The word “squatter” brings up visions of shiftless hobos setting up residence inside a run-down, old abandoned house, camping out because they have no options for shelter other than to trespass on someone else’s unattended property. While this may be close to
reality in some cases, squatting has taken on a whole new meaning in this day and age. So, the question becomes, are squatter’s rights actually a thing? The answer is yes…and no.
Squatter’s rights are increasingly being used as a way to gain adverse possession of a property. What is adverse possession? This is a legal process by which a trespasser can gain legal ownership of a home or building simply by occupying it long enough to take over legal rights. This doesn’t happen overnight. Most states have statutes requiring occupation for a period of anywhere from 5-30 years, often with other stipulations like paying the property taxes and having some kind of documentation (some trespassers put the utilities in their own name to add viability to their claim).
Squatting rarely actually turns to adverse possession, but getting trespassers out of a property can be a time-consuming, difficult process that must go through the court system before action is taken to remove the offenders. The best way to protect yourself from those trying to assert squatter’s rights is to keep a close eye on your vacant property – visit often, keep everything locked up tight, and make sure it’s well-kept to maintain an appearance of occupation.