13 States Where Squatters Have Rights To Claim Property, Confusing Many Americans

The thought of someone moving into your second home or camping out on your land without permission is a little scary. Even scarier is the idea that they could legally claim the land as their own in some states.

Squatter’s rights, also called adverse possession laws, are a bizarre legal concept that many American property owners have to deal with.  

Universal Rights

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This might be surprising, but every state in the U.S. has adverse possession laws. In other words, squatters can claim rights to a property after meeting specific conditions regardless of where they live. However, the conditions vary, and some states make squatting far easier than others. 

States That Make It Easy For Squatters

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The 14 states on this list have the lowest time of occupancy requirements. In these states, squatters must reside on a property for less than ten years before they can claim it. 

1: Alaska

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In Alaska, a squatter must reside on a property for a minimum of seven years before they can claim it as long as they have “color of title,” which refers to having something that looks like a valid property title or deed but is defective in some way. Without color of title, squatters must reside on the property for ten years. 

2: Arizona

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Arizona has a Required Time Of Occupancy (RTOO) of only three years if the squatter begins paying property taxes on the land. If they don’t pay property taxes, they must reside there for ten years before they can claim any rights. 

3: Arkansas

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Squatters in Arkansas have an RTOO of seven years as long as they pay property taxes on the land. The land must also be unenclosed and unimproved before the squatter takes residence. 

4: California

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In California, squatters only need to reside on a property for five years before they can make a claim. They must also pay property taxes during that time, though. 

5: Colorado

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Under normal circumstances, squatters in Colorado need to reside on the property for 18 years before they can make a claim, but there’s an exception. If they can show color of title, Colorado squatters need only reside on the property for seven years. 

6: Georgia

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In most circumstances, squatters have to reside on a property for twenty years before they can make a title claim in Georgia. However, there is a notable exception. If they have color of title, the RTOO drops to seven years. 

7: Illinois

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If a squatter pays regular property taxes on the land they want to take, they may be able to make a claim after seven years in Illinois. In many cases, though, it takes 20 years of continuous residence to make a claim. 

8: Kentucky

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If a squatter has color of title, they can make a property claim after a mere seven years in Kentucky.  That said, in other situations, it takes 15 years. 

9: Montana

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In Montana, squatters must pay property taxes before they can make a claim on a property. However, they only need to do so for five years. 

10: Tennessee

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Tennessee’s adverse possession laws state that squatters with color of title can make a claim on a property after seven years. Under other circumstances, squatters must reside on the land for at least two decades. 

11: Texas

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If a squatter has color of title in Texas, they can make an adverse possession claim after only three years. If they don’t have color of title but make improvements to the land, they can make a claim after five years. 

12: Utah

Arches National Park, Utah.
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In Utah, the RTOO for squatters is seven years. Squatters can show they’ve occupied the land by planting crops, installing a fence, or making other property improvements. 

13: Wisconsin

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Squatters who have lived on a property in Wisconsin for seven years can make an adverse possession claim as long as they’ve paid property taxes. In other situations, though, squatters must have lived on the property for at least twenty years before making a claim. 

Changing Tides

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In the past, squatters in Florida only needed to reside on a property for seven years before they could make a claim provided that they improved the property, enclosed it in some way, or used it for timber. However, on March 27th of this year, Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation to protect property rights. The new legislation offers homeowners support against squatting, including increasing the penalties for anyone who tries to become a squatter.

DeSantis commented, “We are putting an end to the squatters scam in Florida. While other states are siding with the squatters, we are protecting property owners and punishing criminals looking to game the system.”

Squatters Rights Explained

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Squatter’s rights or adverse possession laws are based on a very old legal principle that has its roots in ancient Rome. These laws grant land titles to people who do not own the property but have resided on it for a period of time. 

Not Always Purposeful

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Often, squatting isn’t a purposeful act, though it certainly can be. Let’s say a neighbor builds a fence to enclose their property but accidentally goes over the property line. Given enough time, they could claim the land they enclosed is now theirs. 

Squatting vs Trespassing

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Squatting is not the same as trespassing, though it may feel that way to the original landowner. Trespassing is a criminal offense in which someone occupies land after the owner has made it clear they’re not allowed there. In squatting, the owner has not made it clear that outsiders aren’t allowed. 

What Squatters Must Prove 

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Before making an adverse possession claim on a property, squatters must prove a number of things. While requirements vary by state, they almost always have to show they’ve continuously lived on the land, have no written agreement with the owner, and have made it obvious that they’re living there. 

Stopping Squatters

Stop signs.
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If you own land or property that you’re not living in, squatters are a real risk. However, there are a number of things property owners can do to prevent adverse possession claims. 

Mark Your Property

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One of the best ways to keep squatters out is to mark your property boundaries; fences work well. Though “no trespassing” signs aren’t legally sufficient in most states, they can help discourage would-be squatters. 

Offer To Rent

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If you find you have a trespasser on your land, you could offer to rent it to them. The second a rental agreement is in place, they can no longer make an adverse property claim. 

Act Fast 

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You need to act fast to prevent squatters from claiming your land. Unfortunately, removing squatters isn’t always easy, as many states require you to initiate a civil eviction process to get rid of them. These processes can take time, and you might need to hire a lawyer to help. 

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