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Squatter's Rights

South Dakota Squatter’s Rights

January 3, 2024

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Squatters In South Dakota

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 claim possession and gain legal ownership of the property they’ve occupied.  

Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including South Dakota. The requirements for claiming these rights vary from state to state, making it essential for a property owner to understand the specific laws in their area. The squatters rights South Dakota provides differ from the adverse possession claim laws in other states. 

Property owners can feel comforted that it is notoriously difficult for a squatter to fulfill all the requirements necessary to make a successful claim to the legal title of your property. However, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover squatter’s rights in South Dakota and explain how an adverse possession claim works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 20 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? Optional; 10 years occupation + color of title sufficient 
  • Color of Title Required? Optional; 10 years occupation + 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. Usually, property owners can remove trespassers by calling a local law enforcement agency, while squatters cannot be removed this way. 

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 claim ownership of a property through a long period of possession, even without the permission of the property owner or property owners. 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 ownership through an adverse possession claim. 

South Dakota Squatters Rights 

So, what are squatters rights in South Dakota? How does a squatter go from unauthorized occupant of a home or rental property to rightful owner? 

To make a successful claim for adverse possession in South Dakota law, a squatter must meet one of the following criteria as per SDC § 15-3-1 and 15-3-16: 

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

Color of title refers to nontraditional ownership of a property, typically without the necessary paperwork or an official deed to the property. In South Dakota, squatters are not required to have color of title (or pay property taxes) before filing an adverse possession claim. However, if they do have both color of title and paid property taxes, the occupation minimum is reduced to ten years rather than twenty. Showing evidence of color of title and paying property taxes in court can also strengthen a squatter’s legal case and help convince the court that they should be the lawful owner. 

Squatters must also meet five general requirements for adverse possession/squatters rights in South Dakota (and in all other states): 

  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 (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 a property owner would.  
  1. Continuous Possession—The squatter must hold uninterrupted and continuous possession of the property (for ten or 20 consecutive years in South Dakota). 

How Does a Squatter Make an Adverse Possession Claim in South Dakota? 

If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for adverse possession South Dakota establishes as well as 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 adverse possession claims—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 to be the rightful owner under 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 via adverse possession. 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 South Dakota 

Removing a squatter in South Dakota, as in almost all other states, 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 South Dakota eviction process for squatters: 

  1. The owner must send a formal eviction notice, as per South Dakota eviction laws. In South Dakota, a valid eviction notice is either: 
    • A three-day notice to quit and vacate (for nonpayment, holdover evictions, and sale of the property)  
    • An immediate notice to quit and vacate (for lease violations, committing waste, or false service animal claims) 
  1. After the notice period has expired, the owner must file a complaint of forcible detainer with the South Dakota Circuit or Magistrate Court. 
  1. The court will issue a summons to court, which must be served to the squatter by the sheriff of another authorized process server. 
  1. The owner must attend a hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership of the property to the judge. 
  1. Upon confirming that you are the legal owner, the judge will issue an execution for possession, giving the squatter final notice to move out. 
  1. If the squatter refuses move out, 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 South Dakota Property 

Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property and avoid adverse possession claims: 

  • 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. 
  • Understand squatter’s rights in South Dakota and keep track of any changes to adverse possession laws. 

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. However, if a squatter situation does escalate to an adverse possession claim or legal action, you’ll now have the knowledge to dispute it. 

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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