Squatters’ Rights: Guide to State Law & How to Evict

A squatter is more like a guest who is not willing to leave. Imagine hosting a gathering, and one of the guests refused to leave? It can be annoying and frustrating as they have already overstayed their welcome. Squatting is when a person decides to live on property without the owner’s permission.

Most states have established squatter laws and rights. However, this depends on the time they may have occupied the property. This suggests that a squatter can be registered as the property owner if they have occupied the property for a long time, even without the owner’s permission. The squatter can successfully apply for ownership if they have been on the property for 10-12 years. They also must prove that they did not have the owner’s permission and have acted as the property owners as long as they have lived on it.

This guide gives you expert advice on how to protect your property, limit its access to squatters, the legal rights of both the landlord and the squatter, and how to evict a squatter lawfully.

Who is a Squatter?

A squatter is a person living and possessing land without legal permission. Quite often, the property is entered and occupied illegitimately. In some cases, the property may be acquired by fraudulent means.

Squatting applies not only to residential property but also to commercial property. Squatters may occupy abandoned commercial property like schools and hospitals.

What Are Squatters’ Rights?

Squatting is an act of property violation. However, evicting a squatter from the property is not very easy. Some regulations and procedures are implemented for squatter eviction in every state. Squatter rights are a set of laws designed and written by the government according to the Homestead Act of 1862. This means that there are laws protecting a squatter as long as they are eligible to stay on the specific property. Squatters must pay taxes and other property fees for legal rights over the property.

These rights will protect the squatter from:

  • Eviction without notice
  • Any form of violence during an eviction

Any of these can be a valid basis to file a lawsuit against the property owner. Squatters have rights because it’s more affordable to live in an abandoned home due to the high living costs and expensive housing. Arguably, a squatter can be a law-abiding citizen.

A squatter is also very different from a renter or trespasser. A renter will resolve any disputes with their landlord as per the landlord-tenant agreement. On the other hand, a trespasser commits a criminal offense by law and can be arrested. Squatters may also get arrested if they do not meet their obligations.

Can I Claim on My Insurance for Damage Caused by Squatters?

Insurance policies vary wildly but the general idea is that they provide compensation when your house is damaged. Speaking from experience my insurance did cover me for damage caused by squatters in a rental I have in Denver, CO. The property was empty because I was renovating it to sell. Several squatters enjoyed the house and it’s amenities over a weekend. Interestingly, it created an entirely different problem of whether I could sell my house with an open insurance claim.

Which States Have Squatters’ Rights?

Every state has laws and regulations put in place for squatters. They will, however, differ in the period of occupation in different jurisdictions. The average period is living in the property for 7- 30 years. In Alabama, the law allows the squatter to possess property after 10 years if they pay their taxes. This is slightly different in Alaska, where the squatter can get the deed after living for 7 years and paying taxes for 10 years.

In Arizona, squatters must pay property taxes for 3 or more years and acquire a deed to live on that property. They must pay property taxes for 5 years when the property is part of a city lot. To gain possession of the property in California, the squatter must pay its taxes for 5 years. You must have lived on the property for 18 years or paid the tax for 7 years in Colorado. Comprehensive details can be seen at the following link relating to Colorado squatter’s rights.

Below is a list of squatter periods allowed in different jurisdictions:

  • Florida (7 years)
  • Indiana (10 years)
  • Iowa (10 years)
  • Georgia (20 years)
  • Hawaii (20 years)
  • Idaho (20 years)
  • Illinois (20 years)
  • Louisiana (30 years)
  • Maine (20 years)
  • New York (10 years)
  • Oklahoma (15 years)
  • Oregon (10 years)
  • Vermont (15 years)
  • Virginia (15 years

When Do Squatters’ Rights Apply?

The other question that comes to mind is how and when these rights apply. How exactly does a squatter legally possess property without buying it? Some valid reasons include:

  • Living on the property for the time stipulated amount of time according to your state laws.
  • The owner has not tried to evict them.
  • They have entirely lived on the property.
  • It is not a commercial property. 

How Do I Protect Property from Squatters?

As a property owner, there are steps to take when evicting a squatter and protecting the property. First, you may need to alert the authorities in case of a squatting incidence. You will also be required by the law to offer an eviction notice to the squatter before eviction.

You may also consult organizations that deal with these incidences for professional help on how to handle them or assistance in complex situations like fraud and improvements on the property. Due to the provisions of the law, eviction can be tedious and frustrating to the property owner. Here are verified ways to prevent squatting:

  • Adding disclaimers against trespassers and indicating that it’s not abandoned property.
  • Securing a perimeter wall and reinforcing the locks and fences of the property.
  • Consider alarm and effective surveillance throughout the property.
  • Make sure the doors and windows are secure and well reinforced. This will also eliminate the chances of trespassers breaking into the property.
  • Finally, make regular visits and scout for any break-ins or damage to property. 

How to Legally Evict a Squatter

Suppose you found someone living on your property without consent. How do you evict them according to the law? Here is a guide on the steps to take in the event of squatting:

1.  Seek police intervention

The police will come in to deescalate the situation. The owner will provide the necessary information and solid evidence relevant to the case in case of a lawsuit. Calling the police will also prevent any form of violence or forceful eviction which may be legally implicated by law.

2. Offer an eviction notice

This is the statutory period offered to the squatters requiring them to vacate the premises. Make sure to seek expert advice and help from your attorney due to legal implications.

In conclusion, evicting squatters can be a very tedious process. You are advised to lease out your property if you no longer use it. Alternatively, you can sell your property or make sure to protect it from squatters at all costs. 

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