Squatting can be one of the most stressful things that can happen to a property owner. While in some cases, squatting in Georgia can be illegal, in other cases, people could take legal possession of the property if some requirements are met.
It's vital for every property owner in Georgia to understand squatter's rights in Georgia, Georgia property law in general, and other important terms like property taxes, an eviction notice, a color of title, and how an adverse possession claim works.
The following page will walk you through how squatter's rights in Georgia work and what scenarios make a landlord eligible to start an eviction process without any problems.
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Now, let’s dive in.
- Time of Occupation to Take Actual Possession/Legal Ownership of a Property: 20 years, or seven if the person has a color of title.
- Is the Color of Title Required?: No.
- Getting Rid of Squatters: The landlord can remove the person as a trespasser or serve an eviction notice.
What Is Considered a Squatter in Georgia?
First, let's address what a squatter is. In general terms, anyone who occupies a foreclosed, unoccupied, or abandoned building without permission is a squatter. This is considered a civil matter.
A squatter will stay in someone else's property without renting or owning it. Although this is against Georgia law most of the time, it's something fairly common.
What's the Difference Between Squatting, Trespassing, and Holdover Tenants?
Although squatting may seem the same as trespassing, it isn't. Trespassing happens when someone enters a property without any permission, and it's considered a criminal offense.
If the property owner put up signs on their property establishing that people cannot trespass on the property, then they may be treated as criminals too.
The main difference between the two terms is that squatters have the right to gain ownership of the property as long as they meet the requirements for an adverse possession claim.
There are some exceptions to the squatting and trespassing rule, though:
- Squatters cannot begin their adverse possession claim if the property is in use.
- If someone entered a property without permission under the grounds of a legitimate emergency, then they may not be treated as trespassers.
- If the person beautifies the property in any way, they could avoid trespassing charges.
Now, what about holdover tenants? These are tenants who remain on a property without lawful permission after their lease ended.
Here, there are a couple of options that a property owner can consider, including:
- Let the tenant stay under the condition that they keep paying rent and meeting the lease's terms.
- Issue a notice to quit. If the tenant doesn't leave after receiving this, they could be sued, and they may lose their right to start an adverse possession claim, as they will be considered a criminal trespasser.
In case the landlord decides to let the tenant stay, they will become "at-will tenants," which means that the landlord can evict them at any time without notice.
Now that you understand the difference between these three terms, let's move over to adverse possession laws in Georgia!
About Adverse Possession Laws in Georgia
A squatter may be able to claim adverse possession of a property in Georgia, as long as they meet certain requirements.
If the person wants to claim actual possession/legal ownership of a unit, they need the following:
20 years of continuous possession of the property or seven years with the color of title. Once the person can prove continuous possession for that amount of time, they have the right to gain property ownership.
What's the Color of Title?
Color of Title refers to the ownership of a unit or property without some of the legal documentation needed by the law to stay on a vacant property. In other words, the squatter would have an irregular possession of the property.
If the person has a color of title claim to a unit, they have to live there for at least seven years before making adverse possession claims.
It's vital to note that Georgia doesn't require squatters to pay property taxes to start their adverse possession claim.
About the Five Legal Requirements a Squatter Needs to File for Adverse Possession
According to Georgia's adverse possession laws, every squatter must comply with five different requirements to file for adverse possession:
- Open and notorious
Let's go over each one so that you have a better idea of what to expect from one of these claims:
As opposed to its name, "hostile," in this context, means that the squatter doesn't have negative intentions upon getting into the property.
In this case, there are three different factors that can affect this requirement:
Good Faith Mistake
If the squatter has a faulty document or demonstrates that they made a mistake and believed they had the right documents to stay on the property, they could attempt to file for adverse possession under the grounds of a good faith mistake.
This factor implies that the trespasser is using the land in any way, and they didn't know it belonged to someone else.
Awareness of Trespassing
The person must know they are trespassing to comply with this rule.
