Maine Squatter’s Rights
December 19, 2023
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Squatters In Maine
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 Maine. 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 Maine provides differ from those provided in other states.
While you can feel comforted that it is notoriously difficult for a squatter to fulfill all the requirements and Maine adverse possession laws necessary to make a successful legal claim to your property, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover Maine squatters rights and explain how adverse possession works in this state.
- Minimum Occupation Required: 20 consecutive years
- Property Taxes Required? Required for “uncultivated lands in unincorporated areas”
- Color of Title Required? No
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 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 squatters 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 Maine
According to Maine adverse possession laws, to make a successful claim for adverse possession or squatters rights in Maine, a squatter must have resided on the property for 20 continuous years (MRSA 14 § 801, et seq).
Some states require squatters to obtain what’s called “color of title” (possession with an invalid or incorrect deed) or pay property taxes for a significant length of time before making an adverse possession claim. This is not the case in Maine. Squatters are not required to have color of title or pay property taxes by Maine adverse possession laws; the only requirement for squatter’s rights is the 20-year continuous occupation. However, color of title or paying taxes may strengthen the squatter’s case in Maine and increase the likelihood that the court rules in their favor.
There is one exception to the above: If a squatter is trying to “claim uncultivated lands in unincorporated areas,” they must also pay property taxes on the land they are claiming (MRSA 14 § 816).
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 20 consecutive years
How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession in Maine?
If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for squatters rights in Maine according to Maine adverse possession laws 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 a squatters rights Maine or 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 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 according to Maine law
- Receive a judgment for adverse possession to perfect the title
As you can see, a squatter has an enormous burden of proof when attempting to claim legal ownership of your property. It is a highly complex process that often requires the squatter to hire a real estate 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 adverse possession claim and action to quiet title.
How to Remove a Squatter in Maine
Regarding squatters rights Maine, as in almost all other states, dictates that 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 Maine:
- The landowner must serve the squatter a formal seven-day eviction notice. The squatter may either cure the issue or quit the property, depending on the nature of the eviction.
- Next, property owners must file a complaint (the eviction lawsuit) with the Maine District Court.
- The court will issue a summons to be served to the squatter by the sheriff.
- The property owner must attend a hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership of the property to the judge.
- If the judge rules in the property owner’s favor, the court will issue a writ of possession authorizing the squatter’s removal from the property.
- After the writ is served, the squatter has 48 hours to move out.
- If the squatter does not leave within 48 hours, they will be considered an illegal trespasser, and the sheriff will forcibly remove them and their belongings from the property.
Remember that police officers cannot remove squatters—property owners must call the sheriff, who has the appropriate jurisdiction via adverse possession laws to remove the squatter.
How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant Maine Property
Here are a few practical tips to avoid adverse possession cases and 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.