What You Need to Know About Squatter’s Rights

Squatter’s rights have become a popular topic over the past few years, especially with the founding of organized rehousing groups like Take Back the Land. Squatters are defined as any person who chooses to live in a property or piece of land that they don’t have a legal right to occupy. Not surprisingly, many property owners feel wary of leaving their building unoccupied to prevent the headache of dealing with squatters. Squatter’s rights can even potentially apply to tenants who refuse to pay rent while occupying a rental, making it even more crucial to conduct a thorough screening during the application process. As a property owner, it’s essential to understand the legalities regarding squatting as well as how to address it. 

What Are the Laws Surrounding Squatters?

“Squatter’s rights” is a term that applies to laws that allow a squatter to occupy another person’s property as long as the property owner doesn’t take action against them. In general, these laws only apply if the person has been occupying the property for a specified amount of time. The amount of time varies from state to state, with some states granting “adverse possession” (granting legal rights to the property) in as little as 5 years. All 50 states have adverse possession laws, but how they’re enforced varies from state to state. Some states may require the squatter to either possess a deed to the property or to have paid taxes while occupying it; others don’t. In some states, the squatter may be granted adverse possession faster if they’re able to produce the deed or evidence of paying taxes. 

States that require the individual to have occupied the property for 20 years or more to qualify for adverse possession include:

Delaware

Georgia

Hawaii

Idaho

Illinois

Louisiana (30 years)

Maine

Maryland

Massachusetts

New Jersey (30 years) 

Pennsylvania (21 years) 

South Dakota

Wisconsin

North Carolina

North Dakota

Ohio (21 years)

Pennsylvania (21 years)

South Dakota

Wisconsin

States that require the individual to have occupied the property for 19 years or less to qualify for adverse possession include:

Alabama (10 years)

Alaska (10 years)

Arizona (10 years)

Arkansas (7 years)

California (5 years)

Colorado (18 years)

Connecticut (15 years)

Florida (7 years)

Indiana (10 years)

Iowa (10 years)

Kansas (15 years)

Kentucky (15 years)

Michigan (15 years)

Minnesota (15 years)

Mississippi (10 years)

Missouri (10 years)

Montana (5 years)

Nebraska (10 years)

Nevada (15 years)

New Mexico (10 years)

New York (10 years)

Oklahoma (15 years)

Oregon (10 years)

Rhode Island (10 years)

South Carolina (10 years)

Tennessee (7 years)

Texas (10 years)

Utah (7 years)

Vermont (15 years)

Virginia (15 years)

Washington (10 years)

West Virginia (10 years)

Wyoming (10 years)

How Do You Evict a Squatter?

Squatter’s rights have become a movement, so it’s essential to understand the steps you can take as a landlord. Many squatters rely on property owners’ lack of knowledge of squatting laws in staking claim to unoccupied properties. Here are some steps you can take to evict a squatter from your property:

  1. Contact the police as soon as possible. They’ll file an official police report, which can be used later if you need to go to court to pursue eviction. Keep all evidence and documentation, so you have a strong case. It’s important to note that you’re not allowed to intimidate or force squatters off your property, so if you must engage with them, it’s best to have the police present. 
  2. Once you’ve notified the police of the individual illegally occupying your property, you’ll need to file an Unlawful Detainer action. This step can vary depending on the state you reside in, so it’s best to contact a lawyer or your local court to ensure that you’re following all the required steps. 
  3. If the squatter refuses to leave, you can file a lawsuit. A hearing will be scheduled, and both you and the individual will be required to attend. If the court rules in your favor, the squatter will be removed from your property by the police, and you’ll be free to change locks on the property. 
  4. Once the squatter is removed, you may have to figure out what to do with any possessions they left behind. Some states require that the landlord provides the individual with a written notice to remove their items by a specified deadline. Squatters can be difficult to contact, so it’s recommended you have this notice prepared and bring it with you when you attend the court hearing. In the notice, you should include what you intend to do with their possessions if they’re not removed by the squatter by the deadline. It’s best to talk to a lawyer or your local court to make sure that you’re following your local laws. 

One way to ensure that you’re protecting yourself from squatting tenants is to ensure that you’re conducting a thorough screening during the application process. By reviewing their rental history, you can be aware of any past squatting attempts or failure to pay their rent. Screening tenants can take up a significant amount of time, but with our screening services, you can reduce your workload while receiving affordable and accurate reports that allow you to make the most informed decisions possible when choosing tenants. With the rise of squatter’s rights as a movement, it’s essential to take steps to ensure you’re protecting your rights as a property owner.


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