Rental Management

What Landlords Need to Know About Squatters Rights

August 23, 2023

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A Landlord’s Guide To Squatters Rights

Almost everyone—whether in real estate or not—has heard the term “squatter’s rights.” It’s a term every landlord and property manager should know, but it’s often poorly understood.  

So, what really are squatter’s rights? Who gets them, and what does this mean for landlords? 

In this article, we cover everything you need to know about squatters and squatter’s rights as a property owner—from what a squatter is to how quiet title actions work during property disputes to how to lawfully remove squatters from your property. 

Who Are Squatters? Squatter Definition 

Squatters are people who move into a vacant property without being a tenant or getting permission from the true owner. They have no legal right or claim to the property when they move in and may even do so without your knowledge. Their occupation is against the law…until it isn’t. 

What Are Squatters Rights? 

So now that you know what a squatter is, what are squatters rights? 

The term “squatters rights” is not a specific set of rules or laws. Instead, “squatter’s rights” (known in the legal world as adverse possession) refers to the general principles under which squatters can sometimes have a valid legal claim to the property they’re occupying.  

There are five of these principles, which are listed below: 

  1. Hostile/Adverse—The squatter or adverse possessor must not have a lease with the owner of the property. 
  1. ActualThe squatter must be actively living on the property. 
  1. Open and notorious—The squatter is open and obvious about living in the property and isn’t trying to hide their presence.  
  1. ExclusiveThe squatter prevents other people from living in the property, just like an owner would.  
  1. ContinuousThe squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property for a certain number of years, which varies by state. In most states, squatters must live on the property continuously for around ten to 30 years.   

In general, squatters need to meet all the above criteria for the entire length of time that is specified by their state’s laws on adverse possession before making a claim to legal title. Some states (such as Florida) also require squatters to pay property taxes during the time they continuously occupy the property to make a claim to valid title, as property owners would. See the chart below to learn about the occupation and property tax requirements to claim squatter’s rights in your state. 

