Any vacant property left unattended by the owner is at risk of being taken over by squatters. If the squatters are allowed to stay for a long enough period and they are clever enough to pay property taxes and maintain the property, as the legal owner, you may find yourself with a big problem on your hands!
In Illinois, adverse possession laws and squatter's rights mean there are ways to take over someone else's property just by living on the property physically, paying property taxes, and using the vacant land in the same way as the legal landowner.
Considering such a big risk to your legal title, it is important to make sure you make sure that you pay taxes on time and are up to date with all the Illinois squatting laws. Read this article to find out more!
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Now, let’s dive in.
Illinois Squatters Rights
As unpleasant as it is to deal with a squatter's occupation of your property, Illinois state laws provide squatter's rights to illegal occupants that you have to consider when solving the situation.
If you are wondering why a property owner needs to consider the rights of someone illegally occupying their property, here are a few scenarios to consider:
- A desperate squatter had nowhere else to take shelter and resorted to using your vacant home as an emergency solution due to circumstances beyond their control
- The illegal occupants of your land had no idea that the property belongs to someone else whose permission they needed
- A neighbor accidentally infringes and makes use of part of your land for many years, doing maintenance and paying property taxes in the process
- The person squatting misunderstood the title deeds and assumed the land belonged to them
- The squatter has a color of title with an invalid deed or some missing documents
As you can tell by the above scenarios, it is important to fully understand the situation before taking any action or labeling it as a criminal offense.
In that regard, there are three crucial distinctions you need to make whenever you are dealing with the unwanted occupation of your property. Remember the following definitions:
A squatter is a person who is living on the property without express permission from the owner because they are taking advantage of the fact that the property is vacant, foreclosed, or seemingly abandoned.
The squatter makes use of the property as if it belonged to them, without any lawful right to do so or making any rent payments.
Trespassing is regarded as a criminal offense because the occupants knowingly entered the property without permission, knowing full well that their presence is unlawful. In many cases, trespassing may also involve breaking and entering, trying to avoid detection, and willingly ignoring signs warning against trespassing.
- Holdover Tenants
The third type of illegal occupant is a holdover tenant. Unlike the other two, a holdover tenant is someone who at some point had an agreement in place with the property owner that allowed them to reside on the property.
However, that agreement or lease has since lapsed and the tenants no longer have the right to be there. The reasons why a tenant may overstay their lease include:
- Not finding a suitable alternative option for accommodation
- Disagreements with the landlord, for example, over the security deposit
- Other extenuating circumstances, such as the covid-19 pandemic which made moving impossible
Illinois Adverse Possession Laws
Adverse possession laws are the requirements and squatters rights set by the state to govern how an adverse possession claim is handled. These laws stipulate what a squatter needs to show to be granted a legal claim over somebody else's real estate property.
As a typical example, the law states that 20 years of continuous occupation are required for an adverse possession claim to be heard. There are many other similar requirements that all need to be met before a property is given to a squatter.
Adverse possession laws also direct how the owner of the property in question may take steps to evict the squatters if necessary.
Color of Title
The term color of title is sometimes used interchangeably with adverse possession but the two are not the same thing, Color of title can be defined as the ownership of property in a way that is not regular.
Reasons for irregularity vary greatly, from improperly registered properties to missing documents.
Is Color of Title Required for an Adverse Possession Claim in Illinois?
No, in Illinois color of title is not a requirement for an adverse possession claim but having it may provide some important advantages.
While color of title does not directly affect the outcome of an adverse possession claim, a person with color of title and who has paid property taxes can reduce the required time of the occupation to just seven years.
When a squatter decided to claim adverse possession of a piece of property, there are a few things that are essential if they are going to be successful.
Missing any one of these will result in their claim being denied, which is a great benefit for property owners trying to protect themselves from an adverse possession claim. The following are the important elements:
- Exclusive Possession
It may seem better to find one squatter living on your property rather than many different ones but in reality, the opposite is true. While a single squatter is easier to evict and does not cause as much damage to the property as multiple squatters, they can submit an adverse possession claim based on exclusive possession.
