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Squatter's Rights

Iowa Squatter’s Rights

December 18, 2023

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Squatters In Iowa

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 (also known as adverse possession) exist in various forms across the United States, including Iowa. 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 Iowa protects differ from those protected 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 Iowa squatters rights and explain how adverse possession works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 5 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? Optional; paying taxes reduces occupation requirement 
  • 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. 

Iowa Squatters Rights 

Squatters rights in Iowa are unique to the state’s laws. To make a successful claim for adverse possession in Iowa, a squatter must have what is called “color of title.” 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. 

How do Iowa squatters get color of title? Iowa law lays out several different ways. A squatter has legal color of title in Iowa if they satisfy any of the following criteria as per IA Code § 560:   

  1. The squatter is a purchaser in good faith at a judicial or tax sale. It doesn’t matter whether the officer who made the sale actually had the authority to make that sale, only that the squatter believed they were making a valid purchase. 
  1. The squatter occupied the property for five continuous years.  
  1. The squatter occupied the property for less than five years, but paid property taxes on it for at least one year, and the owner has not offered to repay them. 
  1. The squatter occupied the property for three years under a state or federal law or contract. 

Squatters in Iowa only need to meet one of the above criteria to have color of title and to therefore be eligible to make a valid adverse possession claim. 

Squatters must also meet five general requirements to be eligible for squatters rights in Iowa: 

  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  

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession in Iowa? 

If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for squatters rights in Iowa 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 in their adverse possession case. There are many obstacles to winning an adverse possession case—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.) 
  • 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/squatters rights in Iowa 
  • Receive a judgment for adverse possession to perfect the title 

As you can see, a squatter has an enormous burden of proof when claiming squatters rights in Iowa. 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 to challenge legal ownership. 

How to Remove a Squatter in Iowa 

In Iowa, 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 Iowa: 

  1. The property owner must serve a formal eviction notice. Possible Iowa eviction notices include: 
    • A three-day notice to pay or quit (for nonpayment) 
    • A seven-day notice to cure or quit (for lease violations)  
    • A three-day unconditional notice to quit (for endangering the health or safety of others) 
  1. The owner must file a complaint of forcible detainer with Iowa Small Claims Court. 
  1. The court will issue a summons to be served to the tenant by a third party. 
  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 possession ten days later, authorizing the sheriff to remove the squatter. 
  1. The sheriff will give the squatter up to 72 hours to move out, after which the officer will return to forcibly remove the squatter. 

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 Iowa 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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