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Squatter's Rights

New Jersey Squatter’s Rights

December 24, 2023

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Squatters In New Jersey

Squatters – those mysterious figures who move into abandoned or vacant properties – have long been a subject of curiosity and confusion for property owners. Many people wonder—and fear—how squatters sometimes gain legal ownership of the property they’ve occupied.  

Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including New Jersey. The requirements for claiming these rights vary from state to state, making it essential to understand the specific adverse possession laws in your area. The squatters rights New Jersey 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 legal claim to your property, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover New Jersey squatters rights and explain how making an adverse possession claim works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 30 consecutive years; 60 consecutive years for woodlands or uncultivated lands 
  • Property Taxes Required? Required for at least 5 years of the 30 consecutive year period. 
  • Color of Title Required? Yes, required for the entire 30-year occupation period. 

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 claim adverse possession. 

New Jersey Squatters Rights 

To make a successful claim for adverse possession in New Jersey, a squatter must meet one of the following criteria as per NJ Rev Stat § 2A:14-30 to 32 (2022)

  • Occupy a non-woodland property for 30 continuous years, have color of title at least as long, and pay property taxes for at least five consecutive years of the occupation. 
  • Occupy a woodland area for 60 continuous years, have color of title for at least as long, and pay property taxes for at least five consecutive years of the occupation. 

“Color of title” refers to nontraditional ownership of a property, usually without an official deed or other legal documents.  

Note that although the occupation minimum changes based on the type of land being claimed (woodland vs. non-woodland), the requirement to have color of title the entire time and pay property taxes for at least five years does not change. Squatters in New Jersey need to fulfill all three of these requirements to make their adverse possession claim valid with the court. 

Squatters in New Jersey and other states must also meet five general requirements: 

  1. Hostile/Adverse 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 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 uninterrupted and continuous possession of the residential property (for 30-60 years in New Jersey). 

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession/ Squatters Rights in New Jersey? 

If a squatter has fulfilled both the squatters rights New Jersey requirements 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 for squatters rights in New Jersey, 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 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. 

How to Remove a Squatter in New Jersey 

In New Jersey, 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 New Jersey eviction process for squatters: 

  1. The property owner must serve a formal New Jersey eviction notice to the squatter. The notice period varies depending on the offense: 
    • An immediate pay-or-quit notice (for nonpayment) 
    • A one-month notice to quit (for habitual failure to pay rent) 
    • A one-month notice to quit (for lease violations) 
    • A three-day unconditional quit notice (for disorderly conduct like illegal activity or damage to the property or others) 
  1. The owner files a complaint for eviction in the special civil part of the New Jersey Superior Court.  
    • Keep in mind that according to New Jersey law, landlords who are a corporation. LLC, or business partnership must be represented by an attorney for landlord-tenant cases.  
  1. The court issues a summons to court, to be served to the squatter by a special civil part officer, sheriff, or other authorized officer. 
  1. The court may schedule a case management conference that will offer space for the landlord and squatter to resolve or settle the case without taking it to trial. 
  1. If no settlement is reached, both the parties will attend a court hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership.  
  1. Upon confirming the property owner’s rightful ownership, the court will issue a Warrant of Removal three days after the judgment is entered. 
  1. The squatter will be served the warrant and given an additional three business days to move out. 
  1. If the squatter refuses to move out, a civil part officer will return to forcibly remove the squatter. 

How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant New Jersey 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 NJ squatters rights and rules 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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