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Squatter's Rights

New Mexico Squatter’s Rights

December 30, 2023

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Squatters In New Mexico

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 gain legal ownership of the property they’ve occupied.  

Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including New Mexico. 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 New Mexico provides differs from the adverse possession laws 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 Mexico squatter’s rights and explain how claiming adverse possession works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 10 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? Yes 
  • Color of Title Required? Yes 

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 legal title 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 Mexico Squatters Rights 

To make a successful claim for adverse possession in New Mexico and gain legal title, a squatter must meet all of the following criteria as per New Mexico’s adverse possession laws (NMSA § 37-1-22): 

  • Occupy the property for at least ten continuous years
  • Have color of title for at least ten continuous years. 
  • Pay property taxes on the land for at least ten continuous years. 

‘Color of title’ refers to the nontraditional ownership of the property, usually without an official deed or other legal document. A squatter in New Mexico is required to have color of title before making an adverse possession (this is not the case in other states, where color of title can be obtained through the adverse possession claim process). Squatters in New Mexico must also have paid property taxes for the entire ten-year length of occupation. 

Squatters 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 continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property for 10 consecutive years 

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

If a squatter has fulfilled both the New Mexico squatters rights requirements and the general squatter’s rights principles above, they can file an adverse possession New Mexico claim 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 an adverse possession claim in New Mexico, this does not mean they will be successful. There are many obstacles to winning an adverse possession case via New Mexico squatting laws—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 or claim to adverse possession in New Mexico. 

How to Remove a Squatter in New Mexico 

In New Mexico, 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 Mexico eviction process for squatters: 

  1. The landowner must start by serving a formal eviction notice according to New Mexico law. Depending on the offense, notice periods vary:  
    • Three-day pay-or-quit notice for nonpayment 
    • Seven-day cure-or-quit notice for lease violations  
    • Three-day quit-notice for controlled substance usage or distribution, deadly weapon usage, harm to another, theft, or intentional or reckless damage to the property over $1,000 
      1. The property owner must file a complaint for eviction with the New Mexico District or Magistrate Court. 
      1. The court will then issue a summons to be served to the squatter by the sheriff or other authorized process server. 
      1. Both parties will attend a court hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership 
      1. Upon confirming ownership, the court will issue a writ of restitution ordering the squatter to move out within three to seven days. 
      1. If the squatter does not vacate the property, the sheriff will return to forcibly remove them. 

      Remember that police officers cannot remove squatters under New Mexico law—you must call the sheriff, who has the appropriate jurisdiction to remove the squatter. 

      How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant New Mexico Property 

      Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property and attempting to claim legal ownership: 

      • 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 adverse possession New Mexico laws and the 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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