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Squatter's Rights

Arizona Squatter’s Rights

December 13, 2023

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Handling Squatters in Arizona

Squatters – those mysterious figures who move into abandoned or vacant properties – have long been a subject of curiosity and confusion. Many people wonder—and fear—how squatters sometimes end up with legal rights to the property they’ve occupied.  

Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including Arizona. The requirements for claiming these rights and removing someone via squatting laws vary from state to state, making it essential to understand the specific laws in your area.   

While you can feel comforted that it is notoriously difficult for a squatter to fulfill all the requirements necessary to make a successful legal claim to your property, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll answer the question of “What are squatters rights in Arizona?” and explain how adverse possession works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 2-10 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? Optional; 5 years occupation + taxes sufficient 
  • Color of Title Required? Optional; 3 years occupation + color of title sufficient 

Who Are Squatters? 

A squatter is someone who occupies a property without legal ownership or permission from the property owner. They often move into vacant, abandoned, or neglected properties. Squatters could squat temporarily (e.g., for a few weeks) or for years at a time.  

While the term “squatter” probably summons a certain image in your mind, it’s important to note that not all squatters have nefarious intentions. A squatter could be someone who thought they legally owned a property that has been passed down in their family over many generations, only to find out years later that the title officially belongs to someone else. 

Who Isn’t a Squatter? 

Not everyone who occupies a property without permission is a squatter. For instance, tenants with expired leases are not squatters. Rather, they are “holdover tenants,” or previous tenants who no longer have the right to live in the property. Likewise, trespassers are also not squatters. Criminal trespassers are people who enter onto your private property but do not live there, while squatters actually occupy and live on the vacant property. 

What Are Squatter’s Rights/Adverse Possession? 

Squatter’s rights, also known as adverse possession laws, refer to the general legal principles that allow squatters to gain ownership of a property through a long period of possession, even without the owner’s permission. While squatter’s rights might seem antiquated today, the principles of adverse possession were established to reward the productive use of land and discourage neglect of properties.  

There is no federal law governing squatter’s rights, but there are legal precedents for them in each state and laws governing some of the requirements to make an adverse possession claim. 

What Are Squatters Rights in Arizona? 

In Arizona, squatter’s rights are more complex than in other states. The squatters rights Arizona enforces may differ from those provided by other states’ laws. To make a successful claim for adverse possession in Arizona, a squatter must fulfill one of the following as per Arizona adverse possession laws (ARS § 12-522 – 12-526): 

  • Live in the property as a trespasser for two years (§ 12-522
  • Live in the property and have color of title for three years (§ 12-523
  • Live in the property and pay property taxes with or without cultivating the land for at least five consecutive years (§ 12-524, 12-525
  • Live in the property and cultivate the land (without paying taxes) for ten years (§ 12-526). 

Squatters must also meet five general requirements: 

  1. Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease or rental agreement with the owner.  
  1. Actual—The squatter must have actively lived in the property for a certain length of time.  
  1. Open and notorious—The squatter’s possession of the property is open and obvious to neighbors or anyone else. They aren’t living there “in secret” or trying to hide their presence.  
  1. Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else. They prevent others from living there like an owner would.  
  1. Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property for 2-10 consecutive years (depending on the circumstances listed above) 

How Does a Squatter Claim Arizona Squatter’s Rights? 

If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for Arizona squatters rights and the general squatter’s rights principles above, they can file a claim for adverse possession or bring an action to “quiet title.” Quiet title is the legal action to claim the right of possession and ownership of a particular property. 

Note, however, that just because a squatter files a claim, this does not mean they will be successful. There are many obstacles to winning an adverse possession case. In addition to following all Arizona adverse possession laws, the squatter would need to:  

  • Gather ample evidence for their claim (e.g., mail addressed to the property in their name, property tax receipts, evidence that they’ve “beautified” the property, etc.) 
  • File a quiet title complaint with the court 
  • Attend a hearing with you in front of a judge, where they’ll present their case for adverse possession  
  • Successfully convince a judge that they have fulfilled all the state requirements for adverse possession 
  • Receive a judgment for adverse possession to perfect the title 

As you can see, a squatter has an enormous burden of proof when claiming ownership of your property. It is a highly complex process that often requires the squatter to hire an attorney and to have lived on your property for many years. In all likelihood, a squatter situation you’re involved in won’t escalate to a successful action to quiet title. 

How to Remove a Squatter in Arizona 

In Arizona, there are several different ways to lawfully remove a squatter. Most commonly, the landlord can initiate the typical eviction process. Treating the squatter like any other tenant ensures that any adverse possession claim they file is invalid. This means providing proper notice, filing a formal eviction complaint in court, and attending (or getting your attorney to attend) a hearing to lawfully remove the squatter.  

It’s important to note that in Arizona, if a squatter has already filed an adverse possession case, the owner only has three years to start the action to recover their property (ARS § 12-523(A)). 

Here is an overview of the eviction process for squatters in Arizona: 

  1. The owner must send a formal eviction notice, as per Arizona eviction laws. In Arizona, the possible eviction notices are: 
    • A five-day pay-or-quit notice (for nonpayment) 
    • A five-day cure-or-quit notice (for health and safety violations) 
    • A ten-day quit notice (for repeat violations or falsification of criminal/eviction information on rental application) 
    • An immediate unconditional quit notice (for illegal activity and severe damage) 
  2. After the notice period has expired, the owner must file a complaint of forcible detainer with the clerk of the Arizona Superior or Justice Court and pay a filing fee. 
  1. The court will issue a summons to court, which must be served to the squatter by the sheriff of another authorized process server. 
  1. The owner must attend a hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership of the property to the judge. 
  1. Upon confirming ownership, the judge will issue a writ of restitution authorizing the sheriff to forcibly remove the squatter. 

Another way to remove a squatter in Arizona (including after an adverse possession claim has been filed), is to bring an action to quiet title yourself. This action is a request for the court to verify who owns the land. By winning this action, you can challenge an adverse possession claim that is in progress. 

How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant Arizona Property 

Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property: 

  • Regularly inspect your property. 
  • Make your property appear inhabited during vacancy periods. 
  • Install adequate lighting and security systems to deter unauthorized entry. 
  • Secure all doors, windows, and access points with sturdy locks and barriers. 
  • Post “No Trespassing” signs on the property. 
  • Encourage neighbors to report any suspicious activity. 
  • Consider hiring a property management company to oversee and maintain the property. 
  • If feasible, keep the property in use, even if temporarily, to discourage squatting. 
  • Develop a good relationship with local law enforcement and notify them of the property’s vacancy to increase patrols and response to trespassing. 

Conclusion 

Knowledge is indeed power when it comes to understanding the laws that regulate property possession and ownership. However, it’s worth noting that adverse possession laws are unlikely to come into play in most cases. Property neglect to the extent that a squatter could go unnoticed for the required period is rare, emphasizing the importance of vigilance and preventative measures in protecting property rights. 

Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information. 

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