Squatters' Rights Law

Updated May 23, 2023
8 min read
Squatters' Rights Law: scales, book, stamp, papers, damaged house

Caring for and managing home or commercial real estate is always a timely and vital matter in the U.S. Every American cares about their own family, environment, and property and tries to protect them with weapons or a massive investment in all-round security.

However, these or similar preventive measures may not help if you no longer live in the residence or check up on the commercial property. An empty property can become an attractive place for squatters who do not have their own home and move into someone’s territory to live long-term.

If you wish to limit a squatter’s access and secure your property from them, you should learn more about their legal rights and your rights as a landlord. This guide will help you lawfully evict unwanted tenants and protect your home estate.

What Is a Squatter?

A squatter, or an adverse possessor, is a person who lives on your land without legal permission. They are people who entered the property and illegitimately occupied it. In some cases, squatters do this knowingly and intentionally. In many other cases, they incorrectly believe that they have the right to be on the land because of a fraudulent lease agreement, an agreement made with a previous owner, or another legal gray area.


Squatters can not only occupy residences but also move into any commercial property, for example, abandoned office buildings, schools, hotels, hospitals, etc.

Despite the property violation fact, squatters are not that easy to evict. A crucial eviction procedure and a state’s specific laws regulate whether a squatter can claim the rights for your property after a particular period of time.

What Are Squatters’ Rights?

Squatters’ rights, or adverse possession, are a set of legalities designed when homesteading was popular. The government wrote the Homestead Act of 1862, specifying rights to provide legal support for pioneers who moved onto land they perceived as vacant, built a home, and started raising livestock or growing crops. This was a way for pioneers to expand the amount of land under the U.S. government at the time.

Even though there might have been a time and place for these specific laws, this legislation remains on the books. The idea of moving onto vacant land or an empty home and making it your own still exists, meaning the laws still protect squatters.

The critical point that you should remember about squatters’ rights is that they are eligible to stay on your property unless you have not reported them within a specific period. As a lawful owner, you may not know about squatters at your vacant home for years, but they have the legal right to stay on your property if they pay back taxes, if any, and other necessary fees for the property. 

The relations between a squatter and property owners are not the same as between a landlord/owner and a renter. Renting a house or apartment always requires documentation, for example, a basic lease agreement that helps solve any landlord-tenant dispute. Squatters act independently and may pretend to have legal documents that “confirm” their legal occupation of a specific place or land, but these documents certainly do not ensure law enforcement is on their side.

Nevertheless, you cannot remove squatters without an official eviction notice. You cannot use violence against adverse possessors, either. Otherwise, they can file a lawsuit against you. A court may not consider your statements that you were protecting your property as valid.

Why Do Squatters Have Rights?

Since living in the U.S. sometimes costs a fortune, seeking abandoned homes is much more affordable. Squatters are not necessarily homeless people; they can be law-abiding citizens with a decent annual income that enables them to pay taxes and other essential fees for the property.

Plus, if squatters do not damage anything in your home or do not steal your assets, they still cannot be arrested for living on your property. If you do not intervene by sending a letter of eviction to the unwanted guests, their right to claim to own your property will remain. 

Remember that landlord-tenancy regulations do not apply to solving issues with squatters. To learn more about landlord-tenancy relations, read about landlord-tenant dispute resolution.

Squatting vs. Trespassing

Trespassing is a criminal offense, and the law can arrest someone who trespasses on land. Squatting, however, is regarded as a civil matter. The law can still arrest people who are squatting if they never paid utility bills, ignored the landlord’s eviction notices, or constituted a nuisance.

The most significant difference in legal terms is that a trespasser violates your property to gain access so they break in. But a squatter uses an unlocked door, an open, sliding glass window, or an already broken window to get in.

Which States Have Squatters’ Rights?

All states have squatters’ rights, but they vary regarding how long someone has to live on the property and what qualifies. The average period of occupying land or home uninterruptedly ranges from seven to 30 years.

For example, in Alabama, squatters can take possession if they pay taxes for 10 years, according to Title 6, Chapter 5, Section 200 of the Code of Alabama. But in Alaska, a squatter can get the property with a deed if they live on the property for seven years and paid taxes for 10 years.

In Arizona, a squatter must have a deed and pay property taxes for three or more years. If the land is part of a city lot, they need to have a deed and pay for it for five years. If a neighbor accidentally or intentionally builds on nearby property, if no owner objects, the neighbor gets the land after two years.

California requires tax payment on land for only five years to gain adverse possession. But in Colorado, squatters can take possession of land if they have a deed, have paid property taxes for seven years, or have lived there for 18 years.

