without paying for it).

To accomplish this "theft of land" there are a number of hoops you need to jump through...

For the Squatter...

#1. You need to build a permanent building structure on the property, preferably still following some kind of standard for safe building methods (otherwise your property could be condemned for being unsafe).

This means you cannot be just parking a trailer home on the property, as that can be easily moved. You should aim to build something with a foundation - possibly even a basement.

The more things you build on the property - such as digging a well, a garage, laneway, walking paths, garden, decorative garden, whatever - further establishes your claim to the property. With each new build, you should document the date(s) they were built for record keeping purposes. You could do this with a Property Log Book and/or photographs / videos, and even record everything on a website online if you wished to.

#2. You need to build a fence around the edge of your property, or a fence bordering the property you will be severing your new property from.

The fence could be wood, barb wire, chain link - whatever works. It could even be mortared stone or a mix of materials.

Lets pretend you built your property in a chunk of forest at the back of some farmland - and, to keep a low profile, you chose farmland that doesn't have any houses or structures on it. You would then build the fence between the farmland itself at the edge of the forest. Possibly with a style of fence that would blend in with the forest itself and not be noticeable. eg. A barbwire fence could work quite well.

Note - The fence issue is a concern for regular property owners as well. Lets say you live in a town and your neighbour builds a fence on your property. If you don't protest the location of the fence, you can up losing that section of your property. You need to be certain the fence is built on their side of the property line, because if it infringes on your property then they can claim ownership of anything the fence touches.

#3. Document the building of the building / fence with photographs and video, so that you have proof that you built any structures and the fence - preferably with the date you built the fence on the video somehow (like the newspaper from the day) so you can prove when you built it also. Every time you build something you should document it. Using videos uploaded to a YouTube Channel would be excellent proof as each video has a date as to when it was uploaded.

Note - With respect to the newspaper you could make the claim you have been living there much longer, you just need a newspaper from years earlier that is in brand new condition. Many other records could then in theory be fraudulent using the wrong year and similar false info, however there is problems with attempting to do this - all it takes is one witness who knows you lived somewhere else during the fake time period to prove that you faked everything. One private investigator and one person from your past who hates you and your whole claim can be made to seem bogus. So the newspaper approach is tricky. You need to document everything perfectly, and as much as possible to establish a timeline of how long you were living there - and casting any doubt on the timeline could be problematic.

#4. Keep all of this a secret from the original property owner - it is possible you can still end up owning the property if someone discovers what you are doing and realizes you could end up invoking Squatters Rights, but you stand a much better chance if the property owner doesn't realize what you are doing until it is too late.

Note - To keep the structures a secret you could even camouflage them so that people passing by wouldn't necessarily notice there is a structure built there. You could also build underground, disguise the building as a hill by building up dirt on the outer walls, or even build a treehouse-like structure - because sometimes people forget to look up (in which case maybe don't make it so brightly lit like the treehouse on the right).

#5. Wait ten years and live on the property - and document living on the property - for the duration of those ten years. After ten years are done you can apply to legally own the property.

It is possible to do this sooner, but ideally it is easiest if 10 years has passed, you have been living on the property and jumped through all the hoops, and the original owner was completely unaware what you were planning until it was too late.

#6. You should read up and become an expert on Canadian and Ontario real estate laws - because this will be handy later for making sure you jumped through every hoop successfully. You will want to pay special attention to anything related to Squatters Rights (aka Adverse Possession).

In Ontario for example the law states you must have "open, notorious and continuous" possession of a section of the true owner's land for at least 10 uninterrupted years. This suggests that the owner is aware that you live there, and all your neighbours are aware you live there too. However there are ways around this:
  • The property is owned by a foreigner who rarely visits the property and might not be aware you are on their property. (Although it would be funny if you sent them xmas cards or penpal letters every year pretending to be their "neighbour", thus establishing that they know about you. Even better if they send xmas cards or penpal letters back, which you keep as evidence.)
  • The property is owned by a farmer who only uses the farmable section of the property and is either aware or not aware you are squatting there, and doesn't care enough to protest your presence.
  • A common method is to live on a property owned by a relative or friend for more than 10 years and they are aware you are living on their property and not charging you any rent.
#7. The property you are squatting on must not be registered as a Land Title. This is really important because Adverse Possession (aka Squatters Rights) is not permitted if the property has a land title attached to it. You need to own the title. eg. All properties in the Greater Toronto Area are registered as titles under the Land Title Act, so squatting on any property in Toronto or the broader region of the GTA would be useless.