What this means is that a squatter has to have been living on the premises without sharing it with any other squatters. As long as there is more than one squatter or family living on the property, exclusive possession does not apply and adverse possession will be denied.
- Actual Possession
Actual possession begins the moment the squatter takes up residence on the property. It is in two parts, which are:
- The squatter's physical presence on the property
- How the squatter treats the property for the duration of their occupancy
What actual possession demands is that the squatter must live on the property as if it belongs to them, treating, maintaining, and repairing it in the same way the property owner would have.
- Open and Notorious Possession
A squatter cannot hide somewhere in the depths of a huge property, out of sight of the property owners, and then come out a few years later to claim adverse possession. Open and notorious possession means the owner has to be fully aware of the squatter's presence.
- Hostile Claim/Possession
Hostile possession is not a violent takeover of property belonging to someone else, but rather can be defined in the following ways:
- A good faith mistake in which the squatter does not realize that they are trespassing on a person's property until a long time has already passed
- Awareness of trespassing which means the squatter is aware that they are on someone else's property and that this is an illegal trespass
- Simple occupation whereby the squatter lives on the land as if it belongs to them with or without knowing that they are not supposed to be residing there
- Continuous Possession
Perhaps the most important of all the elements mentioned in this article is that of continuous possession. This states the required timeframe needed for a squatter to claim adverse possession.
In Illinois, this timeframe is not less than 20 years, during which time the squatter must live on the property permanently. Temporarily vacating the property will nullify the continuous possession claim.
Squatter's rights are only applicable in Illinois if the occupants can demonstrate the following:
- They have been residing on the premises for more than 20 years
- All five of the key elements needed for an adverse possession claim have been met
- The property was not being used for illegal activities, such as prostitution or drug peddling
- The occupants paid property taxes during that period
What can you do if you come across squatters illegally occupying your property? Whether it is a good faith mistake or intentional trespassing should not affect the way you handle the situation.
You need to be careful not to infringe on their squatters rights, so take the following steps:
- Call the Local Police/Sheriff
Calling the police is the first thing you need to do to not only protect yourself but also to get a police report issued which is essential for any future eviction proceedings.
- Serve Eviction Notice
Serve the squatters with an eviction notice clearly stating that as the owner of the property you want them to vacate the premises by a certain date or risk further legal action.
- Initiate Eviction Process
If the squatters still refuse to vacate, you can approach the sheriff's office and they will assist you with the eviction process.
Protect Your Property
Rather than go through the unpleasant process of evicting people from your property, or risk falling victim to an adverse possession claim, it is better to prevent the occupation of your property by squatters in the first place.
Take the following steps:
Visit Your Property Regularly
Simply going to your property regularly and showing your face as the true owner of the premises is a great way to deter would-be squatters and to cause the self-eviction of those who may have already taken up residence.
Pay Property Taxes
You need to pay property taxes all the time if you want to secure your legal right as the actual owner of the property otherwise squatting laws may allow it to fall into the hands of someone else.
Put Up "No Trespassing" Signs And Use Alarms
Putting up "No Trespassing" signs, securing the property, and installing alarm systems will guarantee that no squatter found on site will be able to claim that they did not know that they were illegally occupying your premises.
At DoorLoop, you will be able to find a wide range of resources and forms that will come in very handy when fighting against an adverse possession claim. Visit doorloop.com/forms right now and download the forms that you need.
How Does Paying Property Taxes Protect Me From an Adverse Possession Claim?
Paying property taxes shows that you are the owner of the property and that you have not abandoned it completely to the squatters occupying it.
What Must I Do if Squatters Offer To Pay Rent?
As soon as a squatter starts to pay rent they will become tenants which may complicate the eviction process if you do not wish to let the occupants stay.
How Can I Remove Squatters That Are Ignoring My Eviction Notices?
The best way to remove squatters from your premises without infringing on the rights of both parties is to follow the legal process by approaching a sheriff and also seeking legal advice from qualified personnel.
Is It an Infringement of Squatter’s Rights to Forcibly Remove Them From My Property?
To be safe, do not take any matters into your own hands as this might be an infringement of their rights. If squatters are refusing to vacate, you must contact the local sheriff and leave the eviction up to them.