Buying property in Colorado, be it land or residential and commercial buildings, is a great way to invest for the future. However, it requires a sizeable investment by the property owner and as such, one expects to see returns at some point in time.
However, the issue of squatters taking adverse possession of your property could be a huge blow to your plans. Not only does this mean you now have people staying rent-free on your property but squatters can also seriously reduce the commercial value of your property.
Rather than sit by and allow people to make an adverse possession claim on your property, as the actual owner it is better to take steps to protect yourself. One of the best ways to do this is by arming yourself with knowledge of squatters rights and seeking professional legal advice.
In this article, you will learn all there is to know about adverse possession claims, color of title claims, and the eviction process for removing squatters from your property. read on to find out more!
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Now, let’s dive in.
What is a Squatter?
If you have a foreclosed, abandoned, or unoccupied building (in most cases a residential building) and some people are staying there without your legal permission, they are regarded as squatters in Colorado.
The main area of contention, besides not having your express permission to live in the residence, is that squatters do not pay rent. This leaves you stuck with an unauthorized tenant who brings no commercial benefit in the form of rentals to you.
However, most people make the mistake of thinking all squatters are dirty and live in inhumane conditions. This is not true as some squatters take care of the property they are illegally using. Squatting is a lot more common in Colorado than you would think.
Trespasser vs. Squatter
Property owners who want to maintain legal ownership of their property need to start by first understanding some key differences in some of the important terms used in squatting laws in Colorado.
Firstly, a squatter is not the same as a trespasser under Colorado law. Trespassing is when someone knowingly enters someone else's property without permission and in Colorado, it is regarded as a criminal offense.
Squatting, on the other hand, is when someone takes up residence on a residential, commercial, or rental property without the legal consent of the property owners. In this case, the squatter intends to live on the property and make use of it as if it belongs to them.
While trespassing will generally end with the property owners calling the local sheriff to arrest the perpetrator and protect their legal rights, squatting, if left unchecked, can result in the squatters taking legal possession of the property.
There is also the issue of holdover tenants to consider. These are neither squatters nor trespassers because they are living on the property with legal consent from the owners but have simply stayed longer than the agreed period written on the lease.
Identifying whether your unwanted guest is a squatter, trespasser, or holdover tenant is the first step to the legal eviction process.
Colorado Squatters' Rights
Colorado squatter's rights give squatters the chance to make an adverse possession claim on someone else's property provided that they meet certain requirements. However, you should note that squatters' rights are not designed to infringe on the rights of property owners in Colorado but rather to help resolve disputes regarding property ownership,
Take, for example, a farmer who has been using a 10-acre tract of land somewhere in the Colorado hills for the last 15 years and has made developments on the land, been paying property taxes, and did so unknowingly.
The legal principle of such a "good faith mistake" allows the farmer to make an adverse possession claim on the land and assume ownership.
Adverse Possession Claim
An adverse possession claim is a set of legal principles, forming the core of Colorado squatters rights, that gives squatters the chance to become the legal owner of the property rights of land owned by someone else.
Claiming adverse possession is by no means an easy thing to do because a lot of conditions have to be met, such as paying taxes and using the property exclusively for what it was intended.
Squatters in Colorado who wish to claim adverse possession must meet all the required conditions otherwise the rightful owner is under no legal obligation to allow them to continue staying on the property.
Color of Title
Another important term that is closely linked to adverse possession claims is the color of title claim. This is whereby a squatter in Colorado claims to have legal occupancy of a property without having any documents to prove the claim.
Color of title also includes trying to use a document that is full of errors or that does not provide any evidence that the squatter has the right to gain ownership. In some states, color of title is used by squatters to give the appearance of being the legal owners of property.
Valid or not, a color of title claim is an added complication that needs to be resolved first before removing squatters from your land. This is why it is important to have all documentation about the property kept in a safe place, in case someone decides to make a color of title claim at any time.
Colorado Adverse Possession
Having a squatter claim adverse possession of your property is not a pleasant situation to be in by is also not something to fear as long as you have a good understanding of squatting laws in Colorado. The following are the conditions that need to be met by the squatter before an adverse possession claim is granted:
- Continuous Possession
Meeting the required continuous occupation time of a property is the most direct way that a squatter in Colorado has of claiming your property.
This means that they have to prove that they have been physically present on the property continuously for at least 18 years or seven years if they have a color of title and have paid the property taxes.
If at any point the squatter gave up the land and later returned to it, this cannot be regarded as continuous occupation and you can take legal action to have them removed.
- Exclusive Possession
The legal concept of exclusive possession states that the squatter claiming adverse possession needs to be the only one living on the property. This means they cannot be sharing the property with other families or strangers at any time.
