This article is written by Nishka Kamath, a graduate of Nalanda Law College, University of Mumbai. This article explains the concept of squatters’ rights in the United States (adverse possession), along with the concept of squatters, a brief history of the concept, the existence of squatters’ rights, and the reason behind their existence. Further, it also talks about the legal requirements of squatters in the US, the circumstances under which a squatter can claim such rights, and the applicability of such rights. Furthermore, an attempt has been made to enlighten readers, especially landowners in the US, on the subject matter of avoiding squatters and the proper procedure and legal remedies to evict a squatter.
It has been published by Rachit Garg.
Just think about this scenario. You are all excited to visit your home that you haven’t visited for a long time, only to be dejected by the fact that someone is already residing there without obtaining any prior consent. To add to your misery, you cannot ask them to empty the place, for they have already gained the legal ownership rights to reside on that very property. This is not an uncommon scene in the United States, and such occurrences take place due to a term called ‘squatter’s rights’ or ‘adverse possession’.
Yes, this is indeed a real thing; however, there is a certain criterion to be qualified as a squatter in the first place, and what sort of rights exactly can a squatter be entitled to? Let us dive deep into squatter’s rights in the USA and everything property owners must know about such rights authorized by the U.S. Government and the nitty-gritty of such rights.
Please note: The terms ‘squatter’ and ‘adverse possession’ are used interchangeably at places, as they carry the same meaning.
Squatters rights in the United States (adverse possession) : an overview
It is not a fact unknown that every American family cares about their family, environment, and property and would always try to keep problems at bay and safeguard the family with weapons or massive all-round security. Despite all such measures, if no one resides on or keeps a check on the property, there are high chances that such properties attract individuals (usually known as squatters), who do not have a place of their own and shift to reside on someone else’s property to live for a long time unless they are evicted lawfully from the said property. Which is why it is crucial that we learn about the basics and the rights of landlords to bar squatters from accessing and scouring such unchecked properties.
To understand this topic better, let us start with the basics. The very first question that would arise after looking at the topic would be, ‘who exactly is a squatter?’ and then you might wonder, ‘what are the rights for such squatters and why are they entitled to have them?’ and so on and so forth. Well, let us have a look at all the fundamentals of squatters and their rights!
Who is a squatter
A squatter is defined as any individual who occupies a piece of property or any land without having the actual legal right to do so. Further, they do not have tenant status and live on such properties without paying any rent, and such properties are not rented directly from the owner (where the law relating to landlord-tenant will come into play). They demand a right to such properties without providing any actual documentation or obtaining any prior permission; however, there are some instances where the squatter is not at all aware of the fact that they have no right to reside in such a residence but is made to believe the opposite because of a fake lease agreement.
Insight: Squatters can not only get possession of a residential area, but also, move into commercial properties, for instance, secluded or abandoned office buildings, schools, restaurants and hotels, hospitals, etc.
Further, the facts of how a person happens to become a squatter may not be the same in all cases; however, some of the most common instances are as follows:
At times, a trespasser can break into an empty house and start living there, rent-free! However, if the trespasser continues to reside there for a longer time, he may be considered a squatter. So, trespassing is not the same as squatting, but trespassers may turn into squatters.
Please note: Usually, the states in the USA consider squatting to be a civic crime and treat it differently from trespassing because trespassers enter the property with the intention of occupying it, as opposed to squatters’ intentions.
Further, there can also be unauthorized tenants who reside on a particular property without obtaining any legal permission or following any procedure to obtain a lease, and they may also deny paying any rent.
Moreover, there are occurrences where an individual may strongly believe that he/she has the right to reside in the property but it may not be so. For example, if an individual is made to sign a fake lease agreement by a fake con agent.
Insight: A squatter is also, at times, referred to as an adverse possessor. This term is generally used in the legal world.
As a layman, one might think it would be a cakewalk to evict a squatter or adverse possessor, especially, when there is no lease agreement signed between the two; however, this is not the case. An adverse possessor or squatter, too, has some rights, and there is a proper procedure to be followed while going through the process of eviction. Moreover, the rightful owner of the property has to take action within a certain time period (discussed below in detail), and if that is not the case, the adverse possession law in that particular state may provide the squatter with the legal title to take possession of the said property. If timely actions are not taken, the landowner may lose his property, and possession may be handed over into the hands of the squatter.
Well, it does sound like an investor’s worst nightmare, but it is a perfect instance of why investors must not completely trust real estate to be a complete passive source of income. Further, investors must always keep timely checks on their vacant properties and ensure no other individual claims to have valid and legal rights over such a property.
Example of a squatter
Let us assume a woman named Louis bought a nice three-bedroom house in Arizona in 2010 as an investment and leased it for two years straight. However, she decided to stop giving it for rent and put it on the market because she faced some financial difficulties. The house sat empty for years. She later discovered a taxi driver, Peter, had occupied the apartment for months. Louis, on hearing about this incident, called the police, narrated the incident, and reported a complaint for trespassing. The police took action on this matter and kicked Peter out of the apartment, thus constituting an illegitimate eviction. After this, Louis called Chris, the locksmith, and got all the locks in the apartment replaced with new ones. However, Peter, being aware of the 3 years period to be declared a squatter in the city, approached the housing court of Arizona, and the judge gave him permission to enter the property in a span of a few days.
Thus, in order to get rid of any squatter, there is a certain procedure to be followed, which is discussed in detail in the upcoming passages.
Insights: A claim of adverse possession by a squatter can be approved by some states if the squatter furnishes some kind of document or even a phony deed, thus claiming he is the righteous owner of the piece of land or property.
History of squatting and squatters’ rights
In the days of the Wild West, there were ranch owners who would chase squatters off their lands; however, there are several changes now, and almost every state in the USA has a law relating to squatters’ rights that has special provisions for squatters, like that a squatter cannot be forcefully evicted from a property; instead, the landowner must follow a proper procedure like reporting the action, filing proper paperwork, and working through legitimate channels to vacate the occupied land.
Further, the idea of squatting dates back as far as medieval England and its common law. The king’s courts would then pass verdicts in favor of people who settled at a property without prior permission, the reason being that the owner did not take any action against such an occupancy within the set time period.
During that period, squatters’ conflict was a usual sight, wherein peasants trying to escape from the burden of taxes on their current residents would shift to another country and build a house there, thus acquiring the land by assumption. This was quite a common practice during that period.
Moreover, in ancient Welsh, the folk tradition stated that if an individual successfully constructed a house within a one-night span, it would belong to them free and clear. Another variation of this belief is that a squatter would need to burn fire in the hearth by morning, where the boundaries of their newly occupied property could be extended by throwing an ax as far as the squatter possibly came from all four corners of the house.
Fortunately, such practices have ceased to exist in the USA, and state legislatures have created a definite set of rules in matters relating to squatting. If an individual obtains possession of a property for a specific time period (as mentioned in the state), he can establish a concrete claim to that property over the real owner, even if the property was occupied illegitimately. Even though it sounds odd, squatting is quite common and a popular tool used by ill-intentioned individuals to acquire abandoned properties.