When Do Squatters’ Rights Apply?

Adverse possession is a legal phrase that allows someone to gain ownership over property without actually paying for that property if:

  • The property is personal, not commercial;

  • They live on that property exclusively;

  • They live on the property for the specific length of time dictated by each state;

  • The rightful owner of the property does not try to evict or remove them within that particular time.

Assuming all squatters’ rights can apply. They do not differentiate between intentional and accidental possession, and general tenancy standards in the U.S. do not regulate them.

For example, your neighbor inadvertently builds a fence around a portion of your land but you do not object to that because you are unsure of the actual boundaries. Later, after a state-specific period, your neighbor can become a law-abiding tenant and gain legal possession of what could have been part of your land.

Steps to Protect Your Property From Squatters

Squatting laws by state all allow property owners to evict squatters. You can call the police if you see that someone is squatting on your property. If adverse possessors refuse to leave and start claiming squatters’ rights upfront, you can evict them. There is, however, a time during which you, as the property owner, must start the eviction process by sending an eviction notice. This timeframe is called the statutory period.

Given the complexity of removing squatters and the number of organizations to help adverse possessors, you should take steps ahead of time to protect your property in the first place. It can be complicated because there are often cases where squatters claim tenant rights because they signed a fraudulent lease agreement, though they did not know it was fraudulent. They could also pay rent to a con man or make an oral agreement with the owner to make improvements on the property instead of paying rent, even if the owner was a fraud.

Consider these steps of how you can prevent squatters’ invasion.

No trespassing

Property owners can post “no trespassing” signs to avoid adverse possession. They will indicate the owners did not abandon the property but frequently visit it.

Secure perimeter

As the rightful owner of any land owned, mainly a vacant home, you should safeguard the perimeter of your real estate. You don’t want to deal with a false lease agreement where a squatter allegedly had rent payments or a hostile claim where they believe they have legal possession. Equip your perimeter with lights, alarms that make noise and individual alarms on each of your windows. If you have fences, reinforce all your fences and all the locks.


Consider installing alarms, especially those with cameras that can send real-time information to your smartphone. You can view what is happening on your property, take immediate action, or call the police and provide them with surveillance evidence.

Secure windows and doors

Be sure to secure all windows and doors. The difference between squatting and trespassing is that Be sure to secure all windows and doors with steel enforcement. The difference between squatting and trespassing is that squatters can enter in case of a broken window or unlocked door and be entitled to basic rights. If you don’t want your property to be a shelter for strangers, take care of its security, and no one will come in without your permission as an owner.


Visit your property regularly. The more often you or someone else visits your home, the sooner you can catch broken windows or doors squatters can enter.

How to Evict a Squatter?

If you found out that squatters are living on your property for some time, here are the main steps you should take.

  1. Call the police.
    Instead of acting on your own and using violence, you should ask the police to intervene. If squatters have broken your property or its parts, it is solid evidence for the police to file an official report. Also, if you tried to negotiate with adverse possessors and failed, provide this information to the police.

  2. Provide a formal eviction notice.
    Create an eviction notice and send it to the squatters. You can find an attorney on Lawrina and ask them to help you prepare this document and ensure its legality wherever you need to submit it.

Do Squatters Pay Property Taxes?

Depending on the state, squatters should pay property taxes apart from other required property fees. Suppose adverse possessors offer financing for the home they are occupying and pay all the amounts on time. In that case, they can count on obtaining the property ownership after a specific period of time that varies across the U.S.

Final Remarks

Squatters can be annoying, especially when you realize they have lived at your place for years. However, if you do not use your place anymore and have not sold it yet, you could provide it for those who seek shelter and legal protection. To make it happen, you should definitely try to negotiate with adverse possessors and decide for yourself – let other people in your property or keep it for your needs.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Do squatters really have rights?

Yes. In brief, there are common cases when state laws protect squatters:

  • If they pay property taxes and other essential home estate fees uninterruptedly;
  • If they have not damaged any part of the property while entering it or living there for a specific period;
  • If they have not received any letters of eviction from the property owners.
Can squatters’ rights be blocked?

Squatters lose their legal rights to possess land or home in the following cases:

  • They have never paid any taxes for the property or any other essential home estate fees;
  • They have ignored eviction notices from landlords and did not move out within the required time;
  • They have significantly ruined the property or its parts.
Is a squatter a trespasser?

Squatters tend to enter the property if it is left open, for example, through an opened or previously broken window. Trespassers, on the contrary, break into buildings and start living there.