What is a Squatter? Definition and Examples

Article Summary:

Squatters are people who live on property they don’t own and of which they do not have legal tenancy. They can pose a serious risk of loss for landlords and property owners. Squatter’s rights mean you may also have to start an eviction process in order to force them out.

When landlords discuss potential problems, few terms scare them as much as the word “squatter.” One bad squatter can make it very hard for a landlord to manage their property. But what are squatters, and why do landlords hate them so much?

A squatter is a person living on a property to which they hold no rights. They do not pay rent and are not the legal owner of the occupied property. Depending on the length of their stay, they may be difficult to evict and can even possess your home through adverse possession.

It’s no joke; squatters can be a property owner’s worst nightmare. Here are some examples of squatters and how they can harm your property.

What is a squatter?

A squatter is a person who is unlawfully living on a property. They are not on a lease, don’t own the property, and may have already been asked to leave, either informally or with an eviction notice. The following cases are examples of squatters, ranging from benign to terrible.

  • Suzanne is your best friend, and she’s asked to live with you in your apartment for a while. She’s not on the lease. After two weeks of squatting, she leaves without issue.
  • Justin and his friends find an abandoned cabin in the woods. They decide to fix it up using their own money and start paying property taxes on it. They do not own the cabin, but they lay claim to the land via adverse possession laws. Five years later, the house is legally theirs.
  • Mike is your ex-boyfriend who moved into your apartment but never signed the lease agreement. After you broke up, he refused to leave. He’s now getting you in trouble with your landlord because you both have to legally evict him.
  • Jeremy and his friends find a house that’s up for sale but locked. They break in and decide to live in the house until the actual owner sells it. After a month, the real estate agent realizes they’ve been squatting there and have demolished the place. Unfortunately, they’ve stayed long enough that official eviction proceedings are required to kick them out.
  • Lilo is a housekeeper living in her client’s home. After 30 days of work, Lilo stops working but refuses to move out. She claims squatter’s rights, and now the homeowners have to legally evict her.

As you can see, squatting can become highly problematic, especially if the people you don’t want on your property refuse to leave of their own accord. Depending on where you live, they may have squatter’s rights, also sometimes known as adverse possession, which can become a nightmare for the rightful owner of the property.

What types of squatters are there?

There are many types of squatters. The following are a few of the most common examples:

  • The tenant who can’t pay rent but refuses to leave. This may be due to a family tragedy, mental illness, or a bitter fight with roommates.
  • The homeless squatter who trespasses on a foreclosed home. Foreclosed properties and homes on the market are hotspots for homeless squatters. Most jurisdictions ask real estate agents and sellers to perform regular checks so as to prevent squatters from moving in.
  • People who seek to acquire abandoned houses through adverse possession. This is not always a bad thing. Adverse possession laws exist to help ensure a property is used efficiently and not simply abandoned by a property owner unwilling to care for it.
  • “Professional squatters” who find legal loopholes that allow them to stay in a home for an extended period of time. These squatters often know all the techniques property owners use to remove trespassers, and landlords consider them a major menace.

What to do if you notice a squatter on your property

If you notice squatters on your property, the first thing you should do is call the police. They may be able to escort the squatter off your premises if they have only been around for a short period of time.

However, if your squatter refuses to leave and there’s evidence that they have lived on your property for a significant amount of time, you may need to start a legal eviction process. This involves giving them written notice and following eviction laws to the letter, so you’ll need to call an attorney to help you sort everything out.

Pro Tip

If you have a squatter on your property, you may want to keep local police in the loop. There is a chance that your squatters will take the eviction notice as an affront and try to enact some form of revenge or “vigilante justice.”

What are squatter’s rights?

One of the reasons squatters can be such a problem for landlords is the concept of “squatter’s rights.” Squatter’s rights are sets of laws that give squatters the right to be treated as a (somewhat) legal resident of the property, provided certain conditions are met.

Traditionally, squatters gain residency rights if they stay on a property for longer than a month. After that point, landlords and property owners must issue an official warning to leave before they are allowed to evict the squatters. In some states, you’ll have to go through an entire eviction process.

Do all states have squatter’s rights in their legal framework?

No, not all states have state laws defending squatters. In fact, in many states, legislators are starting to pass laws that protect property owners over squatters.

What is adverse possession?

Adverse possession is a special type of squatter’s right that only a handful of states allow. This law states that if you live on an abandoned property and care for it for a certain number of years, you can become the property owner by making an adverse possession claim and having possession of the property transferred to you.

Typically, you must live on a property for a minimum of 10 to 15 years before you can make an adverse possession claim, so this is not a commonly invoked law. Moreover, many states require claimants to pay property taxes before they can take possession of the home.

Pro Tip

Before you invest money into real property you don’t legally own, make sure you understand your state’s requirements for an adverse possession claim. It’s a complex process, which is why it’s not a particularly popular way to acquire real estate.

Which states have squatter’s rights?

