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Squatter's Rights

New York Squatter’s Rights

December 30, 2023

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Squatters In New York

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 ownership and legal title of the property they’ve occupied.  

Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including New York. 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 York state 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 squatter’s rights in New York and explain how adverse possession works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 10 consecutive years (30 days in NYC) 
  • 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, and they do not pay rent like a legal tenant would. 

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, a legal tenant with an expired lease is not a squatter. Rather, they are a “holdover tenant,” or a previous tenant who no longer has the right to live in the property. Legal tenants who break the lease are not squatters either. 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 claim adverse possession. 

Squatters Rights in New York 

To make a successful claim for adverse possession in New York, a squatter must meet the following requirements as per NY RPA Code § 511

  • Occupy the property for at least ten continuous years. 
  • Have color of title. 

“Color of title” refers to the non-regular ownership of a property, usually when someone lacks one or more required ownership documents, like an official deed. In the state of New York, a squatter must have had color of title for the entire ten years of continuous occupation/ actual possession before they can file a valid adverse possession claim. The squatter may also be required to pay property taxes on the land they intend to claim. 

Squatters must also meet five general requirements when claiming adverse possession: 

  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 property owners would.  
  1. Continuous Possession—The squatter must hold uninterrupted and continuous possession of the property (for 10 consecutive years in New York). 

Squatters Rights in NYC 

New York City has its own squatter rights laws. According to the squatters rights NYC provides, squatters can file adverse possession claims after only thirty days of continuous occupation (NYC Code § 26-521). This short possession period has led to many frustrated landlords and continues to be a problem for property owners in the city.  

If you’re a landlord with a vacant property in New York City, be sure to check your property for squatters (or hire a property manager to do so) at least every few weeks. Otherwise, a squatter could initiate a quiet title action and claim squatter’s rights legally with the court, causing you to have to go through a complicated and expensive legal process to remove them. Like all real estate property claims, a squatter dispute should be taken very seriously. 

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

If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for New York squatter’s rights 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 an adverse possession claim, this does not mean they will be successful. There are many obstacles to winning an adverse possession case—for instance, the adverse possessor 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 according to the squatters rights New York provides 
  • Receive a judgment for adverse possession to perfect the title 

As you can see, an adverse possessor 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 have a long period of occupation. For this reason, a squatter situation you’re involved in likely won’t escalate to a successful action to quiet title—that is, unless your property is located within the jurisdiction of New York City law. In NYC, every squatter situation is serious. If you notice a squatter living in your NYC property, call a lawyer or local law enforcement agency immediately. 

How to Remove a Squatter in New York 

As in almost all other states, removing a squatter in New York necessitates the full eviction process. Treating the adverse possessor 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 York eviction process for squatters: 

  1. The property owner must file a formal eviction notice. In New York, the required notice is a ten-day notice to quit for squatters and other non-tenants. 
  1. After the ten-day notice expires, property owners must file a complaint for eviction called a Petition for Special Proceedings with whichever court has jurisdiction over evictions where the property is located. This could be any of the following courts: 
    • New York County Court 
    • The court of a police justice of the village 
    • New York Justice Court 
    • A court of civil jurisdiction in a city 
    • New York District Court 
          1. The court will then issue a summons (or Notice of Petition) demanding the squatter’s presence in court, to be served by the sheriff or any other non-party of age. 
          1. Both parties must attend the court hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership. 
          1. Upon confirming legal ownership, the court will issue a Warrant for Possession giving the squatter 14 days to move out.  
          1. If the squatter does not vacate the property within those 14 days, a sheriff can forcibly remove them.  

          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 New York Property 

          Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property: 

          • Regularly inspect your vacant property (for NYC landlords, do this at least every few weeks). 
          • 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 squatters rights NY laws. 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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