Squatter's Rights

Utah Squatter’s Rights

January 3, 2024

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Squatters In Utah

Squatters – those mysterious figures who move into abandoned or vacant properties – have long been a subject of curiosity and confusion of property owners. 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 Utah. 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 Utah 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 Utah squatters rights and explain how adverse possession works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 7 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? Yes 
  • Color of Title Required? Yes 

Who Are Squatters? 

A squatter is someone who occupies an unoccupied 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 to the actual owner. 

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, as trespassing is a criminal offense. 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, adverse possession laws 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 make an adverse possession claim. 

Utah Squatters Rights 

To make a successful claim for adverse possession in Utah, a squatter must meet all of the following requirements as per US § 78B-2-214

  • Occupy the property for at least seven continuous years. 
  • Have color of title for at least seven continuous years. 
  • Pay all property taxes for at least seven continuous years. 

Note that Utah squatters must fulfill all three requirements—occupation, color of title, and payment of property taxes—for the full seven year minimum in order to make a valid adverse possession claim. 

“Color of title” refers to nontraditional ownership of a property, usually without one more required legal documents (like an official deed). 

Squatters 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 uninterrupted and continuous possession of the property (for seven consecutive years in Utah). 

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

If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for squatters rights in Utah 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 legal ownership of a particular property. 

Note, however, that just because a squatter files a claim, this does not mean they will be successful in getting a legal title. There are many obstacles to winning an adverse possession claim—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, a squatter has an enormous burden of proof when claiming ownership of your property via a legal action. 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 and adverse possession claim. 

How to Remove a Squatter in Utah 

In Utah, as in almost all other states, removing a squatter necessitates the full 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 a proper eviction 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 Utah eviction process for squatters: 

  1. The owner must send a formal eviction notice, as per Utah eviction laws. In Utah, the possible eviction notices are: 
    • A three-business-day notice to pay or quit (for nonpayment) 
    • A three-calendar-day notice to cure or quit (for lease violations) 
    • A three-calendar-day unconditional notice to quit (for subletting the property without permission, committing waste, running unlawful business, permitting any nuisance, or criminal activity) 
  1. After the notice period has expired, the owner must file a complaint of forcible detainer with the Utah District Court. The landowner may be able to file a possession bond to regain possession of the property early. 
  1. The court will issue a summons to court, which must be served to the squatter by the sheriff or other authorized process server. 
  1. The owner must attend an occupancy or evidentiary hearing to decide immediate possession of the property. 
  1. At the full eviction hearing, the landowner must present evidence of lawful ownership of the property to the judge. 
  1. Upon confirming ownership, the judge will issue an order of restitution instructing the squatter to move out within three days. 
  1. If the squatter does not move out, the sheriff will return to forcibly remove them. 

Remember that local law enforcement police officers cannot remove squatters in Utah—you must call the sheriff, who has the appropriate jurisdiction to remove the squatter. 

How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant Utah Property 

Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters in Utah 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. 
  • Pay property taxes on time and keep diligent property tax records. 
  • Educate yourself on squatters rights in Utah and stay aware of any changes to Utah adverse possession law. 
  • Contact a qualified real estate attorney with questions about squatters or 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. 

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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