No Kentucky property owner wants to find squatters on their land- especially not ones with an agenda for taking over ownership.
Trespassers establishing legal claims on your property is a frightful concept- but it can (and does) happen. Understanding squatters' rights in Kentucky is essential for landowners- so they can do what is necessary to protect their vacant properties.
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Now, let’s dive in.
Squatting vs. Trespassing
Squatting is when someone enters a vacant or abandoned property and settles there without the owner's permission. It might sound like trespassing- but that is not always the case. In Kentucky, no crime has been committed until the legal owners make it clear that the squatters are not welcome- and take steps to legally evict them.
In short, only once an eviction notice has been served and ignored does squatting become trespassing in the legal sense.
Kentucky Adverse Possession
It might sound alarming, but there is a way for squatters to gain legal ownership of a property they occupy. Adverse possession is the squatter's right that scared landowners the most- but it is actually very misunderstood.
While some believe simply squatting on a property gives them the right to claim adverse possession, there are several rules and requirements- and Kentucky is no exception.
Kentucky and other states established adverse possession laws not to make it easy for squatters to gain ownership of someone else's land- but to encourage owners to look after their property- rather than leave it abandoned and derelict.
As a landlord, you may believe that adverse possession appears unjust- but unless you seriously neglect your property for a very long time, you should be able to keep it safe from squatters.
What exactly does a squatter need to do to qualify for an adverse possession claim in Kentucky? There are five primary rules and requirements that must be met- and they are as follows.
Hostile possession does not mean violence- it simply means the squatter is there without permission. If the actual owner gives permission for them to live there (in writing) or they have some sort of written rent agreement, it is not hostile possession, and they cannot claim ownership.
One of the main reasons adverse possession laws were introduced as a legal concept in Kentucky was to encourage owners to look after their properties. If a squatter moves onto abandoned land and looks after it as if it was their own, and the actual owner does not, they can use it to back their claim.
Actual possession refers to the squatter being physically present in the property and making efforts to treat it as their home- including maintenance, beautification, and cleaning.
Open and Notorious Possession
Open and notorious means they must live on the property without hiding their presence. They must be obvious in their occupation- making it clear to neighbors and other nearby parties that they are living there.
The squatter must have sole occupancy of the property. If an abandoned property is shared between many- none of them can make an adverse possession claim.
Of all the requirements for adverse possession claims, this is the one that stands in the way the most. Squatters must occupy the property without interruption for at least 15 years to qualify- or seven years if they hold a court-verified color of title.
Kentucky Squatters' Rights
The basic adverse possession laws and squatters' rights in Kentucky are fairly similar to most states- but there are some additional points to consider.
The Definitiveness Rule
Kentucky adverse possession laws require a color of title for every claim. It comes under the definitiveness rule- something many states do not include. Definitiveness can also be argued if the squatter puts up a clear fence or boundary around the property.
No Property Taxes Required
In some states, a squatter must have been paying property taxes on the building or land they are occupying for a certain amount of time to be able to claim adverse possession. Kentucky law does not include this rule. As long as the squatter meets the other requirements for adverse possession, they don't need to pay a single dollar of property tax to have a shot at claiming legal ownership.
Paying it does, however, add some legitimacy to an adverse possession claim- as it supports the fact that the squatter treated the property as they would their own during the time they occupied it.
The best way to remove squatters from your Kentucky property is through a formal eviction notice. An eviction notice is issued by the landlord or owner in accordance with tenant laws and regulations. If the conditions are not met, they can file an eviction lawsuit.
Once an eviction lawsuit is filed, a Kentucky State court judge rules on the decision to remove the occupant or let them stay. In most cases, the court rules in favor of the property owners- since so few squatters can show they follow all the necessary adverse possession rules.
There are two types of eviction notice you can issue to a squatter in Kentucky.
Seven-Day Notice to Pay Rent
A seven-day rent notice gives the occupant the opportunity to pay rent and become- or remain- a lawful tenant. It states the amount of rent required and the time frame in which it must be paid- after which the formal eviction notice from the court can be filed.
