Michigan Squatter’s Rights
December 19, 2023
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Squatters In Michigan
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 Michigan. 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 Michigan real estate law 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 necessary to make a successful adverse possession claim to your property, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover Michigan squatter’s rights and explain how the process of claiming adverse possession works in this state.
- Minimum Occupation Required: 15 consecutive years
- Property Taxes Required? Optional; 10 years occupation + color of title sufficient
- Color of Title Required? Optional; 10 years occupation + property taxes sufficient
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 make an adverse possession claim.
Michigan Squatters Rights
To make a successful claim for adverse possession in Michigan, a squatter must meet one the following requirements as per MCL § 600.5801:
- Occupy the property for at least 15 consecutive years.
- Occupy the property, pay property taxes, and have color of title for at least ten consecutive 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. In some states, a squatter obtains color of title through the process of adverse possession, while in other states a squatter must have color of title first, before making a claim.
The latter case applies in Michigan—for squatters who have been living on a property between ten and 15 years, color of title (along with payment of all property taxes) is required before making an adverse possession claim. However, if the squatter’s possession reaches 15 years, color of title and the obligation to pay property taxes are no longer required by Michigan law for an adverse possession claim.
Squatters must also meet five general requirements:
- Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease or rental agreement with the owner.
- Actual Possession—The squatter must have had actual possession and resided 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 uninterrupted and continuous possession of the property (for ten-15 consecutive years in Michigan)
How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession/Squatters Rights in Michigan?
If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for squatters rights in Michigan 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 at making a claim for adverse possession in Michigan. There are many obstacles to winning an adverse possession case and obtaining a legal title—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 or adverse possession case with a local Michigan 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
- 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 and claim to adverse possession.
How to Remove a Squatter in Michigan
In most states, property owners are obligated to go through the typical legal eviction process in its entirety to remove a squatter and cannot take any measures to remove a squatter outside the legal system. This is not the case in Michigan.
In 2014, Michigan passed a unique law for getting rid of squatters: In this state, property owners can use self-help measures to encourage squatters to move out. Self-help measures are steps taken to make a property unlivable, such as shutting off utilities, changing the locks, or removing the squatter’s belongings. These measures are not allowed in any other state and never allowed when dealing with tenants, including in Michigan. However, this law makes it easier for property owners to remove squatters and avoid the financial costs of eviction.
The Eviction Process
If self-help measures do not work, the property owner will have to initiate the eviction process to remove the squatter. Remember that you should NOT try to physically remove a squatter; this could be classified as assault. Only the sheriff has the appropriate jurisdiction to forcibly remove a squatter, after obtaining a writ of possession from the court.
Here are the steps of the eviction process in Michigan:
- The owner must send a formal eviction notice, as per Michigan eviction laws. In Michigan, the possible eviction notices are:
- A seven-day pay-or-quit notice (for nonpayment)
- A seven-day cure-or-quit notice (for health or safety violations)
- A 30-day quit notice (for all other lease violations)
- A seven-day quit notice (for violence on the premises)
- A 24-hour unconditional quit notice (for illegal drug activity)
- After the notice period has expired, the owner must file a complaint of forcible detainer with the Michigan District Court.
- The court will issue a summons to court, which must be served to the squatter by the sheriff of another authorized process server.
- The owner must attend a hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership of the property to the judge.
- Upon confirming ownership, the judge will issue a writ of restitution authorizing the sheriff to forcibly remove the squatter.
- The sheriff will give the squatter a final notice period to move out and then return to forcibly remove them.
Remember that police officers cannot remove squatters—you must call the sheriff.
How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant Michigan Property
Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property and attempting to make adverse possession claims:
- 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 adverse possession and property 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.