Squatter’s Rights by State 

State  Minimum Occupation Length  Property taxes required?  Citation 
Alabama  20 years  Optional; 10 years occupation + taxes sufficient  Ala. Code § 6-5-200 
Alaska  7-10 years  No  AS § 09-45-052 
Arizona  2-10 years  Optional; 5 years occupation + taxes sufficient  ARS § 12-522 – 12-526 
Arkansas  7 years  Yes  ACA § 18-11-106 
California  5 years  Yes  CCP § 318, 325 
Colorado  18 years  Optional; 7 years occupation + taxes sufficient  CRS § 38-41-101, 38-41-108 
Connecticut  15 years  No  CS § 52-575 
Delaware  20 years  No  Del. Laws 10 § 7901 
Florida  7 years  Yes  Fla. Stat. § 95.18 
Georgia  20 years, or 7 with color of title  No  OCGA § 44-5-163 and 44-5-164 
Hawaii  20 years  No  HRS § 657-31.5 
Idaho  20 years  No  Idaho Code § 5-203 
Illinois  20 years  Optional; 7 years color of title + taxes sufficient  735 ILCS § 5/13-101, 5/13-105 
Indiana  10 years  Yes  IC § 32-21-7-1, 34-11-2-11 
Iowa  5 years  Optional; 1 year occupation + taxes sufficient  IA Code § 560 
Kansas  15 years  No  KS § 60-503 
Kentucky  15 years  No  KRS § 413.010 
Louisiana  30 years, or 10 with color of title  No  LA Civ. Code § 742 
Maine  20 years  No  MRSA 14 § 801 
Maryland  20 years  No  MD Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-103, 201 
Massachusetts  20 years  No  MGL 260 § 21 
Michigan  15 years  Optional; 10 years occupation, color of title, + taxes sufficient  MCL § 600.5801 
Minnesota  15 years  Yes, at least 5 years  MN Stat. § 541.02 
Mississippi  10 years  Yes, at least 2 years  Miss. Code § 15-1-13, 15-1-15 
Missouri  10 years  No  MRS § 516.010 
Montana  5 years  Yes  MRC § 70-19-401, § 70-19-411 
Nebraska  10 years  No  Neb. Stat. § 25-202 
Nevada  5 years  No  NRS § 11.070, 11.150 
New Hampshire  20 years  No  NHRS § 508:2(I) 
New Jersey  30 years (60 for woodland areas) plus color of title  Yes, at least 5 years  NJRS § 2A:14-30 to 2A:14-32 
New Mexico  10 years plus color of title  Yes  NMSA § 37-1-22 
New York  10 years  No  NY RPA Code § 511 
North Carolina  20 years, or 7 years with color of title  No  NCGS § 1-38, 1-39  
North Dakota  20 years  Optional; 10 years occupation, color of title, + taxes sufficient  NDC § 28-01-04; 47-06-03 
Ohio  21 years  No  ORC § 2305.04 
Oklahoma  15 years, plus color of title  Yes, at least 5 years  OS § 12-93, 94 
Oregon  10 years  No  ORS § 105.620 
Pennsylvania  21 years  No  42 PS § 5530 
Rhode Island  10 years  No  RI Gen. Laws § 34-7-1 
South Carolina  10 years, plus color of title  No  SC Stat. § 15-67-210 
South Dakota  20 years  Optional; 10 years occupation, color of title, + taxes sufficient  SDC § 15-3-1, 15-3-16  
Tennessee  20 years, or 7 years with color of title  Yes, unless squatter has color of title  TN Code § 28-2-109, 28-2-101 
Texas  3 years with color of title; 5 years if squatter cultivates, has color of title, and pays taxes; or 10 years if improves the land  Optional; 5 years if squatter also cultivates and has color of title  Tex. Prop. Code § 16.024-16.026 
Utah  7 years, plus color of title  Yes  US § 78B-2-214 
Vermont  15 years  No  12 VSA § 501 
Virginia  15 years, plus color of title  No  VA Code § 8.01-236 
Washington  10 years  Optional; 7 years with color of title + taxes sufficient  RCW § 7.28.085, 7.28.050, 7.28.70 
West Virginia  10 years  No  WV Code § 55-2-1 
Wisconsin  20 years, or 10 with color of title  Optional; 7 years occupation, color of title, + taxes sufficient  WI Stat. § 893.25, 893.27 
Wyoming  10 years  No  WS § 1-3-103 
D.C.  15 years  Yes  D.C. Code § 16-1113 

Why Do Squatters Have Rights? 

At this point, you may be wondering, “Why do squatters have rights at all?” It’s your property—you (or your family member or ancestor) bought it, after all. Why would anyone else have a claim to it? 

To answer this question, we have to endure a short history lesson. The legal concept of squatting dates all the way back to medieval England but became particularly important in the early 1700s. During this time, commoners would farm jointly on common land, which became sparse when wealthy landlords purchased large tracts. Some of that land sat unused, and some of it became difficult to track due to lost titles and deeds.  

Squatter’s rights came about to encourage landowners to actually use their land instead of letting it go to waste. If an individual built a home and occupied a tract of unused land for a long enough period without the owner taking legal action against them, the individual would be allowed to stay. The United States adopted this principle as part of the Homestead Act of 1862, which provided legal protections to pioneers who moved onto vacant land, built homes, and planted crops. 

Today’s laws have preserved this albeit slightly antiquated idea of squatter’s rights. However, the existence and legal proceeding of squatter’s rights today does still have some purpose. For instance, squatter’s rights encourage and incentivize landlords to look after and use their properties/land. They also prevent confusing scenarios in which an individual living in a home they thought they owned is asked to move when the “real” owner’s descendants discover a long-lost deed.  

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession, Get Color of Title, and Obtain the Title? 

