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Squatter's Rights

District of Columbia (D.C.) Squatter’s Rights

January 8, 2024

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Squatters In D.C.

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

Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including Washington, D.C. The requirements for claiming these rights vary from state to state, making it essential to understand the specific laws in your area. The squatters rights DC provides differ from those provided in other cities and states. 

While most property owners can feel comforted that it is notoriously difficult for a squatter to fulfill all the requirements necessary to make a successful legal claim, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover D.C. squatters rights and explain how an adverse possession claim works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 15 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? No 
  • Color of Title Required? No 

Who Are Squatters? 

A squatter is someone who occupies someone else’s 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, and they do not pay rent.  

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 from the rightful owner 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, as trespassing is a criminal offense. Criminal trespassers enter your private property but do not live there, while squatters occupy and live on the vacant property. 

What Is Adverse Possession/Squatters Rights? 

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. 

DC Squatter’s Rights 

According to the squatters rights DC provides, to make a successful claim for adverse possession, a squatter must meet the following requirements under D.C. Code § 16-1113, 16-3301:  

  • Occupy the property for at least 15 continuous years.  

In some states, squatters are required to pay property taxes for a certain length of time or have what’s called “color of title” before filing an adverse possession claim. Color of title refers to nontraditional ownership of a property, usually with an invalid or incorrect deed. Washington, D.C. law does not address these requirements for squatter’s rights, nor will having them reduce the minimum occupation time of 15 years. 

That said, if a squatter has evidence of paying property taxes and color of title, this may help them convince the court that they should have legal ownership and legal title of the property. 

Squatters in D.C. (and all 50 states) must also meet five general requirements for adverse possession claims: 

  1. Hostile/Adverse Possession—The squatter must not have a valid lease or rental agreement with the owner.  
  1. Actual Possession—The squatter must have actively lived in the property for a certain length of time.  
  1. Open and Notorious Possession—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 Possession—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else. They prevent others from living there like an owner would.  
  1. Continuous Possession—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property (for 15 consecutive years in D.C.). 

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession in D.C.? 

If a squatter has fulfilled both the DC squatters rights requirements 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 claim—for instance, the squatter would need to: 

  • Gather ample evidence for their adverse possession 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 the property owner 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 D.C. 

In Washington D.C., 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, 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 D.C. eviction process for squatters: 

  1. The landowner must serve the squatter a 30-day eviction notice.  
  1. After the notice period expires, the landowner must file a verified complaint for eviction with the D.C. Superior Court. 
  1. The court will issue a summons to be served to the squatter by any non-party of age. 
  1. The landlord and squatter must attend a court hearing, to present evidence of lawful ownership. 
  1. Upon confirming the landowner’s ownership, the court will issue a writ of execution after two days authorizing the squatter’s removal. 
  1. The squatter gets three days to move out following service of the writ. 
  1. If the squatter does not vacate the property after three days, the U.S. Marshals Service will return to forcibly remove them.  

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 D.C. Property 

Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property and attempting to make an adverse possession claim: 

  • 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. 
  • Pay property taxes on time and keep diligent property tax records. 
  • Educate yourself on adverse possession in D.C. and be aware of any changes to D.C. law on adverse possession claims. 
  • Contact a knowledgeable real estate attorney with questions about squatters, adverse possession law, or property law. 

Conclusion 

Knowledge is indeed power when 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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