There are many complex landlord and tenant laws that US property owners should familiarise themselves with- none more so than squatters' rights. Anyone who owns a vacant building or area of land should know the ins and outs of what the law allows people to do- and what they can do in turn.
Arkansas squatter's rights are simple, and they sway in favor of landlords by making it difficult for people to maintain occupation. Although there is room for unwanted occupants to eventually gain ownership- it is not easy- and certainly doesn't happen overnight.
Here is a run-through of everything Arkansas property owners need to know about squatters and their rights- and how to protect what is rightfully theirs.
Squatters' Rights Overview
Squatting may seem like criminal trespassing- but you would be surprised. In most US states, squatting is not actually considered a crime until certain actions are taken by the landlord or owner of the property under occupation.
First, people have the right to squat on an abandoned or vacant property until the owner specifically and directly tells them not to- something that many landlords do not realize. Once notice is given that they do not have permission to be there, those who fail to leave are technically trespassing.
Of course, there are always exceptions- and under Arkansas law, squatters who reside in one place long enough without intervention from the rightful owner could gain legal permission to stay there forever.
It may seem unfair, but these laws exist to reward those who make efforts to better a property that has been abandoned and left to ruin by its owner. These rights are often misunderstood- but this guide is here to help.
Arkansas Squatters' Rights
- Squatters can stay on a property without committing a crime until issued with a notice to quit.
- They have the right to dispute any eviction attempt.
- Adverse possession claims to gain legal ownership are permitted after seven or 15 years, depending on the circumstances.
- In order to gain the right to claim adverse possession, squatters must pay property taxes- as well as follow the five golden rules of squatting in the USA.
The biggest fear for landlords and owners is someone trying to claim adverse possession of their property. Adverse possession is a way for squatters to gain legal ownership of a property after a certain time.
Some people believe it is easy for this to happen- but that is not the case. Arkansas adverse possession laws are tough- and only very few squatters ever manage to tick all the boxes that make them eligible.
Adverse Possession Laws
Arkansas adverse possession laws are fairly straightforward- and they are amongst the strictest of all the states. Many of the conditions (which you can find below) are the same as many other states- but there are a few things that make Arkansas slightly different.
One difference is the two types of adverse possession claims- and the timeframes that go with them. Squatter occupation can either be on unenclosed property where the land has been improved- or on wild and unimproved land.
In either case, legal possession of the property is granted to whoever has paid property taxes and holds color of title- but not until they have done so for many years- while also meeting other requirements for adverse possession.
What Are the Requirements for Adverse Possession Claims in Arkansas?
To prove adverse possession rights, squatters must have maintained the following conditions throughout their occupation of a property.
There must be a hostile claim on the property- meaning the squatter is there without permission. Some states have other definitions for hostile possession, but Arkansas keeps it simple. Purely by being on the property without consent, a squatter ticks the box of hostile possession.
In Arkansas, actual possession means two things. First, the squatter must maintain a physical presence on the premises. Secondly, they must be using the property the same way they would if they actually owned it- including repairs, maintenance, landscaping, and beautification efforts. Furthermore, they should have documentation or other proof that they have carried out these improvements.
Squatters cannot share a property with others if they hope to claim adverse possession. There must only be a single occupant- or single family or occupants- living there. If multiple groups or individuals live at the property, none qualify under Arkansas adverse possession laws. The same applies in every state.
Open and Notorious Possession
The definition of open and notorious possession is simple: it has to be obvious that the squatters are living there. If they try to conceal their presence, they are breaking the rules and cannot claim adverse possession.
It has to be clear to neighbors and passers-by that someone is on the property- giving the rightful owner every opportunity to have them removed if they don't want them there.
Finally- the most important rule- squatters must have maintained continuous possession of the property for the required length of time. This is where squatters' rights vary the most between states.
In Arkansas, the minimum required time period is seven years- provided the occupant has made improvements during their time there. If the land is wild and unimproved, they must hold possession for 15 years or more.
Even if all other conditions are met- including property tax payments and color of title- no squatter can claim adverse possession before they hit the seven or 15 years.
Is a Color of Title Required?
According to Arkansas law, color of title is when squatters believe they are the lawful owner or have the right to remain on the property because of their actions. This claim to legal title is a must-have for adverse possession claims in Arkansas.
What About Property Taxes?
Only a squatter who has paid property taxes in full and has the documentation to prove it can claim under Arkansas adverse possession laws. The state requires seven years of payments on land they can show improvements on- or 15 years on unimproved land.
You find squatters on your property- so what can you do about it? Contrary to popular belief, it is actually quite easy to get rid of them- as long as they do not have a valid adverse possession claim with all the necessary conditions met.
In Arkansas, the only correct and legal way to remove squatters is to have them evicted by the sheriff.
Arkansas Eviction Process
Luckily, it is easier (and usually faster) to evict squatters in Arkansas than in many other states. There are no specific Arkansas eviction laws for the removal of squatters- the standard procedures apply.
Acting quickly to legally evict unwanted occupants can help avoid facing an adverse possession claim.
Serve an Eviction Notice
Three-Day Notice to Quit for Non-Payment of Rent
If you have a tenant who has stopped paying their rent, you can serve a three-day quit notice asking them to leave.
Seven-Day Notice to Quit for No Lease of End of Lease Agreements (Week-to-Week)
When somebody's weekly lease runs out, or they didn't have one to start with- and you want them to vacate the property, you can issue a seven-day eviction notice.