This term refers to people who trespassers who are physically on a property and act as if they were the owner. However, these people need to document their efforts to maintain, beautify, or improve the unit in any way to establish actual possession.
Open and Notorious Possession
In this case, third parties, or people in general, should be aware that squatters are living in the property. Any squatters who hide they're living in the unit won't be eligible for adverse possession.
Here, the squatter doesn't share possession of the property with other people, including tenants, third parties, or even the property owner.
This is the rule we mentioned above, and it's one of the most important ones. Every squatter must prove that they've lived in the unit, uninterruptedly, for 20 years if they want to start an adverse possession claim (or seven years if they have color of title).
Getting Rid of Squatters in Georgia
Now, are property owners in Georgia able to remove squatters from their property? It depends. If the squatter isn't eligible for adverse possession, they can be removed as trespassers through an eviction note.
In this case, the landlord would start a regular eviction process where they will tell the squatter or tenant that they need to leave the property due to nonpayment of rent, criminal activity, or any other reason that seems appropriate.
Georgia doesn't impose a time limit for notices, but most landlords go for 24 hours at minimum and 60 days at maximum. If the tenant fails to move out within that period, the owner can file a lawsuit unless they challenge the eviction.
Landlords who win the eviction case can request a "Writ of Possession," which will give the person at least seven days to leave the property. Once the days have passed, a sheriff or constable will remove the person from the area.
If you need to pursue an eviction, remember that self-eviction measures are illegal in Georgia.
Now, what if the squatter meets the adverse possession requirements? Landlords could challenge the claim, but it can become complicated.
There are some factors that may affect the eviction process if the owner has a disability, is imprisoned, or is a minor. In these cases, the owner can't challenge the adverse possession until their legal disability is dropped.
What happens once the squatter leaves the property? If they leave on their own, the landlord can hold on to it for some time and return it later if they can. On the other hand, if a sheriff removes the squatter, then the personal property left there is considered abandoned.
Landlords, in this case, can do anything they want with the items.
Factors to Consider If You Want to Avoid Squatters
Even though avoiding squatters can be hard, it's not impossible. There are some things you can do to prevent these issues from happening, and we'll outline some of these below:
- Pay property taxes when you have to
- Inspect your unit frequently
- Ensure your entrances, windows, and doors are secured correctly
- Put up "No Trespassing" signs if you're leaving your unit unoccupied
You can also follow these tips if you already have a squatter in your property:
- Offer the squatter to pay rent
- Give the squatter an eviction notice
- Call your local sheriff to remove the person from your property if they don't do it on their own
If everything else fails, make sure you hire a lawyer to file a lawsuit.
Bottom Line: Check All the Available Resources for a Property Owner in Georgia
Squatters' rights surrounding a real estate property may seem complicated, but they're simpler to navigate if you have the right resources.
In most cases, you will be able to remove a squatter from your real estate property with a proper eviction notice and legal proceedings. However, if the squatter meets the criteria for adverse possession, you may want to hire an attorney for suggestions on how to challenge this claim.
We hope this article has helped you understand squatters' rights in Georgia. If you want more information or resources about property management in this state, check the links and content below!
Free Forms for Georgia Landlords
If you want all the resources you need for lease agreements, rental applications, and many more documents for the state of Georgia, make sure to go to our forms page.
Do Squatters Need to Pay Property Taxes to Make a Claim?
No. In Georgia, squatters aren't required to pay property taxes before making an adverse possession claim, but they have to comply with the rest of the terms mentioned on this page.
What Can You Do if the Squatter Doesn't Leave the Property?
If you already served a notice letter to the squatter, and they still don't leave, you can file a lawsuit and get a sheriff to remove the person from your property.
Can Someone Get Arrested for Squatting?
If the squatter is treated as a trespasser and doesn't meet the requirements for adverse possession, they can be arrested.
How Long Does It Take to Evict a Squatter in Georgia?
It depends. The notice period can range from 24 hours up to 60 days. If the squatter doesn't leave after this period, then the landlord will have to seek legal counsel, which will take a few more days or weeks.