DEFINITION of 'Squatter'

A squatter is a person who settles in or occupies property with no legal claim to the property. A squatter is one who resides on a property to which he or she has no title, right or lease. A squatter may gain adverse possession of the property through involuntary transfer. A property owner who does not use or inspect his or her property for a number of years could lose the title to another person who makes a claim to the land, takes possession of the land and uses the land.

BREAKING DOWN 'Squatter'

Each state possesses its own laws regarding squatter's rights and adverse possession. For example, certain states require continuous possession of seven years to acquire privately-owned property in addition to other requirements. Rockefeller Center, for instance, is closed one day each year to make certain that no trespassers or squatters could ever lay claim to the property's title through adverse possession.

How Squatters Can Take Possession of Land from Rightful Owners

State laws regarding squatters and adverse possession can be superseded by local laws in some cases. New York, for example, grants adverse possession rights to squatters if they occupy a property in a continuous, hostile and obvious way for at least 10 years. They must also have a bona fide belief they possess a right to the land. If all the conditions are met under New York state law, the squatter could claim the title for possession of the land. If the owner contacts the authorities and has the trespassing squatter removed before they have occupied the property for 10 years, the squatter could not claim the title.

The laws regarding squatters in New York City are drastically different from the state law. If a squatter continuously occupies a property for 30 days, they gain the legal right remain on the property as a tenant of the owner even though they never signed a lease agreement. The trespasser might break into an unoccupied property and begin openly living there. This may happen with investment properties that do not currently have tenants. If the trespasser is caught soon enough, they can be removed by the police and arrested. Squatters who go undetected by the owner and remain on the property for 30 days will require a legal eviction to force them out.

The length of time it takes for eviction proceedings to be completed may prompt property owners to offer to pay off squatters to remove themselves from the property.

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