Tips for Preventing and Dealing with Squatters

By A. I. Lendberg, Edited by Douglas Katz – 03/13/23

Have you ever heard of squatters’ rights? A man in Delaware Beach has.  You may have seen his case as it was covered in the national media when he lost over $100,000 in family land to his neighbor who declared squatters rights and won.  Yes, squatters rights can result in you losing the ownership of your property under some circumstances It’s a legal concept that allows people to claim ownership of a property they’ve been occupying without the owner’s permission for a certain period of time. It might seem like a strange idea at first, but squatters’ rights exist for a reason – to prevent land from being left unused or abandoned for extended periods of time, and to help resolve disputes over property ownership.

What are Squatters’ Rights?

Before you start packing up your tent and heading to the nearest vacant lot, let’s talk about the specifics. Suppose that you were an unsavory character with eyes on someone else’s property.  To claim squatters’ rights, you have to meet certain criteria.

First, you have to occupy the property continuously and openly, without the owner’s permission, for a certain period of time. This can range from a few years to several decades, depending on the jurisdiction.

Second, you have to prove that you’ve been using the property openly and notoriously, meaning that your possession of the property was visible and obvious to others, including the owner. Additionally, you must have possessed the property in a manner that is hostile to the owner’s interests, meaning that you intended to exclude the owner from using or possessing the property.

Finally, in some jurisdictions, you have to show that you’ve paid property taxes on the property or made improvements to it during your occupancy.

If you meet all these requirements, you can file a lawsuit and ask the court to recognize your ownership of the property. The owner can contest your claim, but if you can prove your case, you may be granted legal ownership of the property.

Of course, squatters’ rights can be a contentious issue, and not everyone agrees with them. Property owners might feel like their land is being taken away from them without their consent. However, squatters’ rights exist to provide a legal framework for resolving disputes over property ownership, and to prevent land from being left unused or abandoned for extended periods of time.

So while it might seem like a strange concept, squatters’ rights play an important role in our legal system. And who knows – maybe one day you’ll be the proud owner of a property you’ve been occupying for years!  More likely, however, that you would be on the receiving end of a squatters efforts.  In turn, you need to work to avoid the problem through preventative steps.

Preventing Squatter Problems

As a property owner, it’s important to take steps to protect your property from unwanted guests who may try to occupy it without your permission. Here are some tips to keep your property squatter-free:

  1. Secure your property: Make sure your property is secure by locking up any buildings and fencing off open areas. If there are any structures or buildings that you’re not using, make sure they’re boarded up or otherwise secured.
  2. Post “No Trespassing” signs: This sends a clear message that you don’t welcome unauthorized individuals on your property. You can even get creative with your sign-making skills and make a sign that reads “No Squatting Allowed” or “This Property is Squatter-Free Zone.”
  3. Keep an eye on your property: Take regular walks around the perimeter of your property to make sure there are no unauthorized individuals on your property. If you don’t live nearby, consider hiring a neighborhood watch group or a friendly neighbor to keep an eye out.
  4. Maintain your property: One of the requirements for adverse possession (a.k.a. squatters’ rights) is that the squatter must openly occupy and use the property without the owner’s permission. By keeping your property in good condition and using it regularly, you can prevent squatters from claiming adverse possession.

By taking these steps, you can help prevent squatters’ rights issues from arising on your property. And who knows, you might even inspire your neighbors to make their own creative “No Squatting” signs!  No matter what you do, however, you still could end up with squatters issues.  There are some things that you can do to manage and resolve the situation.

Dealing with a Squatter

If you’ve discovered a squatter on your property, it’s time to take action! Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Call in the cavalry: Contact local law enforcement and report the squatter on your property. They’ll help you remove the unwanted guest and get your property back to its rightful state.
  2. Get some professional backup: Consult with a real estate attorney who can help you navigate the legal system and make sure that you don’t accidentally give the squatter any rights to your property.  As a mediator, especially one who deals in real estate matters, I always recommend this as a potential options.  There could be a less expensive and stressful path to resolution that would save you money and headaches.
  3. Document everything: It’s important to keep detailed records of any interactions with the squatter, including any attempts to remove them from your property. This way, you’ll have a solid case if you need to take legal action.
  4. Don’t let them squat for long: Once you’ve determined your legal options, take action to remove the squatter from your property as quickly as possible. You don’t want them to set up shop and start redecorating!

Dealing with a squatter can be a headache, but don’t worry – with a little bit of effort and a lot of persistence, you can reclaim your property and say goodbye to your unwanted guest. The most important is to remain calm and not to go vigilante on your squatter.  While it may seem like something that you really want to do, the outcomes will rarely if ever benefit you and the risk of someone getting hurt should outweigh a desire to regain possession of the property.  While you should appropriately take care of  your own safety, I would avoid as much as possible any direct confrontations that can go south.  If you have taken the necessary actions prior to and during the squatters antics, you should end up just fine.  Just don’t forget to change the locks!

Disclaimer: This article was created with the assistance of multiple ChatGPT AI language models and has been edited and refined by Douglas Katz. The information provided in this article is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as professional or expert advice. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of ChatGPT or OpenAI. Readers are advised to do their own research and consult with relevant experts before making any decisions based on the information provided in this article