Since the advent of the Land Titles Act many properties in Ontario have been converted to titles and are now protected from Adverse Possession. It is possible to still claim ownership of title land, but one would then have to prove that they were living on the property for 10 years BEFORE it was converted to a title.

In this way Squatters Rights is effectively a dying law in Ontario. So if you want to take advantage of it, you need to use it NOW before any land you attempt to squat on becomes title land.

Meanwhile the Property Owner...

#1. The property owner should immediately dismantle the fence as soon as they discover it and demand that you leave their property. They should also document that they did this and get a lawyer who specializes in real estate law. They cannot legally force you off their property however, as you do still have rights and should invoke them by claiming you now own the property behind the fence (and immediately repair any fence which is destroyed by the original owner).

#2. They should quickly start charging you rent for the property - however there is a trick to this, the moment you start paying the rent this means that you admit that the property is theirs and that you are just a renter. Do not fall for this trick. Refuse to pay the rent they are demanding and respond that you own the property - you want this to be solved in court, because you will be able to prove you lived on the property and built a fence on the property. The property owner will want to insist that you either pay rent or leave, but you need to keep squatting regardless of their legal threats.

#3. The property owner should sue the squatter for back rent - and to have them removed the property. The amount of money they are asking for doesn't really matter. They could be asking for $100 per month for X number of years, it doesn't matter. Their goal should be to get you to pay for it, which in turn proves that you admit that the property is legally theirs. However just because someone sues you for money doesn't mean you have to pay it. You can use delaying tactics when it comes to payment, and you should keep delaying until you can establish your squatters rights.

#4. Property owners should check the status of their property on a regular basis - not just to check for squatters, but also to check for anything potentially dangerous that could be a liability. Not doing this for 10 years means that they have essentially abandoned a section of their property and don't care about it.

#5. The Legal Expenses Battle - the property owner and you are both going to be incurring legal expenses during this ongoing battle and this becomes a battle of financial endurance. If you can establish you have been living on the property for 10 or more years your legal claim is much better and it will cost less, but if you haven't been on the property for very long it could end up being a very costly legal battle. Your goal has to be to make the legal battle short and cheap, and to outlast the property owner's willpower and financial wherewithal to continue the fight - and to make it past the 10 year mark as that will make everything easier. Thus you need to fight this battle until you get past the 10 year mark, at which point you will have won the battle.

Safety Note

It is known to happen that property owners might attempt to (and sometimes succeed) in murdering the person who was squatting on their property. Such a brazen theft could raise their anger to a point that your life could be in danger. You should establish safety protocols and take actions to ensure you don't deliberate provoke the original property owner to violent action.

More commonly it would be vandalism that is the result, but violence is known to happen. Vandalism of your property would actually help your case, especially if you have hidden security cameras documenting them committing a crime. The original owner can try to claim that they were destroying something on their own land, but legally they were still destroying your property so it still counts as vandalism.

Final Note

Going through this whole process is time consuming and could end up costing more money than you intended. It would arguably be easier, simpler, less time consuming and less of an headache to just buy a small parcel of off the grid land which has no water/electricity. Such properties can be found in northern Ontario for as little as $5000. Depending on the size of the property and their closeness to a major town or city they will end up costing more, but still likely in the $10,000 to $50,000 range - which makes them pretty affordable.

One thing to do is to buy a $5000 property, build something on it that a fellow off-gridder would like to live in (like a cabin with solar panels) and then sell the property for $10,000 or $20,000, etc. Then take that money and buy another empty plot of land and build something better than the first property, improving your skills, designs and methods along the way.

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