End of Lease or No Lease Notice to Quit
If you have a tenant whose lease has expired- or a squatter who never had a lease- you can issue a notice to quit. The length of notice depends on the terms of the lease that existed- for example, a week-to-week contract can be ended after a seven-day notice. Longer-term leases require a 30-day notice period. If there is no lease or an expired lease, you can issue a 10-day notice to quit.
If the terms are not met after issuing the notice, you must get a Writ of Restitution. This is obtained through the courts and presented to the squatter through the sheriff's office. Learn more about Kentucky eviction laws for a fuller image of what moves you can make.
Stopping squatters in Kentucky is simple: keep your property locked, secure, and monitored- and if you see something suspicious, act quickly. Most squatters are looking for an easy place to get into and stay- so a simple fence, lock, or security camera could be enough to deter them.
Here are a few other things all Kentucky landowners should do to keep their properties safe.
- Always pay property taxes promptly.
Although Kentucky squatters' rights don't require paying property taxes to qualify for adverse possession, it is still a good idea for the property owner to keep on top of payments. People look for properties that have been abandoned- and unpaid property taxes suggest nobody is looking after the building anymore.
- Keep up the exterior appearance.
You don't want your property to look empty or abandoned- it is best if it as least looks like someone is there some of the time. It doesn't take much work- clear leaves and debris from the front yard, touch up old paintwork sometimes, and clean cobwebs and dirt build-up. Again, it all comes back to squatters claiming they take better care of the space than the actual property owners- unloved, unkempt buildings are more likely to be taken over in adverse possession claim attempts.
- Visit regularly or have the neighbors keep tabs.
Don't leave too long between visits. Otherwise, potential squatters may view your property as an easy target. If you check in regularly- or ask somebody else to do it for you- it could warn off anyone looking for a place to squat. It also means you can spot any strange activity sooner rather than later- and act accordingly.
Kentucky squatters' rights are simple- unless they have occupied the same property continuously for 15 years, they most likely cannot claim legal ownership. Landlords and owners should know the rules to avoid any trouble in or on their vacant property. As long as you visit the property regularly and keep it in a decent condition, a person should not have the chance to claim ownership under Kentucky squatter's rights.
Keep on top of all things real estate in Kentucky- and download helpful forms for landlords and property owners to manage their activities.
Can a landlord take steps to force out squatters?
No- the only person who can forcibly remove a squatter in Kentucky is the sheriff. It is illegal for landlords and owners to turn off any amenities or change the locks in an attempt to force out squatters. If they do, the squatter could take them to court- which could hurt the eviction process.
What do landlords need to do with personal property left behind by squatters?
There is no specific rule regarding what should be done with items left behind once squatters leave. The best course of action is to try to contact the person to give them their things back- but other than that, safely disposing of them is the only way forward. Just be sure not to throw anything away before the eviction process is officially over.
Are there other ways to deal with squatters if you can't evict them quickly enough?
Legally evicting a squatter can take time- especially if they are claiming adverse possession. If you don't want to take that route, there are a couple of other things you could try.
First, you could offer to rent the property to the squatters rather than remove them. In some instances, they might be happy to pay to be able to stay. Alternatively, you could try to sell your property fast for cash to an online 'as-is' cash buyer, and it then becomes somebody else's problem.
Is a holdover tenant the same as a squatter according to Kentucky law?
No- not exactly. A holdover tenant is someone who had a lease that has not expired but still lives on the property- paying rent on a month-to-month or week-to-week basis (usually).
If they stop paying rent- but the owner does not take steps to ask them to move- they technically become a squatter. As soon as the property owner serves them with a notice to quit and they do not leave or pay, they are illegal trespassers- not squatters.
A holdover tenant is very unlikely to qualify for an adverse possession claim in Kentucky. You can learn all about landlords' and tenants' rights, rules, and regulations to be better prepared for holdover tenants- including contracts, rolling lease laws, and security deposit laws.