Homestead laws after 1862
The Homestead Act of 1862 was signed by President Abraham Lincoln with the main object of reallocating the ‘unsettled’ lands in the West. This law was applicable to everyone, US citizens and non-US citizens alike, thus making no distinction between them. The provisions of the Act distinguished it from squatting because, as per the Act, homesteaders were provided with a legitimate method to occupy any ‘unclaimed land’, the continuous period for them to occupy such a land being five years, amongst other requirements. After meeting the requisite conditions and finishing the paperwork “valid claims were granted patent free and clear“.
What are squatters’ rights
Now that we are aware of who a squatter is, you might wonder what sort of rights such an individual would have. So, let us learn about the rights of squatters in brief.
Squatters rights, or adverse possession, can be defined as a set of legalities created when homesteading was popular. The U.S. Government enacted the Homestead Act of 1862 to support colonists who moved onto lands they inferred to be vacant and built their houses, raised their livestock, or grew crops there. This was one of the methods by which such individuals had the opportunity to expand the amount of land under the authority of the U.S. government back then. Further, even though there might be a time and place for such laws to be exercised, such laws continue to remain on the books to date, and the idea to move into an empty house or land and declare it as one’s own still prevails, thus protecting the rights of squatters.
The most important point to note about squatters’ rights is that they can reside on your land until the owner reports any such activity, provided it is reported within a specific time period. Also, the owner might not be aware of the squatters residing in vacant homes for years, but if they are paying taxes (if any) and other requisite fees for the said property, then they do have the legitimate right to stay on the said property.
In simple words, squatter’s rights, also known as adverse possession, give the squatter the right to continue residing on a piece of land or property, provided no action is taken by the landlord or the owner within a specified time period.
Why do squatters rights exist
While reading about what squatters’ rights exactly are, one might wonder why do such rights even exist, especially when the person occupying the property does not have the legal right to own the property. Well, the main object of enacting such a right is to ensure that no piece of land goes to waste and that no landlord uses vigilante justice to acquire possession of the property. If such rights did not exist, any landlord would wake up one fine day and threaten the individuals staying on the land to evict the place, even when the individuals settled in and took care of the property the whole time or for years at a stretch. Squatters’ rights ensure there is ‘justice for all’.
Furthermore, living in the U.S. burns a hole in one’s pocket, so acquiring possessions from abandoned homes and properties can become more pocket friendly. Also, it must be noted that squatters are not necessarily homeless people, they can be law-abiding citizens that have a decent annual income, which enables them to pay taxes and other requisite fees required to sustain or maintain the property.
Additionally, if squatters do not cause any harm to the property or steal from its assets, they cannot be arrested for living on it. If the owner does not rightfully send an eviction notice to such unwanted guests, their right to possess the property will persist.
Please note: Any legislation relating to landlord-tenants will not be applicable to squatters.
Squatters’ have claimed properties since the medieval period. During this period, if a person successfully builds a house in one night, the squatter would gain adverse possession of the property, considering the concept of squatters’ rights. However, this nightmare scenario does not exist now in any part of the USA, and there are policies and legislation to help with issues on such matters.
Such rights protect both squatters and landowners. Further, such rights ensure that no landowner or property owner takes the law into their hands and forcefully evicts a person from a piece of land he/she has been residing on for a while. Had these rights not existed, landlords could justify the maltreatment of tenants, and vigilante justice would spill into other parts of society.
Relation between a squatter and property owner
The relations between a squatter and landowners are different from the relations between a tenant and a landowner/owner. While renting a house, apartment, or property requires documentation, for instance, a basic lease agreement or a contract that helps in settling any landlord-tenant dispute, squatters act on their own and may at times also show that they have the relevant legal documents that “confirm” their legal right to reside there; however, such documents do not actually ensure such laws are in their favor.
Nonetheless, a squatter’s home cannot be vacated without an official notice of eviction. Moreover, the owner cannot file a lawsuit against the squatter or use force or violence against the squatter, either. The biggest parody here is that the squatter can file a lawsuit against the owner if violence is used against him or an official eviction notice isn’t sent; additionally, the court may consider the owner’s statements about protecting the property as invalid.
Squatting v. trespassing
Oftentimes, trespassing and squatting are used interchangeably, however, there are a few key differences amongst these terms that one must know. Let us read about such distinctions.
Trespassing is regarded as a criminal offense, and the trespasser can be arrested if he trespasses on land. Whereas squatting is regarded as a civil matter, and the squatters can be arrested if they-
- Never paid any utility bills,
- Ignoring the eviction notices sent by the landlord,
- Caused a nuisance.
The major difference between trespassing and squatting is that, in legal terms, a trespasser enters a property to gain access, so they break in, whereas, usually, a squatter uses an unlocked door, an open sliding glass door, or an already broken window to enter the premises/property.
Tabular representation of squatting v. trespassing
|Meaning||Squatting takes place when a person gains access to property belonging to another person for a long period of time and may claim it as his own over that period.||Trespassing takes place when a person illegally gains access to another person’s property or land for a brief period of time.|
|Terms referred to||The act of squatting can be said to have been committed by ‘squatters’.||The act of trespassing can be said to have been committed by a ‘trespasser’.|
|Intention||A squatter does not have any intention of leaving the property.||A trespasser does not have any intention of residing on the property and leaves after a brief period of time.|
|Ownership||Squatters establish residency for claiming the title of ownership.||Trespassers do not claim the title of ownership.|
|Eviction||The eviction process is similar to that of a tenant.||The eviction can be done through self-help remedies or court orders.|
|Nature of offense||The nature of the offense of squatting attracts a civil remedy/suit.||The nature of the offense of squatting attracts a criminal remedy/suit.|
Legal requirements of squatters in the United States
While it usually begins with trespassing, squatters can demand ownership of the property after residing there for a specified period of time, as required by each state in the USA. Squatting laws term this act as ‘adverse possession’. Additionally, a squatter can claim the right to get possession of a property if he can show actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile,
and continuous use of the property. Let us take a look at each term in detail. Continuous use
To declare a property their own, squatters must have continuous possession of the land or property. The squatter has to occupy the house for a longer, uninterrupted period; the duration differs from state to state as all the states in the USA have different legislation relating to squatting. A point must be noted that if an individual visits a property occasionally, that would not be considered continuous possession. So, continuous use does not literally mean the continuous usage of a property, but no third party, including the actual owner of the property, has interrupted the claimant’s right to possess the property. The same was mentioned in the case of Ray v. Beacon Hudson Mountain. Corp., 88 N.Y.2d 154 (1996).
Further, in the case of Lewes Trust Co. v. Grindle, 170 A.2d 280, 282 (Del. 1961), it was stated that there is no definition of the term “constant” or “continuation” per se, but the continuous use criterion is fulfilled when the claimant (the squatter) is not stopped or interrupted at any time while using the property. In the case of Gunby v. Quinn, 142 A. 910, 913 (Md. 1928), continuous use was awarded for seasonal usage of a land where a hunter was able to claim marshland as adverse possession. In Northrop v. Opperman, No. 2009 AP 1559, a similar approach was followed where two neighbors thought a property line was different for nearly a hundred years; however, after a new property line was discovered, the Court stated that the property was used without any interruptions throughout the statutory period and thus adverse possession had successfully occurred.
