Squatters rights and adverse possession are unfamiliar topics for many. But if you own a property that has sat vacant for several years you could run into problems with squatters. What’s worse, is in some cases, you can actually lose your property to squatters. Read on for everything you need to know about squatters rights and adverse possession.
What is a Squatter?
A squatter is defined as a person who unlawfully occupies an uninhabited building or unused land. This means that a person can take residence in your vacant home or vacant land without paying rent or a purchase price. They don’t have your permission to be on your property and oftentimes you won’t even know they are there unless you regularly visit your vacant land or home.
Different Types of Squatters
Traditionally you’ll come across three different types of squatters: Trespassers, Tenants at Will or Tenants at Sufferance and Land Claimers. When a person has trespassed onto your property, breaking into the home then they are considered a trespasser. These types of squatters can be found at homes that are noticeably vacant, such as a run down property with little sign of upkeep, or in a vacation property that isn’t lived in throughout the year.
A non-traditional type of squatter is the Tenants at Will or Sufferance. This situation is where you have leased or rented your property to the individuals, but now that the lease/rental agreement has expired they refuse to vacate the property or sign a new agreement.
Finally, land claimers are squatters who move onto your property in the hopes of gaining legal rights to take over your property through squatting. Believe it or not, according to certain adverse possession laws in Utah it may be possible for them to obtain ownership if they lived on the property for long enough.
Signs to Look for Squatters on Your Property
If you’ve had to vacate your home you can ask neighbors to keep an eye out for signs of squatters such as someone moving in with few belongings and no moving truck. When you visit your vacant property or land look for water bottles or jugs of water. These are signs someone could be staying on your property where there is no access to running water. Other signs would include evidence of small fires or candle use since the property has no electricity. Forced signs of entry including broken windows and doors are an obvious sign of squatters or trespassers.
How Is Squatting Legal?
The short answer is squatting is not legal and neither is trespassing. The tricky part though is that squatters can have rights. These rights, known as adverse possession, can make it hard to remove squatters from your property in some instances.
Which States Have Squatters Rights
In general in order for a squatter to qualify for adverse possession and gain ownership of your property then the trespasser must have occupied your land without permission, physically live on your property, live there openly and over a continuous period of time.
The exact duration that the squatter needs to have lived on your land will vary by state. This website can give you all of the exact laws for your state, if you live in Utah keep reading for more details on adverse possession as it pertains to you. Some states will require that the trespasser have paid taxes on the property while living there and some states don’t require tax payments at all.
What is Adverse Possession in the State of Utah?
According to Utah law the term “Adverse” usually means contrary to another person’s claim or interest in the property, so Adverse Possession is where a squatter can claim possession of your property contrary to your ownership. While you hold title but do not use or occupy your property, another person can come along and claim ownership by occupying the property and paying taxes on it. In Utah, the occupation of the property must be apparent (not hidden) and a squatter can establish legal title that overcome your rights to the land if they possess and use the property for at least 7 years. If a squatter can show that the land has been occupied by them for 7 continuous years and that they have paid all taxes on the property in that time then according to Utah Code they can be granted ownership of your property. If the claim on your property is based on a written instrument or a judgement purportedly giving title, then the possession can be established if the claimant does one of three things.
First, claimant cultivates crops or installs an improvement. Second, encloses the property with a fence. Or Third, uses the property for agricultural uses, pasture or for harvesting fuel or fencing timber.
Keep in mind that the person occupying the property and paying the taxes for those second years is only establishing a claim on the property. To clear the title and remove any competing claims that would need to be done through legal action, generally with the help of an attorney who specializes in land title actions. The full code about adverse possession in the state of Utah can be found here. How to Avoid Squatters on your Vacant Property If you’ve had to vacate property you own and have been unable to sell then you can take steps to avoid squatters on your property. Keep up-to-date with your property tax records and always pay on time. Ask trusted neighbors to keep an eye out for trespassers and notify you if they see any and post “no trespassing” signs on the property. If you notice trouble call the police and make a statement about the trespassers. But what do you do if you are unable to keep up on the property taxes? Especially if it’s a property you could no longer afford to keep, forcing your move, or a property that isn’t in great condition but you have inherited? Often in these cases the best solution is to sell your property and be rid of the stress of owning vacant home or land that can become a prime target for squatters and vandalism and property tax issues.
This article is not intended as legal advice and shouldn’t be construed as such. If you have questions about squatters rights, please contact an attorney.