3 Shocking Truths About Squatters's Rights

Whether you own a vacation home that sits unattended for months on end or are in the habit of inviting house guests into your home for lengthy visits, it's important to have a clear understanding of squatters and the rights they possess. Below are three shocking truths about squatters's rights that you may not have known.

1. Anyone Can Become a Squatter

While the word "squatter" may conjure up a certain image of a drifter taking up residence in an abandoned home or property, it's important to understand that anyone can become a squatter, even house guests.

Depending on the laws of your state, a house guest may become a legal resident in your home after a certain time period. What does this mean for you? Unfortunately, this means that after that time period has passed and the guest is still in your home, you can no longer remove them without following your state's eviction laws.

2. Squatters Must Be Evicted Legally

As mentioned above, squatters, whether house guests or strangers, have a legal right to residence in the eyes of the law after a certain time period. To evict them illegally could land you in legal hot water.

The legal process of eviction will vary by state, but the general process involves an eviction notice and if not abided by, eviction proceedings. This can be both costly and time-consuming, and while it may seem easier to wait until the squatter (now tenant) leaves to change the locks, you could be facing fines and even charges yourself for violating tenants' rights.

3. Squatters Can Own Property After a Certain Time Period

While the process is long and complicated, it's possible for squatters to eventually own the land they're living on.

This process is known as adverse possession and requires multiple criteria to be met, namely length of residence, hostility, openness of residence, actual possession, and exclusiveness of residence. Simply stated, a trespasser who has lived on a piece of land for a state-specified length of time without the owner's permission, and who openly and exclusively claims the property as their own, may become the owner. Even if all criteria are met, however, proof can be difficult to provide which is why this isn't a common happening.

Since squatters are usually considered tenants and legally protected as such, it's important that you deal with the situation legally without getting yourself into hot water. If you're dealing with a squatter and are unsure of how to legally proceed, it's best to consult with a real estate attorney.