Further, in Steller v. David, 257 A.2d 391 (Del. Super. Ct. 1969), the defendant filed a lawsuit in the Delaware Superior Court claiming adverse possession over a marshland that the defendants had seasonally hunted, trapped, sharecropped, and paid taxes on an annual basis for over a period of forty years. The Court stated that using the land for the purposes of hunting, trapping, and farming was uninterrupted and thus sufficient for continuous use. Then, in yet another case, Apperson v. White, 950 So. 2d 1113, 2005 CA 1516 (Miss. Ct. App. 2007), it was found that the adverse possessors’ actions of constructing a fence, growing crops, and continuously harvesting timber for over a period of forty years satisfied the continuous use element.
The occupation of the property has to be hostile to the owner’s rights. The term ‘hostile’ here does not necessarily mean belligerent or aggressive, rather, it implies the occupation being without the approval of the owner or against the rights an owner of the property generally has. There are times when an owner has no idea about his property being invaded, but it needs to be totally against the owner’s rights; only then will it be considered hostile possession.
In the case of Kimball v. Anderson, 125 Ohio St. 241, 181 N.E. 17 (Ohio, 1932), a lawsuit was filed where a party claimed adverse possession over a driveway between two portions of land. The pernicious party originally possessed both pieces of land; however, he sold one part of the land to the defendant, but there was no explicit mention of the use of a driveway. The party claimed that the usage of the driveway was not hostile as the previous owner did not raise any objection to such usage. Nonetheless, the Supreme Court of Ohio had a dissenting opinion and held that any usage of land that is not consistent with the rights of the true owner is termed hostile and that even though there was no hostility when the previous owner owned the property, once it was sold and was against the rights of the owner, it can be regarded as adverse possession. Simply put, even though the previous owner had no issues with the usage of the driveway, once the property was sold and the act was carried out and the owner had objections to the act, the use would obviously be deemed to be against the rights of the true owner.
In yet another case, Stellar v. David (mentioned above), the plaintiff began to set traps on the land, but the defendant would always have them removed. Here, the Court stated that the defendant’s act of paying taxes and removing the plaintiffs’ traps was that of ownership adverse to the true owner.
Further, it must be noted that hostile use is defined in either of the following three ways, depending on the state where the piece of land is situated:
- Bad faith,
- Good faith,
Let’s have a look at each of the factors briefly.
Here, it must be expressed that the individual claiming adverse possession was completely aware of the fact that he was not the righteous owner of the property and was operating in bad faith. For those states in the USA that have a bad faith requirement, say, South Carolina, it must be proved that the property was operated in bad faith when it comes to claiming adverse possession. This decision was inferred in the case of Jones v. Leagan, 384 S.C. 1, 681 S.E.2d 6 (S.C. Ct. App. 2009).
Good faith means the individual or squatter claiming adverse possession truly believed that he owned the property and that the property was not possessed, believing it was owned by someone else. As per N.Y. Real Prop. Acts. § 501, the claimant has to necessarily provide proof that he had a justifiable reason to believe he was the owner of the property. Further, in the case of Wilcox v. Estate of Hines, 849 N.W.2d 280, 2014 WI 60, 355 Wis. 2d 1 (Wis. 2014), the Supreme Court of Wisconsin held that if at any time it is discovered that the claimant was aware that the property he claimed to be his own was not his per se, the property would be returned to the righteous owner.
Most of the states in the USA have an ‘objective‘ view of hostile use, meaning the claimant has no good or bad faith reason to claim adverse possession. The Michigan Court of Appeals in the case of Gorte v. Trans Dep’t, 202 Mich. App. 161, 507 N.W.2d 797 (Mich. Ct. App. 1993) said that courts in objective states do not want the legislation to award the thieves while penalizing the individual who erred by mistake. Further, in the case of MacDonough-Webster Lodge No. 26 v. Wells, 175 Vt. 382, 2003 Vt. 70, 834 A.2d 25 (Vt. 2003), the Supreme Court of Vermont held that the claimant must act as if they owned the land even if they were actively aware of the fact that the ownership of the land belonged to them.
An instance of an objective use could be that of Kimball v. Anderson (mentioned above), where the property owner in Ohio sold two houses to different owners. For some reason, one of the houses had a driveway that was actually located on land belonging to the neighbors. Now, considering that the driveway was used for several years by the previous owners, adverse possession was claimed. Here, the claimant proved objective and hostile use through the statutory period.
Open and notorious use
In Appalachian Reg. Healthcare v. Royal Crown, 824 S.W.2d 878 (Ky. 1992), open and notorious use was defined as a use so apparent or obvious that it puts the real owner of the property on notice of the adverse claim. Moreover, in the case of Grace v. Koch, 81 Ohio St. 3d 577 (Ohio 1998), the Supreme Court of Ohio held that in order to constitute use, the possessor “must unfurl his flag on the land, and keep it flying so that the owner may see, if he will, that an enemy has invaded his dominions and planted his standard of conquest.” Moreover, in the case of Ottavia v. Savarese, 338 Mass. 330, 155 N.E.2d 432 (Mass. 1959), that use must be such that a vigilant owner would be aware that their land is occupied and that the owner has a just opportunity to take measures to absolve his rights through legal actions.
Further, in the case of Kaufman v. Giesken Enter., Case Number 12-02-04 (Ohio Ct. App. Mar. 7, 2003), the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, Putnam County, found that using land for the purpose of recreation, planting and pruning trees, cultivating asparagus, parking cars, piling debris and other activities that kept the property attractive as per the standards of the neighborhood was a justifiable reason to put a reasonable person on notice of possessor’s claim. Additionally, in Apperson v. White (discussed above), the Court of Appeals of Mississippi stated that constructing a fence and planting corn on a piece of land were clear and visible indicators of occupation that should have put a generally vigilant person on notice of said occupation.
In Bride v. Robwood Lodge, 713 A.2d 109 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1998), the Superior Court of Pennsylvania defined actual use as “having dominion over the property”, meaning a person must use a piece of land in the same way as another person would. Moreover, the Court of Appeals of Wisconsin in the case of Steuck Living Trust v. Easley, 325 Wis. 2d 455, 2010 WI App. 74, 785 N.W.2d 631 (Wis. Ct. App. 2010) stated that utilizing any property for the purpose of hunting or storage, for instance, will not constitute a residential area. Further, in Striefel v. C-K-L Partnership, 733 A.2d 984, 1999 Me. 111 (Me. 1999), the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine said that it is not necessary that every case be in black and white and that there are other factors like whether a claimant actually owned and utilized the land in question that will rely on several things, including:
- The nature and location of the property,
- The potential use of the property, and
- The kind and degree of use and enjoyment to be expected of the average owner of such property.
Lastly, in the case of Phillips v. Akers, 103 S.W.3d 705 (Ky. Ct. App. 2003), the Court of Appeals of Kentucky held that the ownership of a property must be “substantial and not sporadic”, i.e., the property must be the claimant’s main residence during the actual possession period.
