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Squatter's Rights

Illinois Squatter’s Rights

December 16, 2023

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Handling Squatters in Illinois

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 Illinois. The requirements for claiming these rights vary from state to state, making it essential to understand the specific laws in your area. Squatters rights in Illinois are different from those in other states. 

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 Illinois squatters rights and explain how adverse possession works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 20 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? Optional; 7 years occupation sufficient 
  • Color of Title Required? Optional 

Who Are Squatters?  

When referring to the squatting laws Illinois prescribes, 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 Squatters Rights/Adverse Possession? 

Squatters 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 claim adverse possession. 

Squatters Rights in Illinois 

Illinois adverse possession laws designate specific conditions under which squatters have property rights. Squatting laws Illinois enforces say that to make a successful claim for adverse possession, a squatter must meet one of the following requirements as per 735 ILCS § 13-101

  • Occupy the property 20 continuous years 
  • Occupy the property continuously, pay property taxes, and have color of title for 7 continuous years 

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. Color of title can be obtained in different ways, depending on the state. Some states (like Illinois) require squatters to have color of title before making an adverse possession claim; other states allow squatters to obtain in through the process of adverse possession. 

According to Illinois adverse possession laws, a squatter does not necessarily need to have color of title or have paid property taxes on the land to make an adverse possession claim. However, if they do pay property taxes and have color of title for at least seven consecutive years, the occupation period is shortened to seven years instead of 20. 

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 have exclusive possession and prevent others from living there like an owner would.  
  1. Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property (in Illinois, for 7 or 20 years). 

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession in Illinois? 

If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for squatters rights Illinois designates 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 an adverse possession claim, this does not mean they will be successful. There are many obstacles to winning an adverse possession claim—for instance, Illinois squatters 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 listed in Illinois adverse possession law 
  • 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 Illinois 

In Illinois, 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, 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 Illinois: 

  1. The property owner must serve a formal eviction notice to the squatter. Possible eviction notices in Illinois include: 
    • Five-day pay-or-quit notice (for nonpayment of rent) 
    • Ten-day cure-or-quit Notice (for lease violations) 
    • Five-day notice to quit (for illegal activity). 
  1. After the allotted time has passed, the owner must file a complaint with the Illinois Circuit Court. 
  1. The court will issue a summons, which must be served to the squatter at least three days before the hearing.  
  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 execution authorizing the sheriff to forcibly remove the squatter. 
  1. If the squatter has engaged in illegal activity, they only have seven days after being served the writ of execution to vacate the property. If they have not engaged in illegal behavior, they have 14 days to move out before a sheriff will remove them.  

Remember that police officers cannot remove squatters in Illinois—you must call the sheriff, who has the appropriate jurisdiction to remove the squatter. 

Also note that special rules apply if a squatter leaves behind personal property in a Chicago property. If your property is within Chicago city limits, you must store the squatter’s personal property for five days before disposing of it. For all other properties, you must tell the squatter how to reclaim their property and allow a reasonable amount of time for them to do so.  

How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant Illinois 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 

Knowing the squatters rights Illinois prescribes is an important part of being a good property owner. 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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