Rhode Island Squatter’s Rights
January 2, 2024
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Squatters In Rhode Island
Squatters – those mysterious figures who move into an abandoned or unoccupied property– have long been a subject of curiosity and confusion. Many people wonder—and fear—how squatters sometimes gain legal ownership and legal title of the property they’ve occupied.
Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including Rhode Island. 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 Rhode Island law provides differ from those provided in other states. The process of making an adverse possession claim likewise varies by state.
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 Rhode Island squatter’s rights and explain how an adverse possession claim works in this state.
- Minimum Occupation Required: 10 consecutive years
- Property Taxes Required? No
- Color of Title Required? No
Who Are Squatters?
A squatter is someone who occupies abandoned or unoccupied land without legal ownership or permission from the property owner or property owners. 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.
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 may or may not have been paying property taxes.
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 had been paying rent but 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 or pay rent, while squatters actually occupy and live on the vacant property.
What Are Squatter’s Rights/Adverse Possession Law?
Squatter’s rights, also known as adverse possession law, refer to the general legal concept that allows 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 become the legal owner of a property.
Rhode Island Squatters Rights
Squatters in Rhode Island are subject to a specific Rhode Island statute before claiming squatters’ rights in this state and making an adverse possession claim. To make a claim for adverse possession Rhode Island law considers valid, a squatter must meet the following requirements:
- Occupy the property for at least ten consecutive years (RI Gen. Laws § 34-18).
In some states, squatters are also required to pay property taxes for a certain length of time or have what’s called “color of title.” Color of title is ownership of a property in a nontraditional way, usually without an official legal deed or other necessary documents. For adverse possession in Rhode Island, squatters are not required to fulfill either of these requirements (pay property taxes or have color of title), nor will having them reduce the ten-year occupation minimum. The ten-year occupation minimum is the only requirement for squatters rights in Rhode Island.
However, if a squatter shows evidence that they pay property taxes or have color of title in court, they may have a better chance of a judgment in their favor over the property owner. Paid property taxes and color of title can serve as convincing evidence that the squatter has true possession in Rhode Island and intends to follow all the applicable property law in Rhode Island that property owners are typically subject to.
Squatters must also meet five general requirements for squatters rights in Rhode Island and all other states:
- Hostile/Adverse Possession—The squatter must not have a valid lease or rental agreement with the owner.
- Actual Possession—The squatter must have actively lived in the property for a certain length of time.
- 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.
- Exclusive Possession—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else. They prevent others from living there like an owner would.
- Continuous Possession—The squatter must hold uninterrupted and continuous possession of the property (for ten consecutive years in Rhode Island).
How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession/ Squatters Rights in Rhode Island?
If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for adverse possession in Rhode Island and the general squatter’s rights principles above (actual possession, exclusive possession, hostile possession, etc.), 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 in Rhode Island files a 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 following the law in Rhode Island
- 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 in adverse possession laws
- Receive a judgment for adverse possession to perfect and gain legal title
As you can see, squatters in Rhode Island 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.
How to Remove a Squatter in Rhode Island via the Eviction Process
In Rhode Island, as in almost all other states, removing a squatter necessitates the full eviction process as per Rhode Island laws. 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 Rhode Island eviction process for squatters:
- The owner must send a formal eviction notice, as per Rhode Island eviction laws. In Rhode Island, the eviction notice must be one of the following:
- A five-day notice to pay or quit (for nonpayment)
- A 20-day notice to cure or quit (for lease violations materially affecting health and safety)
- A 20-day notice to quit (for repeat violations within six months)
- After the notice period has expired, the owner must file a complaint of forcible detainer with the Rhode Island District or Housing Court.
- The court will issue a summons to court, which must be served to the squatter by the sheriff of another authorized process server.
- The property owner must attend a hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership of the property to the judge.
- Upon confirming ownership, the judge will issue an execution of the judgment six days later.
- If the squatter refuses move out, the sheriff will return to forcibly remove them.
Remember that police officers cannot remove squatters after the eviction process—you must call the sheriff, who has the appropriate jurisdiction to remove the squatter.
How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant Rhode Island Property
Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters in Rhode Island 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.
- Read the laws on adverse possession in Rhode Island in preparation for any squatter disputes.
Knowledge is indeed power when it comes to understanding the laws that regulate property possession and ownership. Rhode Island landlords must be prepared for the possibility that a vacant property could attract a squatter. 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.