The term exclusive use is defined in Crown Credit Co. v. Bushman, 170 Ohio App. 3d 807, 2007 Ohio 1230 (Ohio Ct. App. 2007), by the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Third District, as “exclusive of the true owner entering onto the land and asserting his right to possession,” and by the Court of Appeals of Maryland in the case of Blanch v. Collison, 174 Md. 427, 199 A. 466 (Md. 1938) as acting and using the land in a manner that one would expect a rightful owner would. Further, in Marvel, et al. v. Barley Mill Road Homes, Inc., 34 Del. Ch. 417, 104 A.2d 908 (Del. Ch. 1954), the Court of Chancery of Delaware, New Castle, stated that if the property has a stream, well, or other natural resources that are used by any other individual(s), then such a use does not constitute exclusive use. Exclusive use additionally means “the possessor is not sharing the disputed property with the true owner or public at large,” as held in the case of Striefel v. C-K-L Partnership, 733 A.2d 984, 1999 Me. 111 (Me. 1999).
When can a squatter claim his rights
An individual can claim his squatters’ rights if he/she has openly taken residence on one’s property without obtaining prior permission but still has paid the necessary taxes and other fees required to maintain the property. All this will increase the chances of the squatter being declared the owner of the property. However, it must be noted that such rights are not applicable to those individuals who have rented and refused to leave or pay money after the lease is terminated.
Moreover, squatters’ rights do not discriminate if the property was obtained on purpose or accidentally. For instance, if no objection was taken within the specified time limit when a neighbor constructed a fence and infringed over the property line of another, then the neighbor can claim the property for himself. One of the most notable aspects of squatters’ rights is that they must be given the right to go through the process of eviction; without this, the court may dismiss the lawsuit or the case, declaring that the proper procedure was not followed in ousting the squatter.
When and where are squatters rights applicable
A point must be noted that adverse possession is a legal phrase that permits ownership of a property to one person without actually paying an actual price for the land, if:
- The land is personal, not commercial;
- The person(s) live on the land exclusively;
- The person(s) stayed on the land for the duration as defined under that particular state of the USA; and that
- The rightful owner does not interrupt, try to vacate, or remove the person(s) within the stipulated time period.
Further, it must be taken into consideration that the USA standards make no distinction between intentional and accidental possession. Also, squatters’ rights are not governed by general tendency standards. For instance, say, your neighbor, Ms. Meg Griffin unintentionally constructs a fence around the backyard, however, that portion of land actually belongs to you, and you do not object to it because you are not very certain of the actual boundaries. So, later, after surpassing the state-specific period, Ms. Griffin can actually become a law-abiding tenant and gain possession of what could have been a part of your property.
How to claim squatters rights
A person may claim his right as a squatter if he/she is a roommate, tenant, or occupies property that has been abandoned for a long time or is not used. It must be noted that a squatter has the right to a property until they don’t, or at least until the owner finds out about this activity. Mentioned below are some of the most common rights a squatter in the United States has:
Roommates or family members
Say a squatter is a roommate or is living with his family, in that case, a legal notice to evict the squatter must be sent as per the state landlord-tenant laws. Such a notice most commonly requires that the landlord send a 30-day lease termination letter and that if the person still remains on the property, a suit for formal eviction be filed.
Let us understand the point through an example. In this scenario, say there is a tenant, Glenn Quagmire, and a landowner, Cleveland. Now, Glenn Quagmire decides to hold onto the lease on the property. In such an instance, the landowner, Cleveland, can send him a notice to pay or quit, which usually ranges from 3 to 10 days. Once the notice to quit period has come to an end and Glenn Quagmire is still on the premises, Cleveland may start the process of eviction.
If an Airbnb tenant has overstayed their vacation, the owner can remove them without filing a suit or approaching the court. Additionally, if the tenant has stayed less than 28 days on the land, the landlord should bring this to the attention of Airbnb immediately for help. If even this procedure does not work, then the guest can be treated like a transient, instead of a tenant and can be evicted following the local laws; usually, this process involves calling the police to assist in watching them leave the premises.
How to avoid squatters
A landowner must always ensure a squatter does not take residence in his house or property, and if it has happened, he must ensure the same incident does not occur again, which can only be done by securing the property. Squatting laws by state allow landowners to vacate squatters. A landowner can always contact the police if they find someone squatting on their property. Further, if adverse possessor refuses to leave and starts claiming squatting rights upfront, they can be evicted by taking the first step of sending an eviction notice; however, it is crucial to note that there is a certain time period during which such actions can be taken, commonly known as the statutory period, whose expiration may cause to transfer of title to your property to the squatter.
Given the complex nature of evicting squatters and the numerous organizations that help adverse possessors, a landowner must take measures to safeguard the property right from the very beginning of buying it. An eviction process for squatters could be complex, as there are several cases where squatters have claimed their tenant rights as they had signed a fake lease agreement, even though they were not aware of the fact that the agreement was fake. At times, such individuals could also pay rent to a con man or make an oral agreement with the owner to modify the property instead of paying some money as rent, even if the owner was a fraud.
Steps for preventing squatters
Following are the measures one can take to prevent squatters’ invasion:
Proper signs like ‘No Trespassing’ or ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’ will always come in handy in proving any trespass in the near future. Landowners can post such signs to avoid adverse possession. Further, such signs will show that the property is not abandoned by the landowners and that they frequently visit it.
Appoint property management agency
If you, as a landowner, cannot keep a check on your property, it is advisable that a property management agency be hired to do so. Such agencies keep monthly and weekly check-ups on the property to ensure its safety.
As the rightful owner of any property, especially a vacant one, the landowner must ensure security around the perimeter of the property. A landowner would never want to deal with a fake lease agreement where a squatter allegedly paid rent or a hostile claim where they think they have the legitimate right to have possession of the property. Further, a landowner must equip their perimeter with lights and alarms that make a sound if any activity is noticed. Furthermore, if there are fences on your property, it should be ensured that all such fences and locks are sturdy enough to be in place and not fragile.
As a landowner, one must consider installing alarms, especially those which come with inbuilt cameras that can send real-time information to your smartphone or electronic devices. With such equipment, you can take a note of any activity happening on your property and take immediate action, or call the police and give them the recording or footage of such an activity as evidence.
Secure windows and doors
Landowners have to ensure that all the windows and doors of vacant properties are well secured and that no stranger can easily enter the property and start residing there and calling it their home.
Landowners should regularly visit their properties or appoint an agent to do so, as the more often you do so or the agent visits the place, the sooner one can notice any traces of broken windows or doors from where squatters can enter.
Additionally, it is important to stay up to date with home renovations, especially old doors and windows that must be kept in good condition, and landowners must ensure they have a proper lock-system.
Moreover, it is important that landowners stay up to date on the tax payments on their property. Generally, cases where squatters were awarded the titles were primarily due to them paying taxes on the property for an extended period while the owner either did not pay heed to tax payments or did not have the requisite proof for tax payments.
While allowing someone else to use your property, it is essential that the terms be formalized with a legitimate formal agreement that depicts ownership of your property and the background under which such a property can be used or occupied. It must be noted that casual use, like letting a neighbor cross your property for some time, can also be considered one of the grounds for a claim of adverse possession, hence, care must be taken to ensure that there are no such encroachments.
