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Understanding Squatter’s Rights

If you’re a landlord, you only want people living in your property who are paying rent. Unfortunately, this isn’t always what you’re dealing with.

An unauthorized tenant is also known as a squatter, referring to any individual or group of people staying in a property they aren’t paying to rent.

Squatter’s rights are also known as adverse possession, allowing squatters to continue to use or occupy a property if the owner or landlord doesn’t take any action within a certain window.

So why would squatters have rights, and what should you know if you’re a landlord?

Why Would a Squatter Have Rights?

The objective of putting adverse possession or squatter’s rights in place is to prevent vigilante justice from happening. If the person who owns the property was allowed to use violence to evict a squatter, the thought behind these laws is that the situation could get dangerous. It could also reduce the general safety of society.

The idea isn’t to give people property rights when they shouldn’t have them. Instead, it’s encouraging landlords and property owners to use appropriate channels to deal with the situation. It’s similar to tenants’ rights to protect renters from a landlord in certain scenarios.

While squatting might sound a lot like trespassing, there are some distinctions, at least regarding the law.

Trespassing refers to a situation where someone unlawfully enters a property. That can mean they do so for just a brief moment of time, or they enter intending to stay.

Squatting is a form of trespassing technically, but squatters intend to make the property their permanent residence or make an ownership claim.

If a building is vacant, a squatter might take possession. A vacant building can be somewhat easy to take possession of through squatting, plus there may be minimal monitoring of the property.

Most of the time, properties occupied by an owner don’t fall into the realm of squatter’s rights because the owner wouldn’t have to go through the eviction process to remove a trespasser.

A trespasser can be a squatter, but a squatter isn’t automatically a trespasser. Some squatters may have had permission to come into the property or stay there at some point.

What is a Holdover Tenant?

There’s another subcategory worth mentioning when talking about squatters: the holdover tenant. Their lease has ended, but the person doesn’t leave the property. Whether or not this person would be technically characterized as a squatter can depend on the landlord’s actions. For example, if the landlord doesn’t tell the tenant to leave, then the holdover tenant still has the right to stay.

In some states, under the law, a tenancy can convert into a tenancy at will, or the lease renews automatically week-to-week or month-to-month.

If the landlord explicitly asks the tenant to leave, they become a squatter because they are there without the permission of the person who owns the property.

The issue with squatters is that they might present a situation that makes them look like tenants, creating a civil issue.

Squatters can do this in any number of ways, like creating fake documents that show them as owners or tenants of the property or putting the utilities into their name. Squatters might make repairs and maintain the property to show that they were giving these services as rent, or they could furnish the property to make it appear they live there as a regular tenant.

Adverse Possession

The concept of adverse possession is one way to acquire property legally. You have to be in adverse possession for a certain time, and this legal concept is typically what’s actually also known as squatter’s rights.

It’s not easy to establish ownership through adverse possession. To claim adverse possession successfully, a person would have to use the property as a real owner would. For example, if it’s a residential piece of property, the claimant would have to build a home on it and live in it.

The possession has to be exclusive, which means the person claiming the property has to defend their rights like an owner would, and there has to be continuous, uninterrupted possession.

Squatter’s rights vary depending on the state, and the required period for adverse possession also does.

If you’re a landlord or property owner, it’s important to understand so-called squatter’s rights in your state and what you can and can’t do. Property owners, especially when they have a vacant property, must also monitor it carefully. If you don’t want someone using it for any purpose, you have to make sure that you’re explicit and clear in letting them know that.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that someone can come into your home and say they own it, but there are legal paths where people can take possession of property that belonged to another person, meaning understanding the law is critical.

Written by Ashley Sutphin for Copyright © 2023 Realty Times All Rights Reserved.