Squatters’ Rights Explained
Property owners around the globe have been paying close attention to squatting— a topic that boomed in recent years thanks to the establishment of organized groups like Take Back the Land.
Many residential and commercial property owners are now apprehensive about leaving their buildings unoccupied— concerned that onlookers may view their realty as a squatting opportunity.
Even landlords seeking tenants must be exceptionally vigilant when it comes to screening potential renters, as some may pay their rent for a short period of time before deciding to occupy the space unlawfully.
But what, exactly, are the legalities surrounding squatting? And how should landlords who are being affected by this phenomenon go about addressing it?
These are the questions we’ll be answering in today’s post.
But first, let’s cover the basics.
What is a squatter?
A squatter is any individual who decides to inhabit a piece of land or a building in which they have no legal right to occupy. The squatter lives in the building or on the property they select without paying rent and without lawful documentation stating they own the property, are a law-abiding tenant, or that they have permission to use or access the area.
What are squatters’ rights?
Squatters rights refers to laws which allow a squatter to use or inhabit another person’s property in the event that the lawful owner does not evict or take action against the squatter.
Typically, squatters rights laws only apply if an individual has been illegitimately occupying a space for a specific period of time. In New York, for example, a squatter can be awarded “adverse possession” under state law if they have been living in a property for 10 years or more.’
It’s important to note, however, that each state has their own laws surrounding this topic. Thus, how squatting is approached and dealt with varies greatly depending on where it occurs.
Which states have squatters rights?
Squatters rights, also known as “adverse possession” laws, exist in all 50 states. However, how these laws are enforced, and when they are enforced, differ greatly from state-to-state.
The below states have a squatters law which requires the individual to have lived on the property in question for 20 years or more:
The below states have a squatters law which requires the individual to have lived on the property in question for 19 years or less:
Note: Some of the states listed above require the squatter to possess a deed, or to have paid taxes during their occupancy, while others do not. In some states, if the squatter can produce the required documentation, the number of years may be reduced.
How to evict a squatter
With the squatting movement gaining traction, more and more landlords are looking to arm themselves with information about how to get rid of squatters.
This is an excellent step to take, since successfully defending a property against individuals who intend to take advantage of squatters rights will rely heavily on the landlords understanding of the law and their ability to respond promptly.
Below are the permissible steps we recommend taking when evicting squatters:
1. Call the Police
The more quickly you contact your local law enforcement, the better. They will be able to file an official police report, which you can use in the future if you end up having to pursue an eviction via the court system. The more evidence and documentation you have to demonstrate your efforts to remove the individual(s) from your premises, the stronger your case will be.
Remember, you can not legally try to intimidate the squatter or forcibly remove them from your property. If you must engage with the individuals who are illegally inhabiting your property, it’s best to have a police officer present.
2. Provide a Formal Eviction Notice
After you have notified the authorities that there is an illegal tenant on your property, you’ll need to file an Unlawful Detainer action. The process of filing such an action can vary from state to state, so it’s important to speak with a lawyer or your local court office to ensure you understand all of the required steps.
If the squatter refuses to leave after being ordered to do so, you can take further action by filing a lawsuit. After doing so, a hearing date will be set and both parties will be required to attend. If the courts rule in your favor (which is most likely), the judge will order the police to escort the squatter from the premises. At this point, you will be allowed to change the locks to the property.
4. Remove Any Possessions Left Behind
As frustrated as you may be at this point, it’s important to remember that you can’t always just discard any possessions a squatter leaves behind. Some states require landlords to provide written notice to the squatter stating a deadline by which they must collect their belongings. Because squatters are often difficult to contact, you can protect yourself by having this letter prepared and bringing it to your court hearing. In this same notice, you can disclose what you intended to do should the belongings not be collected by the specified date. Either way, be sure to speak to a lawyer or your local judicial office to ensure you are following the proper procedures.
Looking to minimize your risk of a squatting tenant? AAOA offers industry-leading tenant screening services to help you make the most informed decision possible.