Squatters do, in fact, have rights. A successful Adverse Possession claim can give a squatter legal ownership of your land. The squatter won’t have to compensate you in any way in an adverse possession scenario, either. You’ll simply lose your real estate.
Squatters usually occupy abandoned, vacant or foreclosed properties. Besides lacking the owner’s consent to reside on the land, they are also under no obligation to pay rent prior to making a claim of adverse possession.
Removing a squatter, especially with adverse possession in the mix, is rarely anything but difficult. The process can be lengthy and stressful. With that in mind, as a Missouri landlord, it’s important to understand what rights squatters have in order to stop them in their tracks.
Overview of Squatting Laws in Missouri
Who Is a Squatter?
A squatter is someone who takes residence on someone else’s land without their consent. If left uninterrupted for a certain period of time, the squatter can lay legal bid for your land through a legal doctrine referred to as adverse possession.
Suppose you buy a 20-acre investment property. Your plans are to improve it and convert it into a vacation rental or retirement home sometime in the next couple of years.
Because the land isn’t located in your home state, many years go by without visiting it. The locals you asked to keep an eye on it also don’t check on it. Its location is pretty remote.
Ten years later, you receive an official document in your mail. It tells you that someone has applied to take legal possession of your land through what's called adverse possession. Apparently, the person has been living on it for the ten years the property was unoccupied.
You call up your attorney and conduct your own research on a bid of adverse possession. After all is said and done, you come to realize there is pretty much nothing you can do. You just lost your potential investment or retirement home to a squatter after ten years. And, worst of all, you get nothing in return – no legal compensation or even rent for Missouri adverse possession cases.
To be blunt, adverse possession is an owner’s nightmare.
How Can a Squatter Take Possession Of a Property?
In Missouri, squatters must meet 5 distinct requirements in order to claim Adverse Possession and become the true owner. The requirements are as follows.
1. The squatter must show proof that they have lived on the property for at least 10 years.
Different states have different requirements in this regard for adverse possession. In Missouri, squatters are required to have lived on the land they are claiming for at least 10 years to be the true owner.
It also goes without saying that their stay must be continuous. In other words, their residence on the land must have not been interrupted at any point for adverse possession to be valid. (MO Rev. Stat. § 516.010, et seq).
2. The squatter must treat the property like the actual owner would.
A squatter making a claim for Adverse Possession must also be able to prove actual possession. Proving actual possession relies on direct evidence. Hypothetical possession isn’t enough when it comes to adverse possession.
The following are acts that would constitute actual possession of land:
- Planting vegetables and flowers.
- Enclosing the area with a fence.
- Pruning bushes and caring for the land.
3. The squatter must live on the property exclusively.
Exclusive land possession is another requirement a squatter must make when claiming real estate adversely. This means that sharing the possession with other people would invalidate their Missouri adverse possession bid. They would not be the sole owner, or even an owner at all.
4. The residency of the squatter must be obvious.
In other words, a squatter must not hide the fact that they are living on the land for adverse possession to be legitimate. Even the owner should be able to tell there is a squatter living on the land. "Open and Notorious" is a term used in adverse possession cases. With open and notorious cases, squatters cannot only claim the land under the cover of, let's say, night. Open and notorious cases greatly aid the squatters' adverse possession claim on your real estate property.
5. The claim by the squatter must be “hostile.”
While hostile usually alludes to violence or dangerous, in legal sense, it takes on 3 definitions.
One definition that most states follow is “simple occupation.” Under this definition, “hostile” is defined as simple land occupation. A squatter does not have to know who the land actually belongs to.
The second definition is “awareness of trespassing.” Here, the squatter is required to know that their occupation of the land amounts to trespassing.
Lastly, “hostile” is defined as a “Good Faith Mistake.” Only a handful of states follow this rule. Here, the squatter is assumed to have made an innocent mistake in occupying the land. They may, for example, be relying on an incorrect deed.
Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes to Make an Adverse Claim?
Some states require that squatters pay property taxes on the land in order to claim it through Adverse Possession. Other states will also reduce the length of time a squatter needs to live on the land if they have been paying taxes.
In the state of Missouri, however, this is not the case. Paying taxes is not a requirement under Adverse Possession requirements.
What is Color of Title?
This is a term you’ll inevitable come across when researching adverse possession and ‘squatters rights Missouri.’ Color of Title simply means property ownership is irregular. In other words, it means the owner is missing at least one of the legal documents required to own the land.
While some states require it, Missouri certainly does not. Having one of the valid documents won’t help an Adverse Possession claim.
How to Protect Your Property From Squatters
You can do several things in order to keep your real estate safe from adverse possession. Here are a few ways to get you started.
- Carry out routine inspections of your property. This is particularly important if your property isn’t occupied.
- Hire legal help.
- Hire a professional property management company. They can help you find a suitable tenant, among other things.
How to Remove a Squatter
No special laws exist in Missouri in regards to removing a squatter. The only provision is to remove them through the formal eviction process, which usually begins with serving a Demand for Rent notice.
If you still need more help as the true owners or need legal advice, Real Property Group is here for you. We have been helping property owners maximize returns on their property for the last 16 years!