Following the above measures will save you hundreds of dollars on the process of eviction if someone decides to call your property their home.
Please note: It is not necessary that squatters will always be strangers; they could also be people you know. They try to disguise their plan of squatting by agreeing to exchange their work in return for a place to stay, this can obviously cause trouble. For instance, in California, if an individual can get oral or written proof of such an agreement, you, a.k.a., the landowner, could owe them tenant rights.
Proper procedure to evict squatters
There is a proper procedure that needs to be followed to remove squatters; however, it is noteworthy to mention that the eviction of squatters is not the same as the eviction of a tenant. Further, removal of a squatter is not possible if there is an agreement between the landlord and the tenant.
A squatter, as discussed above, in legal terms can be described as an unlawful or unauthorized possessor of property or a piece of land or someone who encroached on the property without obtaining prior permission from the owner of that particular land. Unfortunately, even those poor souls who were tricked into signing a fraudulent lease agreement would be subject to removal.
Landowners can get ownership of the property by having the occupant arrested for housebreaking, changing the locking system, posting a notice of possession, and filing a statement with the court. When it comes to criminal arrest, the property owner can reclaim possession of his property by filing a civil suit.
Usually, squatters claim tenants’ rights by contending that they have made timely payments of rent, have signed a lease agreement (typically fraudulent), or have made an oral agreement with the owner substituting rent payments for modifications on a piece of land. Such arguments delay the removal or eviction of property and complicate legal actions. In some instances, property owners resort to “cash for keys” to remove squatters.
Steps that can be taken to evict a squatter
The following steps could be taken to evict a squatter:
Contact the police
Calling and informing the police about such an activity. The quicker the step is taken, the better the outcome will be.
Send a formal notice for eviction
Send a formal evidence notice once the first step is taken care of! A notice of unlawful detainer action must be filed to evict the squatter. Please note : Since the procedure varies from state to state, it is advisable to consult a lawyer to help resolve the issue in a just and legal way.
If the squatter is adamant on residing on the property even after the above measures, one can take action further, simply by filing a lawsuit.
Remove any possession left behind
Once the squatters evict the property, their possession can be removed but a point must be noted that one can’t simply discard their possession or throw it in the trash. Some States in the US have a mandate that says landlords must send written notices to the squatter declaring a deadline to collect their belongings.
Please note: These steps are just the usual steps one would take to evict a squatter. It is always advisable to speak to a lawyer or the local judicial office to ensure a proper procedure is being followed as they can help and advise you if any additional steps or measures need to be taken.
How to file for adverse possession
There is a five-step process to file for adverse possession, which is as follows:
Step 1 : Occupying the property
A claimant seeking adverse possession must occupy the property for a set period of time to get title. Such a property must either be abandoned or unused to assure that the claimant is not trespassing in the traditional sense. Generally, most adverse possession cases that are won are when the claimant occupies a property or a piece of land in good faith, meaning they believe the property belonged to them.
Step 2 : Take possession
If a claimant is taking possession of a property, then a fence or something must be put up in order to have “dominion over the property”, meaning to act as if the property is truly owned by the claimant and is used for the intended purpose. For instance, if there is only a barren piece of land and one builds a structure on that land to make it their home. Further, the possession must take place on a “constant basis” for the set period of time.
Step 3 : Pay taxes on the property
To claim title to a property, it is important that the claimant do everything he/she would generally do if they were the actual owner of the property, including paying property taxes and other local utilities. To begin the process of paying property taxes, the claimant can get in touch with the local tax collector and find out if taxes are being paid. Additionally, if there are any liens, even they should be paid; although, if the claimant believes that he may not be granted the title to obtain the property, he may not want to pay such taxes and liens.
Step 4 : Find the owner
When the statutory period in that state to claim title is reached, the claimant should get in touch with the local tax assessor or registry of deeds to find out the name of the owner. This information will be of utmost importance when filing a suit against the owner to claim the property and its rights.
Step 5 : Filing a lawsuit
While filing a lawsuit, the claimant will be filing a “quiet title”, which is a filing in the local property court of that particular state to determine who is the rightful owner of a certain property. It is always advisable to consult an attorney and hire one to file the suit in the local court and also to prepare a complaint for the purpose of adverse possession.
Squatters rights in the United States : a state-wise perspective
To get ownership of a property, it is important that one actually show possession of that property for the requisite duration. This duration differs from state to state, with some states offering shortened periods of time under certain circumstances. Further, every state has different provisions for additional requirements to be imposed on the claimant, like payment of taxes or having a color of title.
As we know, squatters rights, commonly known as adverse possession laws, exist in all 50 states of the USA; however, how and when these laws are enforceable will differ greatly from state to state. Let us look at each of the state requirements.
Tabular representation of squatters right
Please note the meaning of the following before you start reading about squatters’ rights in every state in the USA.
The term ‘adverse possession’ in context to squatters refers to those squatters who are making an attempt to live on the property by claiming ownership. They do this by proving they have resided on the property for a specific period of time. The time period, to be fulfilled, varies from state to state.
The term ‘holdover tenants’ refers to those individuals who have remained on the property even after their lease or time on the property has come to an end. A notice to quit, vacate,or evict the property can be sent to the holdover tenant. Such a notice can be forwarded for non-payment of rent, as well. The holdover tenants are not squatters’ per se, but may turn into one provided they reside on the property after the expiration of the statutory period. The eviction process can proceed after the expiration of the statutory period.
The term ‘unknown persons’ can be defined as those who reside on the property without permission. Generally, such a person can be regarded as an ‘unwanted person’ who is residing on the premises he does not owe. This person can also be referred to as a squatter. Every state has different laws to evict each of the following persons. Let us dive deep into the details of each of the states in the USA.
