July 18th, 2023
What is it?
Squatters' law, often referred to as adverse possession, is a legal principle that allows a person to claim ownership of a property based on their continuous, open, and uninterrupted use of the property without the permission of the legal owner.
Why is this allowed?
Adverse possession laws are intended to balance the rights of property owners with the interests of individuals who have been using and improving neglected or abandoned properties for an extended period.
How can I make a squatter’s claim?
- Actual possession: The squatter must have done something on the land that amounts to an act of ownership. Construction and improvements, collecting of rent, tending of crops or livestock, and physical occupation of a building all amount to an act of ownership.
- Open and notorious possession: The squatter's occupancy must be visible and obvious to others, such that the true owner would have notice of their presence.
- Exclusive possession: The squatter must possess the property exclusively, meaning they have exclusive control and use of the property.
- Continuous possession: The squatter must occupy the property continuously for 20 years or more.
- Hostile or adverse possession: The squatter's possession must be without the permission or consent of the legal owner. The squatter’s claim will be void if the squatter has paid compensation to the legal owner, such as rent.
- The absence of the true owner: The legal owner must not have taken any action to reclaim the property during the period of adverse possession.
If these conditions are met, the squatter may be able to make a legal claim to the property, and in some cases, obtain legal title to it. If a deceased person completes all the requirements for title in his lifetime but did not apply for title himself, his Personal Representative can apply for title on behalf of the estate. Only the legal owner can challenge an applicant who is in the act of acquiring title.
How do I prevent a squatter’s claim?
To avoid a squatter's law claim or adverse possession, you can take several proactive steps as a property owner. Here are some general strategies to consider:
- Regular property inspection and maintenance: Keep your property well-maintained and visit it regularly to identify any unauthorized occupants or signs of squatting. Promptly address any issues or trespassers to prevent the establishment of adverse possession claims.
- Secure the property: Maintain proper security measures to prevent unauthorized entry and occupation. This may include installing fences, gates, locks, and security systems. Posting "No Trespassing" signs can also help establish that the property is private and not open to public use.
- Clearly establish ownership: Ensure that you have clear and up-to-date documentation of property ownership, including deeds, titles, and property records. Keep these documents in a safe place and consult legal professionals to confirm their validity and accuracy.
- Monitor and respond to property-related notices: Stay vigilant about property-related notices and payment obligations, such as tax bills. Failing to respond to such notices can potentially lead to adverse possession claims. Address any issues promptly and comply with legal requirements to protect your property rights.
- Actively use and occupy the property: Continuously use and occupy your property in a manner that is visible and obvious to others. Regularly engage in activities associated with property ownership, such as maintenance, improvements, or renting it out. This demonstrates your active ownership and prevents others from claiming exclusive possession.
- Maintain documentation of property use: Keep records of your use and activities related to the property. This may include photographs, receipts, utility bills, or other documents that provide evidence of your continuous and exclusive possession. These records can help substantiate your claim of ownership and refute any adverse possession claims.
- Consult with legal professionals: Seek advice from experienced real estate attorneys who are knowledgeable about the laws and regulations in your jurisdiction.
If you are on either side of a squatter’s claim or have queries or concerns, we can provide guidance and help you understand any potential risks or legal actions you may need to take.
Schedule a complimentary 30-minute initial consultation with us today.
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