Squatter's Rights

Maryland Squatter’s Rights

December 19, 2023

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Squatters In Maryland

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 ownership of a private property they’ve occupied.  

Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including Maryland. 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 Maryland differ 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 adverse possession claim to your property, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover Maryland squatters rights and explain how this state’s adverse possession law works. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 20 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? No 
  • 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 the land of a property owner 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 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. 

Maryland Squatter’s Rights 

To make a successful claim for adverse possession in Maryland, a squatter must have resided there continuously for 20 years (MD Code, Cts & Jud. Proc. § 5-103, 201).  

Some states require squatters to obtain what’s called “color of title” or to have been paying property taxes for a significant length of time before making an adverse possession claim. This is not the case in Maryland. Squatters are not required to have color of title or pay property taxes; 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 Maryland and increase the likelihood that the court rules in their favor. 

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 prevent others from living there like an owner would.  
  1. Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property for 20 consecutive years 

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession in Maryland? 

If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for squatters rights in Maryland 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 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 
  • Receive a judgment for adverse possession to perfect the title and update legal documents 

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 Maryland 

In Maryland, 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 Maryland: 

  1. The owner must serve a ten- to 30-day eviction notice, depending on the eviction offense: 
    • Ten-day notice to pay or quit (for nonpayment of rent) 
    • 30-day notice to quit (for lease violations) 
    • 14-day unconditional notice to quit (for causing danger of harm to others) 
  1. The landowner must file a complaint (the eviction lawsuit) with the county’s district court. 
  1. The court will issue a summons to be served to the squatter by a sheriff or other authorized process server. 
  1. Both parties must attend a court hearing, where the owner must present evidence of their ownership of the property. 
  1. If the court rules in favor of the owner, a warrant of restitution will be issued, giving the squatter four days to move out or appeal the judgement.  
  1. If the squatter does not move out, the sheriff 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 Maryland 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 squatters rights and adverse possession in Maryland. 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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