20 years or more
|State||Adverse possession||Provision for holdover tenants||Provision for unknown persons||Additional comments, if any|
|Alabama||As stated in the case of Bradley v. Demos, 599 So. 2d 1148 (Ala. 1992), a squatter may claim adverse possession (for general possession) after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under § 35-9A-421(b), a 7 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 35-9A-441(b), a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 6-5-200, a squatter may claim adverse possession if he been living and paying taxes on a property for a period of 10 years|
|Delaware||Under Delaware Code Title 10 Sec. 7901 (Right of entry), a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 20years.||Under Title 25 § 5502, a 5 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under Title 25 § 5106, a 60 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Georgia||Under GA Code § 44-5-14, a squatter may claim exclusive possession after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under O.C.G.A. 44-7-50, an immediate notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under GA Code § 44-7-7, a 60 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Hawaii||Under HI Rev Stat § 657-31.5, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under HI Rev Stat § 521-68, a 5 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under HI Rev Stat § 521-71, a 45 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Idaho||Under ID Code § 5-210, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under ID Code § 6-303(2), a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under ID Code § 55-208, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Here, along with residence, the payment of taxes and possession, i.e., protecting the land by enclosure or persistently modifying the land provision, also exist.|
|Illinois||Under 735 ILCS 5/13-101, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under 735 ILCS 5/9-209, a 5 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under 735 ILCS 5/9-207, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Maine||Under Me. Rev. Stat. tit. 14, § 801, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under Title 14 § 6002, a 7 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under Title 14, § 6002, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Maryland||Under MD Cts & Jud Pro Code § 5-103, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under § 8-401, an immediate notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under MD Real Prop Code § 8-402 (b)(1)(i), a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Massachusetts||Under MA Gen L ch 260 § 21, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under MA Gen L Ch. 186 § 11, a 14days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under Chapter 186, Section 12, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|North Carolina||Under § 1-40, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under § 42-3, a 10 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 42-14, a 7 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 1-38, a squatter may claim adverse possession after 7 years with color of title.|
|North Dakota||Under § 28-01-04, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under § 47-32, a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 47-16-15, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 47-06-03, a squatter may claim adverse possession after 7-10 years with color of title.|
|South Dakota||Under S.D. Codified Laws Ann. §§ 15-3-1, et seq., a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under SDCL 21-16-2(4), a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 43-8-8, a 30days (or not less than a month) notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 15-3-15, a squatter may claim adverse possession after 10 years with color of title while paying taxes for 10 years to claim ownership.|
|Wisconsin||Under Wis. Stat. Ann. § § 893.25 to 893.27, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 20 years.||Under § 704.17(2), a 14 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 704.19(3), a 28 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under the same provision (Wis. Stat. Ann. § § 893.25 to 893.27), a squatter may also claim adverse possession if he/she has resided on the property with color of title for 10 years, or has lived on the property and paid taxes for 7 years.|
|Louisiana||Under CC 3486, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 30 years.||Under CCP 4701, a 5 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 2728, a 10 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under LA Civ. Code 3475, a squatter may also claim adverse possession if he/she has resided on the property with color of title for 10 years.|
|New Jersey||Under § 2A:14-30, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least a continuous period of 30 years.||Under § 2A:18-61.2, a notice must be sent to evict the property. The time or duration to send a notice to vacate is not specifiedhere.||Under § 2A:18-56, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Ohio||Under Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2305.04, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 21 years.||Under § 1923.02 & § 1923.04, a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 5321.17, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Pennsylvania||Under 42 PA Cons Stat § 5530, a squatter may consider claiming adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 21 years.||Under § 250.501(b), a 10 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under 68 P.S. §§ 250.501(b), a 15 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
Below 20 years but above 10 years
|State||Adverse possession||Provision for holdover tenants||Provision for unknown persons||Additional comments, if any|
|Colorado||Under Colo. Rev. Stat. § § 38-41-101 and 38-41-108, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 18 years.||Under Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-40-104, a 10 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under the Colorado street law, the notice time differs depending on the occupation.||Under the same provision (Colo. Rev. Stat. § § 38-41-101, 38-41-108), a squatter may also claim adverse possession if he/she has resided on the property with color of title and has lived on the property and paid taxes for 7 years.|
|Connecticut||Under Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 52-575, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 15 years.||Under § 47a-23, a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 47a-23, a minimum of 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Kansas||Under Kan. Stat. Ann. § 60-503, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 15 years.||Under § 58-2507, a 10 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 58-2570, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Kentucky||Under Ky. Rev. Stat. § 413.010, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 15 years.||Under § 383.660(2), a 7 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 383.695, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 413.060, a squatter may also claim adverse possession of a property if he holds color of title while living on the property continuously for 7 years|
|Michigan||Under § 600.5801, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 15 years.||Under § 554.134, a 7 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 554.134, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Here, under the same provision (§ 600.5801), a squatter must claim exclusive and uninterrupted usage.|
|Minnesota||Under § 541.02, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 15 years.||Under § 504B.135(b), a 14 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under Statute 504B.135, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Here, it must be noted that the 15 years period includes the payment of taxes for the same duration, as well.|
|Nevada||Under NV Rev Stat § 40.090, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 15 years.||Under NRS 40.2512, a 5 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under NRS 40.251, a 30days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under NRS 11.110, NRS 11.150, a squatter may also claim adverse possession if he/she has resided on the property for only 5 years with color of title and also paid taxes.|
|Oklahoma||Under 12 OK Stat § 12-93, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 15 years.||Under Title 41 §131, a 5 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 41-111, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Vermont||Under Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 501, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for more than 15 years.||Under § 4467, a 14 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 4467(c)(1)(A), a 60 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Here, under the same provision (Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 501), if the squatter has resided for more than 15 years, this will serve as sufficient proof to claim title of the property under the doctrine of adverse possession.|
|Virginia||Under Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-236, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 15 years.||Under § 55.1-1245(F), a 14 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 55.1-1253(A), a 30days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Such a use has to be continuous.|
|State||Adverse possession||Provision for holdover tenants||Provision for unknown persons||Additional notes, if any|
|Alaska||Under AS 09.45.052, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years.||Under AS 34.03.220, a 7 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 35-9A-441(b), a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under the same provision (AS 09.45.052), a squatter may also claim adverse possession if he/she has resided on the property with color of title for 7years or more, or a continuous adverse possession of real property for 10 years. Additionally, the squatter can claim adverse possession under AS 09.10.030if he/she has lived on the property and paid taxes for 10 years.|
|Arizona||Under ARS § 12-526, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years, uninterruptedly.||Under ARS § 33-1368(2b)a 5 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under ARS § 33-1375, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under ARS § 12-523, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 3 years provided the squatter has paid taxes for the property.|
|Indiana||Under § 32-21-7-1, § 34-11-1-2, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years.||Under IC 32-31-1-6, a 10 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under IN Code § 32-31-1-1, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under the same provisions (§ 32-21-7-1, § 34-11-1-2), the squatter has to live for 10 years on the property while paying the taxes.|
|Iowa||Under Iowa Code Ann. § 614.17A, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years.||Under Statute 562A.27, a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 562A.34, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Mississippi||Under § 15-1-13, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years, uninterruptedly.||Under § 89-7-27, a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under MS Code § 89-8-19, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Missouri||Under § 516.010, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years.||Under § 535.060, a notice must be sent to evict the property. There is no mention of a time limit to send a notice per se.||Under Section 441.060, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Nebraska||Under Neb. Rev. Stat. § 25-202, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years.||Under § 76-1431(2), a 7 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 76-1437, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|New Mexico||Under NM Stat. Ann. § 37-1-22, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years.||Under § 47-8-33, a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 47-8-37, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under the same statute (NM Stat. Ann. § 37-1-22), a squatter has to have color of title to claim adverse possession.|
