Squatter's Rights

North Dakota Squatter’s Rights

December 30, 2023

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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 North Dakota. 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 North Dakota 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 in North Dakota, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover North Dakota squatter’s rights and explain how adverse possession works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 20 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? Optional; 10 years occupation with color of title sufficient 
  • Color of Title Required? Optional; 10 years occupation with property taxes sufficient 

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 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 permission of the property owner. 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. 

North Dakota Squatters Rights 

Squatters in North Dakota must follow the adverse possession laws specific to this state in order to claim legal ownership of a property. To make a successful claim for adverse possession in North Dakota, a squatter must meet one of the following requirements as per NDC § 28-01-04; 47-06-03

  • Occupy the property for at least 20 continuous years.  
  • Occupy the property, have color of title, and pay property taxes for at least ten continuous years. 

Note that having color of title and the ability to pay property taxes are not required to make an adverse possession claim, but having both reduces the occupation minimum by ten years. 

“Color of title” refers to the nonregular ownership of a property, usually without one or more required legal documents, like an official deed. In North Dakota, color of title works differently than in other states: North Dakota law describes two specific ways to obtain it within the state: 

  1. By having a written instrument, judgment, or decree 
  1. Without having a written instrument 

In the first case when color of title is obtained through a written instrument, judgment, or decree, it is only granted when the land has been occupied or possessed in a specific way. The requirements for occupation are as follows:  

  • The land has been improved/cultivated. 
  • The land is protected by a substantial enclosure (fence), or if not, used for the supply of fuel or fencing timber for husbandry or the squatter’s ordinary use. 
  • If the land is a single lot or farmland, the land must have been partly improved. The part of land that is not enclosed or uncleared must have been deemed occupied for the same amount of time as the enclosed portion of land. 

If color of title is not obtained through written decree or judgement, the land must be both: 

  • Protected by a substantial enclosure 
  • Usually cultivated or improved 

Squatters in North Dakota (and in all states) must also meet five general requirements for adverse possession claims: 

  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 20 consecutive years.  

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession in North Dakota? 

If a squatter in North Dakota has fulfilled both the ND squatters rights 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 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 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 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, squatters in North Dakota have 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. Nonetheless, squatter’s rights in North Dakota as well as the adverse possession laws in North Dakota are important to understand. 

How to Remove a Squatter in North Dakota 

In North Dakota, removing a squatter necessitates the judicial 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 North Dakota judicial eviction process for squatters: 

  1. The landowner must serve a formal eviction notice. In North Dakota, there are a couple different notices a landowner could issue depending on the reason for eviction: 
    • A three-day pay-or-quit notice for rent nonpayment 
    • A three-day Notice of Intention to Evict (for lease violations; no opportunity to cure is required)  
    1. After the required notice time has passed, the landlord can file a complaint for eviction with the North Dakota District Court.  
    1. The court will issue a summons to be served to the squatter by the sheriff or other process server. 
    1. Both the landowner (or their attorney) and the squatter must attend the court hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership.  
    1. Upon confirming the landowner’s ownership, the court will issue a writ of execution providing the squatter up to five days to move out. 
    1. If the squatter does not vacate the premises, the sheriff will return to 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 North Dakota Property 

    Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property and attempting to claim squatter’s rights in North Dakota: 

    • 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. 
    • Pay taxes on the property every year and keep diligent tax records. 
    • Educate yourself on squatter’s rights in North Dakota and remain aware of any changes to adverse possession legislation in North Dakota. 

    Conclusion 

    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. 

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