It’s not unusual to hear someone ask, “What are squatters rights?” The term has become ingrained into our vernacular. Heck, even kids love to shout about it when claiming a coveted living room chair from their sibling. However, its definition or history has become hazy over time.
In this blog post, we’ll cover a few frequently asked questions about squatters rights, run through the basic principles required to claim them, and what to do if you discover a squatter on your property.
What are squatters rights?
Adverse possession—otherwise informally known as squatters rights—is a legal term applied to a scenario where a person who does not have legal ownership of a property acquires it via continuous occupation of the property without permission from the owner.
Essentially, squatters rights enable a person to continue occupying a residence or property if the landlord or property owner doesn’t remove them within a specific time period—which varies by state.
Why do squatters have rights?
In today’s modern world of leases, landlord-tenant laws, and housing courts, the concept of squatters rights seems antiquated.
Originally, the thought behind adverse possession stemmed from the idea that if an occupant managed a property for long enough, they were justified in being granted ownership of the property.
The principles of homesteading and squatter’s rights embody the most basic concept of property and ownership, which can be summarized by the adage “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” meaning the person who uses the property effectively owns it. Likewise, the adage, “use it or lose it,” applies. – Wikipedia
How does squatters rights work?
The actual details and requirements to claim squatters rights or seek ownership of a property by adverse possession vary from state to state. In general, squatters rights require 5 basic, minimum principles to be true.
The squatter must:
- Occupy the property through hostile means—without permission
- Occupy the property exclusively
- Use the property as a true owner would
- Live on the property in a manner that is apparent to the owner & a reasonable person (open and notorious use)
- Occupy the property continuously for the duration of the state’s mandated adverse possession period
However, each state will have differing requirements for full adverse possession or squatters rights to be met. For example, some states require a demonstration of good faith—which means that squatters have to prove they believed they were in actual possession of the property in question.
Which states have squatters rights?
All fifty states have squatters rights. However, each state has different requirements for adverse possession.
For example, each state varies in the required occupancy period a squatter must occupy a property for. Additionally, several states—like Wisconsin and Georgia—require the squatter to provide evidence that shows they believed they were in true ownership of the property.
5-7 Years Occupancy
10-19 Years Occupancy
- New Mexico
- New York
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
20+ Years Occupancy
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Dakota
What should I do if I discover a squatter?
If you realize you may have a squatter or case of adverse possession, your best plan is to seek immediate legal recourse. Importantly, a key component of ownership is continuous use, so the sooner you seek eviction, the better off you will be.
Additionally, as squatters rights and eviction proceedings vary from state to state, ensure you know what your best course of legal action is to prevent escalating eviction costs.