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Squatter's Rights

Massachusetts Squatter’s Rights

December 19, 2023

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Squatters In Massachusetts

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.  

Squatter’s rights exist in various forms across the United States, including Massachusetts. The requirements for claiming these rights vary from state to state, making it essential to understand the specific laws in your area. The adverse possession laws Massachusetts enforces differs from those enforced 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 Massachusetts squatters rights and explain how making adverse possession claims works in this state. 

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 and they are not the legal property owner. 

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/Squatter’s 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 claims were established to reward the productive use of land and discourage neglect of properties by property owners. 

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 make an adverse possession claim. 

Squatters Rights in Massachusetts 

To make a successful adverse possession claim in Massachusetts, a squatter must retain possession of the property for 20 continuous years (MA CC 260 § 21). 

Some states require squatters to pay property taxes or have what’s called “color of title” to make an adverse possession claim. The ability of a squatter to pay property taxes demonstrates commitment to maintaining the property and fulfilling the legal obligations of ownership. 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.  

Squatters are not required to have either of these requirements (property taxes or color of title) as per Massachusetts law before making a claim to gain legal ownership—although proof of either may strengthen a squatter’s case and improve their chances of success. 

Squatters must also meet five general requirements: 

  1. Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease or rental agreement with the property owner.  
  1. Actual Possession—The squatter must have actual possession, meaning they’ve actually resided 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 from other nearby property owners. 
  1. Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else. They prevent others from living there like a property owner would.  
  1. Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property (for 20 consecutive years in Massachusetts). 

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession in Massachusetts? 

If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for squatters rights in Massachusetts and the general squatter’s rights principles above, they can file a claim for Massachusetts adverse possession or bring an action to “quiet title.” Quiet title is the legal action to claim the right of possession and gain legal 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 

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 Massachusetts 

In Massachusetts, 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 Massachusetts: 

  1. The landowner must serve a formal eviction notice. In Massachusetts, possible notices include: 
    • A 14-day pay or quit notice (for nonpayment of rent) 
    • A seven-day quit notice (for lease violations) 
    • An unconditional notice to quit (for illegal activity) 
  1. The landowner will then file an eviction complaint with the Massachusetts Housing, District, Superior, or Boston Municipal Court. 
  1. The owner must arrange for a court summons to be served to the squatter by the sheriff. 
  1. The owner must attend a court hearing with the squatter to present evidence of lawful ownership of the property to the judge. 
  1. If the judge rules in favor of the landowner, the squatter will have 48 hours to move out. 
  1. If they do not move out within 48 hours, the court will issue a writ of execution and the sheriff will arrive to forcibly remove the tenant. 

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 Massachusetts 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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