Arkansas Squatter’s Rights
December 13, 2023
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Squatters In Arkansas
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 Arkansas. The requirements for claiming these rights vary from state to state, making it essential to understand the specific laws in your area. Squatters rights Arkansas protects may very well be invalid in other states, and vice versa.
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 cover Arkansas’s squatter’s rights and explain how adverse possession works in this state.
- Minimum Occupation Required: 7 consecutive years for unimproved and unenclosed land; 15 consecutive years for wild and unimproved land
- Property Taxes Required? Yes
- Color of Title Required? Yes
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 or enters 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, 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 claim adverse possession.
Squatters Rights in Arkansas
The process of claiming Arkansas squatters rights through Arkansas adverse possession laws depends on what kind of land is being claimed: unimproved and unenclosed, or wild and unimproved. To make a successful claim for adverse possession in Arkansas, a squatter must meet one of the following requirements as per Arkansas adverse possession laws (ACA § 18-11-106):
- For unimproved and unenclosed land: Occupied the land, held color of title, and paid ad valorem property taxes for at least seven consecutive years.
- For wild and unimproved land: Occupied the land, held color of title, and paid ad valorem property taxes for at least fifteen consecutive years.
According to Arkansas squatter laws, a squatter can also make a valid adverse possession claim if they have held color of title to a real property that is contiguous to the one being claimed for at least seven years, and paid ad valorem taxes on that property during that time. If a squatter owns a contiguous property and either does not have color of title or hasn’t paid property taxes, they cannot make a valid adverse possession claim.
When someone has “color of title,” this means they have ownership of a property in a nontraditional way, or without having the legal title or deed to the property. In Arkansas, a squatter can establish color of title by paying the ad valorem taxes, as long as the true owner has not also paid the taxes or made a bona fide good faith effort to pay them.
The squatter must prove that they have paid all property taxes on the land for at least the previous seven years before they can make a valid claim per Arkansas adverse possession laws.
Squatters must also meet five general requirements:
- Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease or rental agreement with the owner.
- Actual—The squatter must have actively lived in the property for a certain length of time.
- 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.
- Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else. They prevent others from living there like an owner would.
- Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property for a certain number of consecutive years (7 or 15, as per Arkansas law).
How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession in Arkansas?
If a squatter has fulfilled both the Arkansas requirements for squatter’s 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 determine 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 a case through Arkansas adverse possession laws—for instance, 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.). This evidence may vary depending on what counts as squatters rights in Arkansas.
- 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 in 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 Arkansas
In Arkansas, as in almost all other states, removing a squatter necessitates the full eviction process. Treating the squatter like any other tenant ensures that any adverse possession claim they file is invalid.
If you find out that a squatter is living in your property, you need to provide proper notice as per Arkansas law, file a formal eviction complaint in court, and attend (or get your attorney to attend) a hearing to lawfully remove the squatter.
Here is an overview of the eviction process for squatters in Arkansas:
- The owner must send the squatter a formal eviction notice, as per Arkansas law. In Arkansas, the possible eviction notices are:
- A three-day notice to quit (for civil nonpayment actions)
- A ten-day notice to quit (for criminal nonpayment actions)
- A 14-day notice to cure or quit (for other lease violations)
- An immediate unconditional notice to quit (for illegal activity)
- The owner must file a complaint of forcible detainer with the Arkansas District or Circuit Court.
- The court will issue and serve the squatter a Notice of Intent to Issue Writ of Possession.
- The squatter must file an answer, a written objection to the complaint, within five or ten days.
- If the squatter doesn’t file an answer, the landlord gets a writ of possession by default, and the sheriff can remove the squatter.
- If the squatter does file an answer, both parties must attend a court hearing.
- If the owner wins, the court will issue a writ of possession within three days.
- The owner can then call the sheriff to serve and execute the writ. The squatter will get 24 hours to move out, after which they will be forcibly removed.
Remember that police officers cannot remove squatters—you must call the sheriff, who has the appropriate jurisdiction to remove the squatter.
How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant Arkansas 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.
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.