Missouri Squatter’s Rights
December 19, 2023
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Squatters In Missouri
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 Missouri. The requirements for claiming these rights vary from state to state, making it essential to understand the specific laws in your area.
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 Missouri squatters rights and explain how Missouri adverse possession laws work in this state.
- Minimum Occupation Required: 10 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 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 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.
Missouri Squatter’s Rights
To make a successful claim for adverse possession in Missouri, a squatter must occupy the property for at least 10 continuous years (MO Rev. Stat. § 516.010).
Squatters rights in Missouri state that squatters do not need to pay property taxes on the land or have color of title to make a Missouri adverse possession claim. “Color of title” refers to nontraditional ownership of the property, which could be obtained in various ways depending on the state. In Missouri, a squatter having color of title does not lower the amount of time required to continuously occupy the property, nor is it required to make a successful adverse possession claim.
However, although they aren’t required for squatting laws in Missouri, having color of title or being able to pay property taxes on the land may support a squatter’s case and increase the likelihood that the court rules in their favor. Squatters who pay property taxes have a better chance of convincing the court that they are keeping up with the property like an owner would.
Squatters must also meet five general requirements to make an adverse possession claim:
- Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease or rental agreement with the owner.
- Actual Possession—The squatter must have actively lived in the property (actual possession) 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 Possession—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 10 consecutive years in Missouri).
How Does a Squatter Claim Missouri Adverse Possession?
If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for squatters rights in Missouri and the general squatter’s rights principles above, they can file a claim for Missouri adverse possession or bring an action to “quiet title.” Quiet title is the action to claim the right of legal possession and gain legal ownership of a particular property.
Note, however, that just because a squatter files an adverse possession claim per squatting laws in Missouri, 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, receipts from paying property taxes, evidence that they’ve “beautified” the property, etc.).
- File a quiet title/adverse possession complaint with the court.
- Attend a hearing with the property owner or property owners in front of a judge, where they’ll present their case for adverse possession and legal ownership based on the applicable squatting laws.
- Successfully convince a judge that they have fulfilled all the state requirements to claim adverse possession according to Missouri’s adverse possession law.
- 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 Missouri
In Missouri, 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 a property, property owners need to provide proper notice, file a formal eviction complaint in court, and attend (or get an attorney to attend) a hearing to lawfully remove the squatter.
Here is an overview of the eviction process for squatters in Missouri:
- The property owner must serve a formal eviction notice as per Missouri law on eviction. Depending on the circumstances, the landlord may post any of the following notices:
- Immediate pay-or-quit notice (for nonpayment of rent)
- Ten-day cure-or-quit notice (for lease violations)
- Ten-day quit notice (for illegal activity)
- Following the notice period, the landowner can file a complaint with the court. In Missouri, the relevant eviction court is the Associate Circuit Court in the county where the property is located.
- The court will then issue the squatter a summons. This summons must be served to the squatter at least three days prior to their court date.
- The owner must present evidence of lawful ownership to the court during their hearing.
- Following judgement, the tenant will be served a writ of restitution that authorizes the sheriff to remove them if they do not move out within 24 hours.
- After 24 hours have passed, the sheriff will 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 Missouri Property
Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters in Missouri 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.