Squatter’s rights vary between states and depend on the type of squatter you’re dealing with. Holdover tenants are individuals who remain on a property after their allowed tenancy time has ended. Unknown persons are unwanted individuals the owner discovers living on their property. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of squatter’s rights for each type of squatter:

StateHoldover TenantsUnknown Persons
Alabama7-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Alaska 7-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Arizona5-day notice to pay or vacate30-day notice to quit
Arkansas3-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
California3-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Colorado10-day notice to quitTimeline varies
Connecticut3-day notice to quit3-day notice to quit
Delaware5-day notice to quit60-day notice to quit
Florida3-day notice to quit15-day notice to quit
GeorgiaImmediate notice60-day notice to quit
Hawaii15-day notice to quit45-day notice to quit
Idaho3-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Ilinois5-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Indiana10-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Iowa3-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Kansas10-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Kentucky7-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Louisiana5-day notice to quit10-day notice to quit
Maine7-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Massachusetts14-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
MarylandImmediate notice30-day notice to quit
Michigan7-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Mississippi3-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
MissouriImmediate notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Montana3-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Nebraska7-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Nevada5-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
New Hampshire7-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
New JerseyImmediate notice to quit30-day notice to quit
New Mexico3-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
New York14-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
North Carolina10-day notice to quit7-day notice to quit
North Dakota3-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Ohio3-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Oklahoma5-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Oregon6-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Pennsylvania10-day notice to quit15-day notice to quit
Rhode Island5-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
South Carolina5-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
South Dakota3-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Tennessee14-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Texas3-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Utah3-day notice to quit15-day notice to quit
Vermont14-day notice to quit45-day notice to quit
Virginia14-day notice to quit30-day notice to quit
West VirginiaImmediate notice to quit30-day notice to quit
Wisconsin5-day notice to quit28-day notice to quit
Wyoming3-day notice to quit No statute

How to prevent squatters from entering your home

For a property owner, prevention is the best way to avoid the nightmare of squatters. These tips can help you prevent squatters from moving into your residential property:

  • Get a strong security system for any property you own. Cameras are the best deterrent to squatters, but a strong alarm system can help too.
  • Contact local law enforcement to remove squatters as soon as you see them. If it’s legal for them to do so, they will handle the situation for you.
  • Make a point of vetting any potential tenants, roommates, and live-in workers you want to hire. The best way to ensure you never have to worry about evicting squatters is to find quality tenants who don’t flout the rules. Good property management groups often use software to seek out complaints others have had about potential renters, which can help you sort the good tenants from the bad ones.
  • Discuss the issue of squatter prevention with your real estate agent. Ask them if and how they have ever dealt with squatters. This is especially important if you live in an area with a notable squatter problem.
  • Hire companies proficient in deterring squatters, especially if you plan to keep a home vacant for long periods of time. This is the best way to ensure that a vacant property doesn’t ultimately lead to a court hearing.


Are squatters’ rights ever okay?

If you ask most property owners who have ever dealt with a squatter, the answer is a strong no. Squatter’s rights can make it difficult to evict problematic tenants and even keep your own property.

Can squatters take your home?

In most cases, it’s highly unlikely that squatters can take your home. They barely have a legal right to stay there. However, some property owners and leaseholders have been known to abandon their properties out of sheer frustration.

Is squatting a crime?

In the United States, the act of squatting is legally considered a crime. This is especially true if the legal owner of the property has made it clear that the squatters are not welcome.

How long do you have to squat in a house before you can own it?

This depends on the state and the situation. In California and Montana, for example, you can gain the legal right to a home if you live there for as little as five years. In New Jersey, on the other hand, you must prove you’ve had a permanent residence on the property for a minimum of 30 years.

How long does it take to get squatter’s rights?

In most cases, you have to live on a property for a minimum of 30 days before you have a right to a formal eviction notice. However, this can vary depending on the state you live in.

Key Takeaways

  • Squatters are people who live in a home but are not legal renters and have no legal title to the property.
  • Depending on the state, squatter’s rights can prevent owners from informally kicking squatters off their property.
  • After a certain period of time, squatters can be considered temporary residents who must be given a legal eviction notice to be removed from the property.
  • Squatter’s rights can also extend to acquiring legal possession of a home through adverse possession laws.
  • Not all states have squatter’s rights, and the laws in those that do vary greatly from state to state.
  • To prevent or handle squatters on your properties, you should read up on your state’s laws and hire a lawyer if necessary.

Learning all the ins and outs of real estate is not easy, especially when it comes to more high-risk scenarios. These can include dealing with squatters on your property, getting a home in preforeclosure, or even buying a house at auction.

That being said, when all goes well, real estate can be a great investment. Ready to invest in your own property? Start by checking out our guide on how to buy a house.

View Article Sources
  1. Adverse Possession – Legal Information Institute, Cornell Law School
  2. Squatter’s Rights: Laws and Tips for all 50 States – eForms
  3. Squatters’ Rights: A Guide to State Law and How to Evict – American Apartment Owners Association