Usually, the requirement for exclusive possession is a good thing for the property owner's interests because it means finding a group of people squatting on your property makes it easy to take legal action and have all of them removed.
- Open and Notorious Possession
Squatters in Colorado need to be living in open and notorious possession if they wish to claim adverse possession. This means the owner of the property needs to be aware of their presence.
If, for example, the land in question is very large and the squatters choose to live in a secluded area without the owner knowing about it, this can be regarded as criminal trespass rather than squatting and owners of such properties can initiate eviction proceedings at any time.
- Hostile Claim Adverse Possession
Hostile possession does not amount to using violence in any way but simply means a state of simple occupation whereby both parties are aware of the squatters' presence and the fact that it is illegal to trespass.
In some cases, the squatter does not have to be aware that the property they are using belongs to someone else. It can even be a good faith mistake whereby the squatter was not aware that their presence was unwanted.
- Actual Possession
Actual possession requires that the squatter not only be physically present on the property but also use it for its intended purpose. If the squatter makes any routine maintenance efforts on the property or conducts any repairs, this could be enough to be considered possession in Colorado.
Maintain The Property
Rather than wait until you are presented with a color of title or adverse possession claim, it is better to be prepared and take steps to safeguard the legal ownership of your property.
It is very difficult for a squatter in Colorado to make a hostile claim on a property whose owners are active and take steps to solidify their claim. The following are a few of the things you can do as a landlord or property owner:
Visit the Property Regularly
Just your constant presence on the property will be enough to deter would-be squatters and also to prove your ownership should you be served with an adverse possession claim. This means you have to schedule regular visits to all your properties.
This is not always easy if, for example, you regularly take extended vacations or you have a Denver property but live outside Colorado. If that is the case, you can:
- Get someone to visit the property on your behalf
- Hire a caretaker or property manager to look out for the property
- Rent the property out so that you always have tenants living on it
Paying Property Taxes
With all the property taxes paid and receipts available, you will always have a stronger case when fighting an adverse possession claim. Remember that in Colorado, a squatter can pay property taxes as well, so if you lapse in this regard you may end up losing your property rights.
Secure the Premises and Put up Signs
As long as the premises are secured and locked up, anyone who enters without your permission will be committing a trespassing offense and you have the right to have them arrested or forcibly removed.
It is also a good idea to put up a lot of "No Trespassing" signs around the property so that squatters cannot claim the good faith belief that the property did not belong to anyone or that their presence was welcome.
Get Rid of Squatters
A squatter's rights in Colorado make getting rid of them a complicated task in some cases. In this case, it is best to follow the correct procedure so that you do not end up getting in trouble for infringing on other people's rights. The following are the steps you must take when you discover squatters living on your property:
- Inform the squatters that their presence constitutes trespassing and that they should vacate
- Call the local police so that they can make a police report
- Seek legal advice from a qualified attorney
- Serve the squatters with a notice to vacate, for example, a three-day notice to quit or a seven-day unconditional quit notice
- Give the squatters, trespassers, or holdover tenants time to leave peacefully
- Initiate the eviction process
A squatter's rights are not something you should take lightly because in Colorado they are not treated the same as trespassers so you must take care when evicting them. Having said that, you have a lot of options available to you when it comes to dealing with squatters.
If you are trying to get rid of squatters from your property, visit doorloop.com today and choose any of the many templates available that can help you create a written notice or initiate eviction proceedings.
DoorLoop hosted this webinar with attorney Michael Larranaga from Larranaga Law to help answer many of your legal questions. Michael specializes in real estate law and evictions in Colorado and we covered:
- Landlord-tenant issues and laws
- Grounds to evict a tenant
- Eviction process
- Preventing delays or fines
- Hiring an Attorney vs DIY
- Post COVID legal changes
Feel free to learn more and watch this webinar for free.
Do Squatters Have To Pay Property Taxes in Colorado?
Yes, paying property taxes is one of the requirements for a squatter who wishes to claim adverse possession of the property they have been occupying.
What Is the Legal Process for Evicting Squatters From My Land?
Start by reporting the matter to the local police, then approach a qualified attorney for advice on the best way of evicting squatters. Doorloop also has some awesome templates and educational resources that can help you.
Can Squatters Claim Ownership if I Did Not Know They Were Living on My Property?
No, squatters need to have been living in open and notorious possession of your property, meaning you need to have been aware of their presence.
How Long Do Squatters Need To Stay To Claim Adverse Possession Under Colorado Law?
18 years is the normally required period for adverse possession but this can be cut to seven years if the squatter was paying taxes and has a color of title.