|New York||Under Article 5 § 501, 511, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years,uninteruptedly.||Under § 711(2), a 14 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under the Real Prop. Law § 232-b, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Oregan||Under ORS § 105.620, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years.||Under ORS § 90.394 a 6 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under (§ 90.427(3), a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Rhode Island||Under RI Gen L § 34-7-1 a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years, continuously.||Under G.L. 1956 § 34-18-35, a 5 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 34-18-37(b)), a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|South Carolina||Under SC Code § 15-67-210, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least years.||Under § 27-40-710(B), a 5 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 27-40-770(b), a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Texas||Under Sec. 16.026, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years.||Under § 24.005), a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under Sec. 91.001, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under Sec. 16.025 and 16.030, a squatter may claim adverse possession after 5 years if he/she has continuously possessed the property for the duration along with paying taxes and holding color of title for the same property.|
|Washington||Under RCW 4.16.020, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years.||Under § 59.12.030(3), a 14 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under§ 59.18.200, a 20days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under RCW 7.28.050, a squatter may claim adverse possession after 7 years if he/she has continuously possessed the property for that duration along with either paying taxes or holding color of title for the same property.|
|West Virginia||Under W. Va. Code § 55-2-1, a squatter may claim continuous possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years.||Under § 55-3A-1 an immediate notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 37-6-5, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Wyoming||Under § 1-3-103, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 10 years.||Under §1-21-1003, a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||There is no provision for sending a notice of eviction to unknown persons. However, it is recommended to send a 30 days notice in case such an activity is noticed.|
Less than 10 years
|State||Adverse possession||Provision for holdover tenants||Provision for unknown persons||Additional notes, if any|
|Arkansas||Under AR § 18-11-106, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 7 years.||Under A.C.A 18-60-304(3), a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under AR § 18-17-704, a days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under, the same provision (AR § 18-11-106), if the squatter held the color of title and paid taxes on the property or on property contiguous to the property to which they are claiming adverse possession then they may claim adverse possession.|
|California||Under Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 325, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 5 years.||Under CA Civ Pro Code § 1161 (2) a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under CA Code 1946.1, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
|Florida||Under Fla. Stat. Ann. § 95.16, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 7 years.||Under § 83.56(3), a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under Fla. Stat. Ann. § 83.57, a 15 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under the same provision (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 95.16), a squatter may claim adverse possession after 7 years if he/she has continuously possessed the property for that duration along with either paying taxes or holding color of title for the same property.|
|Montana||Under Mont. Code Ann. § 70-19-411, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 5 years.||Under § 70-24-422, a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 70-24-441, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under the same provision ((Mont. Code Ann. § 70-19-411), a squatter may claim adverse possession after 5 years if he/she has continuously possessed the property for the duration along with paying taxes for the same property.|
|Tennessee||Under § 28-2-101, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 7 years.||Under § 66-28-505(a)(2), a 14 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under (§ 66-28-512, a 30 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under the same provision (§ 28-2-101), a squatter may claim adverse possession after 7 years provided he is residing in that property for the same duration along with holding the color of title.|
|Utah||Under § 78B-2-208, a squatter may claim adverse possession after residing on the property for at least 7 years.||Under § 78B-6-802, a 3 days notice must be sent to evict the property.||Under § 78B-6-802 (1)(b) (i), a 15 days notice must be sent to evict the property.|
Some noteworthy pointers on squatters rights and adverse possession
Unique state laws
The state of Connecticut under Connecticut General Statutes Title 52. Civil Actions § 52-575 which talks about entry upon land to be made within fifteen years, and Rhode Island under R.I. Gen. Laws § 34-7-1 which describes conclusive title by peaceful possession under claim of title, have statutory provisions that state that in the case of a person claiming to have possession of the title of the property, a notice of intent to dispute can be sent to him/her. Such notice will help serve in interrupting the tolling of the statutory period, which in turn will prevent the possessor from acquiring rights through adverse possession by continued use.
Further, under the unique law of the state of Massachusetts, under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 185, § 53, if land is registered, it cannot be possessed adversely by Squatters right.
Adverse possession described differently is also adverse possession
Even if there is no mention of the term ‘adverse possession’, but all the conditions of the doctrine are fulfilled, it will be regarded as adverse possession, and the rightful owner will definitely get title to the property. For instance, the courts in Indiana list the elements as control, intent, notice, and duration. In the case of Garriott v. Peters, 878 N.E.2d. 431, 438 n.6 (Ind. Ct. App. 2007), the petition was filed seeking possession of an undeveloped wooden tract where the tract was given on rent to farmers for the purpose of selling timber, hunting, picking berries, driving vehicles, etc. The claimant built a fence on the property, which he had been utilizing for over 20 years. The Indiana Court of Appeals found that the claimant’s use demonstrated sufficient use of control, which was one of the elements from the list of elements (control, intent, notice, and duration) the Indiana courts considered for adverse possession of a property. As the party showed evidence of more than 10 years of possession, as required by state law, the court declared all the elements of an adverse possession claim satisfied. The Court also stated that, as the claimant was paying property taxes, he had acquired rights by adverse possession.
Additional common law elements
In some states of the US, like Connecticut, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, there is an additional law element for the title of property for adverse possessors. Every state has one distinct element, let us see each of them in brief.
The courts in Connecticut refer to an ‘ouster requirement’ which necessitates the alleged possessor to oust the true owner from possession.
Mississippi and Georgia
Further, Mississippi and Georgia add that possession must be peaceful for the
Mississippi and Georgia add that possession must be peaceful for the duration of the possession.
North Carolina needs that the adverse possession use be “under known and visible lines and boundaries”.
The state of Pennsylvania dictates that the use of adverse possession be “distinct”.
Landowners and investments in landlord insurance : an important perspective for understanding squatters rights
Investment in landlord insurance
As a landlord, one must ensure that their assets, especially assets, are fully covered, as squatters obviously will not vacate a property that easily. Thus, it is important that landowners fully prepare themselves for damage or retaliation on their part, and additional coverage with landlord insurance would obviously come to their rescue in case such a situation arises.
Now you might wonder, “What exactly is landlord insurance?” Let’s find out!
What is landlord insurance
A landlord’s insurance can be defined as insurance for a property or home that is being considered for the purpose of renting. A landlord’s insurance covers the risks associated with a rental property, including protecting the rental income. However, it must be noted that landlord insurance is different from homeowners insurance, as homeowners insurance covers the property where one is residing and only damages related to personal property are covered, as opposed to landlord insurance, where only rental properties are covered.
Are landlord insurance policies affordable
Well, it depends on the type of coverage plan one chooses. The sum of insurance cover is based on several grounds, like the location of the property, the property’s occupancy, and the damage type, inter alia.
Note of caution
While there is no mandate, landlord insurance can help prevent catastrophic or huge damages that can occur while managing a property; however, such a policy can give you the peace of mind that your property is insured in case any mishap happens. Such policies cover everything from fire insurance to water insurance to theft and storm damage. Further, these policies even offer coverage in case a lawsuit is filed, thus, such insurance can help protect a landowner’s property from all the problems even before they begin.
Key takeaways : a recap on squatters’ rights
- Squatters’ rights, or adverse possession, can be defined as those rights that a squatter may gain if he/she/they occupy a piece of land, an apartment, or a property for a specific-time period (as mentioned in that state) without the owner taking any measures or legal actions against them.
- Adverse possession can be defined as the right of a squatter to claim ownership of a piece of land if it is not challenged or objected to by the owner for a set period of time.
- In order to claim ownership of a piece of land, a squatter has to demonstrate the actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, and continuous use of the land.
- A squatter may reside on a piece of land even when he has no title, right, or lease on it.
- A landowner may lose his precious land if there is no inspection of the property for several years at a stretch. He could lose it to an individual who claims he has the right to possess a piece of land because he took care of the land for several years and used the land.
