BACK

  • Landlord
  • Tenant
Squatter's Rights

Montana Squatter’s Rights

December 19, 2023

We’d love to connect with you.

Squatters In Montana

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 Montana. The requirements for claiming these rights vary from state to state, making it essential to understand the specific laws in your area. Adverse possession laws in Montana 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 legal claim to your property, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover Montana squatters rights and explain how Montana’s adverse possession laws work. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 5 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? Yes 
  • 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/ Squatter’s Rights? 

Squatter’s rights, also known as adverse possession laws, 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 and gain legal ownership of a property. 

Squatters Rights in Montana 

To make a successful claim for a property based on Montana’s adverse possession law, a squatter must meet the following requirements:  

  • Occupy the property continuously for at least five consecutive years 
  • Pay property taxes for at least five consecutive years (Mont. Civ. C § 70-19-401, 411).  

Montana squatters do not need to have color of title to make a successful adverse possession claim. “Color of title” refers to nontraditional ownership of a property, usually without one or more legal documents or requirements to prove ownership. Color of title rules vary by state—in Mississippi, squatters can gain color of title through the process of adverse possession and don’t need to secure it beforehand. 

However, having color of title (or being able to pay property taxes for longer than five years) may strengthen a squatter’s legal case and increase their chances of a positive judgment for adverse possession in Montana court. 

Squatters must also meet five general requirements: 

  1. Adverse/Hostile Possession—The squatter must not have a valid lease or rental agreement with the owner.  
  1. Actual Possession—The squatter must have actively lived in the property (actual possession) for a certain length of time.  
  1. Open and Notorious Possession—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 Possession—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else. They prevent others from living there like an owner would.  
  1. Continuous Possession—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property for 5 consecutive years 

How Does a Squatter Claim Montana Adverse Possession? 

If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for adverse possession in Montana 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 according to Montana law—for instance, squatters in Montana 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 according to squatters rights in Montana. 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 property owner dispute. 

How to Remove a Squatter in Montana 

In Montana, as in almost all other states, removing a squatter necessitates the full eviction process. Treating the squatter like any other tenant ensures that any Montana 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 Montana: 

  1. The landowner must serve a formal eviction notice depending on the reasons for eviction. The possible eviction notices are as follows:  
    • Three-day pay-or-quit notice (for rent nonpayment) 
    • Three-day cure-or-quit notice (for unauthorized pets/residents or in instances of verbal abuse) 
    • 14-day cure-or-quit notice (for lease violations) 
    • Five-day quit notice (for repeated lease violations) 
    • Three-day quit notice (for illegal activity or damage to the unit).  
  1. The landowner can file a complaint for eviction with the court.  
  1. The court will then issue the squatter a summons, providing them an opportunity to file an answer. The squatter’s answer explains any defenses or evidence they have to fight the landowner’s complaint. 
  1. If the squatter does file an answer, both parties will attend a court hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership. 
  1. If the landowner wins, the court will issue a writ of restitution/execution to be served to the squatter.  
  1. If the squatter does not move out within the designated timeframe, the sheriff will forcibly remove them from the property. 

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 Montana Property 

Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property and filing a claim for adverse possession in Montana: 

  • 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 

Knowing your squatters rights in Montana is indeed powerful 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. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get all the latest articles and information via email:

More in Learning Center

Announcements

Innago Releases Return Security Deposit Online Fea...

Renting your property to a stranger is risky. Even with the best tenant screenin...

September 18, 2023

Getting Started As A New Landlord

The Best Websites to Use When House Hunting

A Guide To House Hunting Sites In today’s digital age, house hunting has b...

January 29, 2024

Tenant Screening

Legal Reasons to Deny a Tenant Application

When Is It Acceptable To Deny A Tenant? The tenant screening process is designed...

January 29, 2024