It’s very rare for a squatter to truly meet all the above criteria for a legally valid claim. But what happens when they do?  

Imagine this scenario: You inherited a house from your relative in Michigan a long time ago. Instead of renting it out or selling it, you let it sit and don’t regularly check on it. Many years later, you finally visit the house only to find out that a squatter has been living there.  

Michigan law requires squatters to live in a property for at least 15 consecutive years to claim squatter’s rights. If your squatter meets this requirement and the four others, they may have what’s called “color of title” – an apparent title or claim to the house even without a valid deed. They can go to a local court and file an action for adverse possession. In adverse possession cases where the squatter is really serious, they may bring some additional evidence to support their claim for possession, including: 

  • Property tax receipts for the real property, if they’ve paid them 
  • Mail addressed to them at the property 
  • Evidence that they’ve beautified the premises, such as planting flowers or landscaping 

You, the owner, need to provide evidence that clearly disputes the squatter’s or proves your ownership and use of the premises. If the squatter brings an action to quiet title (a motion to decide the legal ownership of the house), you may be required to bring this evidence to a trial and present it in front of a judge. A squatter who moves to file a quiet title action must be confident that they have enough evidence to establish property ownership and prove that they fulfill the role of the rightful owner, possibly with the help of a real estate attorney.

Only after occupying the house for 15 years, meticulously collecting evidence, attending a hearing, and receiving a judgment for adverse possession from the court, can a squatter officially and fully claim ownership of your property and receive a clear title. 

How Do You Get Rid of Squatters? 

Squatters are concerning for many reasons. They can drive away other tenants, damage your property, or wreak other types of havoc. Plus, as long as a squatter is living in your property, you’re losing money on the rent they should be paying. 

So, how do you get rid of them? Let’s return to the squatter at your house from the previous section. In almost every state, removing a squatter requires going through the full, formal eviction process in that state. In practice, this means: 

  1. Calling local law enforcement to verify that the person is indeed a squatter, and not merely a trespasser (who can be removed by police officers and tried criminally). 
  1. Sending the squatter an eviction notice, providing the appropriate number of days to move out dictated by your state’s laws 
  1. Filing an eviction action in court 
  1. Attending a hearing to present evidence of the squatter’s unlawful occupation 
  1. Receiving an eviction order from the judge 
  1. Taking this order to the sheriff’s office, who will remove the squatter. 

Note: Only a sheriff can physically remove a squatter from your property. At no point should you attempt to physically force the squatter to leave. Threatening or harassing squatters is also not allowed. 

Can You Turn Off Utilities on a Squatter? 

Upon noticing a squatter, many landlords panic and try to think of the fastest way possible to remove them. If you’re in this boat, you may immediately wonder, “Can you turn off utilities on a squatter?” 

In almost all states, the answer to this question is strongly “no.” Turning off utilities like water or heat would fall into the category of “self-help” evictions, which are illegal. The only way to remove a squatter, in most states and situations, is through the legal eviction process. 

There is one exception to the rule above. In 2014, Michigan passed a law that legalized peaceable self-help evictions for removing squatters only. This means you could reasonably try to get your Michigan squatter to leave by making the property unlivable—changing the locks or turning off the gas, heat, water, etc., before you resort to the legal route and file for eviction in court. However, this special law only applies to squatters (self-help evictions are still outlawed for tenants in Michigan), and no matter what, it’s still illegal to try to physically remove the squatter yourself.   


If you find squatter’s rights utterly confusing, that’s understandable. The procedures and policies for squatter’s rights can be complex, unintuitive, and dated. However, if you know the five simple criteria for squatter’s rights, you have a strong enough understanding to realize how important it is that you keep up with your properties and avoid legal entanglements with squatters altogether. Squatters also underscore the importance of getting title insurance and performing a thorough title search before buying a property in case any previous quiet title complaints, property boundary disputes, or other title disputes could interfere with your ownership claim to your property.

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