- The time range for establishing squatters’ rights varies from state to state in the USA and ranges anywhere between 7 to 20 years.
- Trespassing is not the same as squatting, but there is a possibility that trespassers may turn into squatters at some point in time.
- Squatting could be regarded as a form of trespassing, but this act involves the intention of claiming ownership or permanent residency on that piece of land.
- To evict a squatter from a piece of land, it is crucial that property owners follow a proper eviction process, from calling local enforcement to filing an unlawful detainer action.
- In some instances, squatters may pay property taxes to make their adverse possession claim concrete, but landowners must continue to pay the property tax no matter what.
- To avoid any issues, it is important that property owners and landowners become familiar with squatters’ rights. Further, in case of any issues on such matters, it is advisable that owners consult an attorney to ensure the situation is handled properly.
As discussed above, every state in the USA has its own legislation on squatters’ rights and adverse possession. For instance, certain states require a continuous occupancy of seven years to obtain possession of any privately-owned property, in addition to other essentials. Also, state laws regarding squatters and adverse possession can be suppressed by local laws to some extent in some cases.
For instance, in the states of California or Montana, adverse possession rights can be granted to squatters if they occupy a piece of land continuously for 5 years , thus, they would obtain the legal right to remain on the property even when there is no lease agreement signed between the squatter and the landowner. Further, there is a possibility that a trespasser barges into an unoccupied property and starts to live there. This case could be more common in investment properties that do not have tenants residing there. Additionally, if the trespasser is caught living there before the time passes (for instance, in the states of California or Montana, the time period to raise an objection is 5 years), the squatters can be removed by the police and an arrest can be made, too; however, squatters who go undetected and stay longer than the time period will need a legal eviction notice to be sent for vacating the premises. At times, considering the long and tiresome eviction proceedings, a property owner may by himself pay the squatters to get off the property, thus saving both time and money.
The adverse possession requirement varies from state to state, which is why landowners must be aware of such laws and lawyers dealing with real-estate property cases must ensure that they do not depend on a general black and white principle they learned in their law school in matters relating to adverse possession. Instead, they must pay close attention to the common law rules of the relevant jurisdiction.
The vague idea of someone snatching away your precious land, for which you put in all your savings and hard work, seems quite unfathomable, but think again! The rights granted to squatters are quite real, and there have been numerous instances in the history of the USA where squatters have exercised their rights, as we noticed in the context of all the case laws and landmark judgments discussed throughout the article. Additionally, while learning to be a landlord, ensure you are well-acquainted with the local laws on squatters in the state you have your property in and the tenants you have residing there.
The main motive of writing this article was to inform you about all the laws and measures to be taken in case of such an unfortunate occurrence on your property and to seek legal assistance in case such an issue occurs! I hope it helps!
Note of caution: Don’t wait until you are at the mercy of squatters! Act fast, act right!
Some frequently asked questions (FAQs) on squatters rights in the United States
Who is a squatter?
Usually, a squatter is any individual who resides on a property in whole or in part when he has no legal claim to do so. A squatter resides on the property without having any title, right, or lease and may even gain adverse possession of such a property through the process of involuntary transfer.
Can a property owner lose his land?
A property owner may lose his precious land if there is no inspection of the property by him for several years at a stretch. He could lose it to an individual who claims he has the right to possess a piece of land for he took care of the land for several years and used the land. So, to answer the question, yes, a property owner can lose a piece of land; further, there have been several instances in the US where such incidents have occurred.
Do squatters really have rights?
Yes. In brief, there are common cases when state laws protect squatters:
- If they pay property taxes and other essential home estate fees uninterruptedly;
- If they have not damaged any part of the property while entering it or living there for a specific period;
- If they have not received any letters of eviction from the property owners.
Why exactly do squatters have such rights?
The main object of enacting squatters rights in every state of the USA is to discourage the usage of ‘vigilante justice’. If landowners or owners of properties where squatters have started to reside were allowed to use violence or threaten such squatters to vacate the property, the situation would become quite unpleasant and would create an atmosphere of vigilante justice that could spread in other areas of life, thus narrowing the safety an otherwise resident would expect at his/her place of residence.
Simply put, squatters have such rights to ensure that ‘justice can be facilitated’ in a broader sense. Such rights have similarities with tenants rights at times, as tenants rights were enacted to protect a renter/tenant from the ill-treatment of landlords. Such laws help ensure the rights of each party involved are safeguarded to keep the real estate market stable and negotiations (mostly) peaceful.
What are the legal requirements to be met for a squatter to claim adverse possession?
For a squatter to claim adverse possession, there are some legal requirements that need to be met, some of them are as follows:
- The squatter must possess the property physically.
- The squatter must make it apparent and obvious that they are residing on the property.
- The squatter must prove exclusivity in their possession.
- The squatter must not have the authorization of gaining access or occupying the land.
- The squatter must reside on the property for a continuous time period (the duration varying from state to state, as discussed in the above passages).
Do squatters pay property taxes?
Well, there is no straight-jacket answer to this; however, there have been some instances in the USA where property taxes were paid by squatters in order to solidify their claim of adverse possession of the property. A point must be noted that some states do not have the prerequisite of paying property taxes as part of the claim.
Furthermore, even if a squatter is paying property taxes on any property of which you are the rightful owner, you must not skip paying the tax. This is advised to prevent squatters from claiming validity in any way over that property.
Can the rights of a squatter be blocked?
Squatters lose their legal rights to possess land or a home in the following cases:
- They have never paid any taxes for the property or any other essential home estate fees;
- They have ignored eviction notices from landlords and did not move out within the required time;
- They have significantly ruined the property or its parts.
Is a squatter actually a trespasser?
Squatters tend to get inside a property if it is left open, for instance, through an open or already broken window; whereas trespassers, usually, break into buildings and start living there or enter the property to serve their motives, whatever it may be.
Why is it essential for a property owner to be well-acquainted with squatters rights?
The idea of someone illegitimately barging into your property and taking possession of it may seem impossible at first, but landowners have to beware because such instances do occur. Further, there are squatters’ rights specifically designed for such an activity, so owners have to be very cautious of such activities.
One might think a squatter is a homeless person with limited legal rights to acquire the property, it is advisable not to make such assumptions, but to verify instead! There could be numerous reasons why squatters’ rights come into play, like estate disputes or a holdover tenant from a previously rented property. Which is why, it is crucial that landowners be aware of such norms and legal rights and the process to be followed to evict tenants and squatters legitimately and in a proper and just manner.
Is it advisable that landowners seek legal help if such a squatters’ rights situation arises?
Yes, yes, and yes! It is always a good idea to seek legal advice from an attorney should any questions regarding squatters and their rights arise.
- Analyzing Adverse Possession Laws and Cases of the States East of the Mississippi River, Adam Leitman Bailey, Matthew Eichel
Students of Lawsikho courses regularly produce writing assignments and work on practical exercises as a part of their coursework and develop themselves in real-life practical skills.
LawSikho has created a telegram group for exchanging legal knowledge, referrals, and various opportunities. You can click on this link and join: