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Squatter's Rights

Vermont Squatter’s Rights

January 3, 2024

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Squatters In Vermont

Squatters – those mysterious figures who move into abandoned or vacant properties – have long been a subject of curiosity and confusion of property owners. Many property owners wonder—and fear—how squatters sometimes acquire legal ownership of the property they’ve occupied.  

Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including Vermont. 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 Vermont provides are different from those provided in other states. 

While most property owners can feel comforted that it is notoriously difficult for a squatter to fulfill all the requirements necessary to make a successful legal claim, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover squatters rights in Vermont and explain how an adverse possession claim works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 15 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? No 
  • Color of Title Required? No 

Who Are Squatters? 

A squatter is someone who occupies someone else’s property 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 Isn’t a Squatter? 

Not everyone who occupies or enters a property without lawful permission is a squatter. For instance, tenants with expired leases are not squatters. Rather, they are “holdover tenants,” or previous tenants who used to have a lease and pay rent but 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 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 make an adverse possession claim. 

Vermont Squatters Rights 

To make a claim for adverse possession Vermont considers valid, a squatter must meet the following requirements: 

  • Occupy the property continuously for at least 15 consecutive years. 

Some states require squatters to additionally pay property taxes on the land or have color of title before making an adverse possession claim (“Color of title” refers to nontraditional ownership of a property, usually without an official deed). This is not the case for squatters rights in Vermont—squatters in this state are not required to fulfill either of the above (pay property taxes or have color of title) to file a claim, nor will doing so decrease the 15-year occupation minimum. 

However, having evidence of paid property taxes and/or color of title may strengthen a squatter’s case and improve their chances of winning the legal action in court after 15 years of occupation. 

Squatters must also meet five general requirements for adverse possession in Vermont and all other states: 

  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 an owner would.  
  1. Continuous Possession—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property (for 15 consecutive years in Vermont). 

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

If a squatter has fulfilled both the requirements for squatters rights in Vermont and the general squatter’s rights principles above, they can file an adverse possession claim or bring an action to “quiet title.” Quiet title is the legal action to claim ownership and become the legal owner of a particular property. 

Note, however, that just because a squatter occupies the property continuously for the minimum time and files an adverse possession claim, this does not mean they will be successful. There are many obstacles to claim adverse possession—for instance, squatters in Vermont 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 Vermont 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 Vermont 

In Vermont, 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 written 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 Vermont eviction process to evict squatters: 

  1. The owner must send a formal eviction notice, as per Vermont law on eviction. In Vermont, the possible eviction notices are: 
    • A 14-day notice to pay or quit (for nonpayment) 
    • A 30-day notice to quit (for lease violations) 
    • A 14-day unconditional notice to quit (for illegal activity, acts of violence, or threatening health/safety) 
  1. After the notice period has expired, the owner must file a complaint for ejectment with the Vermont Superior Court. 
  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. Both the landowner and the squatter must attend a hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership of the property to the judge. 
  1. Upon confirming the landowner’s ownership, the judge will issue a writ of possession instructing the squatter to move out within 14 days. 
  1. If the squatter does not move out, the sheriff will return to forcibly remove them. 

Remember that police officers cannot remove squatters—you must call the sheriff, who is the only law enforcement officer with the appropriate jurisdiction to remove the squatter. 

How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant Vermont Property 

Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters 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 all property taxes to avoid valid claims to adverse possession in Vermont. 
  • Educate yourself on adverse possession in Vermont and be aware of any changes to squatters rights law. 
  • Contact a real estate attorney with the right legal knowledge with any questions about squatters or adverse possession claims. 

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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