30-Day Notice to Quit for End of Lease Agreements (Month-to-Month)
Monthly tenants whose lease has expired can be served with a 30-day notice.
File an Eviction Lawsuit
If the occupying party does not vacate within the timeframe allowed in the notice, you can then file an eviction lawsuit. From there, a court summons is sent to the squatter- who then has five to ten days to appear in court to submit a written objection to the eviction.
If they appear and decide to object, the court will arrange a hearing. It is unlikely they will win unless they have met all the conditions of adverse possession. Usually, the court sides with the legal owner- after which the sheriff can legally remove them from the property.
Alternatively, they can then be removed by the sheriff if they do not appear.
What If the Squatter Commits Illegal Activity?
In cases where the squatter is involved in any illegal activity, no notice is required- you can proceed directly to the eviction lawsuit. Some instances of common illegal actions by squatters include public nuisance and drug possession.
Is There Anything Else You Can Do?
Arkansas adverse possession laws allow extra time for disabled owners. Although the process is the same, they have longer to dispute a claim.
If the owner has a legal disability or is deemed in any way incompetent to pursue an eviction, the timeframe to appeal an adverse possession claim is extended. The extension is usually by three years. This rule also applies to minors (who perhaps inherited the property) or owners who are incarcerated. The additional three-year period starts when the disability is cleared, they come of age, or they are released from prison.
Another thing you can do when you realize you have squatters is to offer a lease agreement. They cannot claim adverse possession if they pay rent as legal tenants
It is always preferable to avoid ever having squatters, to begin with, than going through the process to remove them. Once they are in, they have certain rights- but there are plenty of steps you can take to stop it from reaching that point.
Keep Tabs on Your Empty Property- Or Have Someone Do It For You
Visit your property regularly if you can- or ask somebody else to keep an eye out for suspicious movement. Time is the biggest advantage you have as a landlord against adverse possession- and the quicker you act, the harder it is for someone to get a foothold on your property.
Regular visits are also beneficial because it gives you the chance to keep your property well maintained- and stop it from looking abandoned. If the building or land looks like someone is caring for it, it becomes a less appealing target for would-be squatters.
Protect Your Property Entrances
It seems like an obvious point, but locking the windows and doors is an important step that people often forget. Many squatters access properties through unsecured entry points- they make it much easier to break in.
Keep everything locked, and consider installing security cameras or an alarm system for good measure.
Rent Your Property Through a Reliable Rental Management Company
Squatting is significantly harder to do if a property is already occupied- especially by a paying tenant. A reputable professional property management company can take over the process of renting your vacant space- eliminating a huge portion of the risk.
Having somebody to pay rent and occupy the property is preferable to leaving it empty and vulnerable. Sure- your tenant could cause issues by refusing to pay rent or leave once their lease expires, but it is much easier to evict them- and they cannot claim adverse possession.
Keep the Amenities Switched Off When Nobody Is There
Although you can't do anything once somebody has taken up occupancy of your vacant property, you can turn off all amenities while it is empty. The chances are you would do this automatically- but if you are ever visiting and turn them on temporarily- be sure to turn them back off!
Pay Property Taxes On Time
Arkansas law requires squatters to pay property taxes for the duration of their occupation before making an adverse possession claim (seven years if they made improvements, 15 years if they did not). If you pay your taxes on time, nobody else has the chance to- rendering their hopes of gaining ownership or the right to remain impossible.
Arkansas adverse possession laws are tough on squatters. Realistically, the only times these claims are successful is when the actual owner has neglected or abandoned the property for a very long time- and somebody else has taken up the mantel of paying taxes and maintaining the grounds and or building.
Being a landlord in Arkansas can be rewarding- but there is a lot you need to know. Downloading all the forms you need to manage your property and real estate business in the state is the first step to maintaining control and having an enjoyable experience as an owner.
Can squatters make an adverse possession claim without a color of title?
In some states, you do not need a color of title to make an adverse possession claim. Arkansas, however, is not one of those states. Any squatters hoping to win adverse possession of a property must have a color of title- there are no exceptions.
What happens if a squatter appeals an eviction lawsuit?
Squatters in Arkansas have the right to dispute an eviction lawsuit- but there isn't much use unless they have legal grounds to be there. Unless they have completed the necessary actions or have a genuine emergency, the court will most likely rule in favor of the landlord or owner.
Does Arkansas law allow owners and landlords to forcibly remove squatters?
No- it does not. Like in most states, it is illegal to attempt to forcibly remove squatters from your land or building- including taking actions such as turning off water or power supplies and changing the locks.
Any such attempts are against the law. If you go ahead with them, you could end up in court.
Do squatters need to pay property taxes to qualify for an adverse possession claim in Arkansas?
Squatters in Arkansas can only claim adverse possession and gain ownership if they consistently pay taxes on the property for seven consecutive years- or 15 consecutive years for wild and unimproved land.
What is a color of title?
A color of title- according to Arkansas legal definitions- is the genuine good faith belief that they own the land or have the right to be there.
It is usually in the form of a document of multiple documents that a person holds that they believe give them legal ownership of the property. If so, they should look like the legal title, but there will be something missing or a mistake in the text.
Alternatively, a color of title in Arkansas could be the belief of entitlement to the land because of improvements made and continuous residence.