Almost any vacant or abandoned property can be occupied by squatters, even if they don't have permission from the rightful owner. If you're a landlord, this situation can be so stressful and frustrating, especially if you live in a state where this act may be legal.
However, even if the state laws protect squatters' rights, there are some legal resources you can leverage to prevent your property from being occupied by someone else or evict these individuals if they're already living there.
Here's a short guide to help you understand the essentials of Maine adverse possession laws, how the system protects squatters, what you should do to remove them from your vacant unit, and more. Read on!
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Now, let’s dive in.
- Landlords can remove squatters from their property by filing a standard eviction or if they're legally disabled, if applicable.
- It isn't mandatory to hold color of title to make an adverse possession claim in Maine.
- Squatters could try to take ownership of an unoccupied property after 20 years of continuous possession.
- Paying property taxes is mandatory for those who want to claim rights to uncultivated lands in unincorporated areas.
Both in Maine and other US states, a squatter is a person who has occupied abandoned, vacant, or foreclosed property belonging to another person without the authorization of the legal owner.
Squatters don't pay rent or have legal rights to occupy a property. Therefore, they can cause several problems for most landlords, especially if they start an adverse possession process.
Since squatting involves entering and occupying someone else's property, many believe it is the same as trespassing. Others describe holdover tenants as squatters, too. However, this is a common mistake.
Squatters vs. Trespassers vs. Holdover Tenants
Although both acts are similar, trespassing is a criminal offense, while squatting is usually handled in civil cases. However, a squatter can be charged with criminal conduct if they occupy a property even though the owner stated they were not welcome there.
Some exceptions allow squatters to avoid being prosecuted for trespassing, including the following:
- The property was vacant when squatters entered and began to live there.
- Squatters improved or beautified the property in some way, either by planting or cleaning (It applies to residential and industrial buildings.)
- The unit was occupied without authorization from the legal owner but due to a legitimate emergency.
In addition, unlike trespassers, squatters have rights and can claim ownership of the unit where they have lived for a long period through an adverse possession claim.
Besides trespassers and squatters, there are also holdover tenants. They're lessees who occupy a rental unit with authorization from the property owner through a lease agreement but don't leave after the rental period expires.
A holdover tenant can continue to pay rent according to the conditions set in the original lease. If the property owner agrees to these new terms, the lessee becomes a "tenant at will" and can remain in the unit but is subject to eviction at any time, even if the landlord doesn't issue prior notice.
In addition, property owners and managers can file an unlawful detainer lawsuit against holdover tenants who refuse to move out after receiving the notice to quit. At this point, they're considered criminal trespassers and cannot make an adverse possession claim.
Maine Adverse Possession Laws
As mentioned, squatters can try to take legal ownership of a property if they have lived there for a long period. Unlike other states, Maine requires proof of at least 20 years of continuous occupancy to legitimately claim adverse possession.
In addition, squatters must meet other requirements set forth by federal law, including the following:
Occupying a property without the owner's authorization can be considered "hostile" even if it has not been violent or posed dangers to the parties involved. According to the legal system, this element has three possible definitions:
- Simple occupation: It describes the mere occupation of someone else's property as "hostile." The squatter doesn't have to know that the unit or area of land belonged to another individual.
- Awareness of trespassing: Squatters should be aware that they gained access to someone else's unit through trespassing and understand that they have no legal right to be there.
- Good faith mistake: The property must be used in good faith, and squatters should have made a mistake in occupying it because they faithfully believed they had rights to the unit due to an invalid or incorrect deed.
Open & Notorious Possession
The fact that someone has squatted on the property should be obvious. In other words, anyone should be able to notice that someone has gained access to the property and is living there without the owner's permission, including a landlord investigating the unit's status.
Squatters planning to make an adverse possession claim must also prove that they currently live on the property as the rightful owner. To prove actual possession, they can document their efforts to beautify, clean, or keep the property in good repair.
In Maine, squatters must live in a property for at least 20 continuous years to start the adverse possession process.
Adverse possession claims may be denied if squatters share the unit or area of land with other squatters, tenants, strangers, or landlords.
Color of Title
If you want to understand a squatter's rights in Maine, another term you should know is "color of title." It's a document describing that someone has irregularly gained ownership of a property, meaning that they don't have one or more required documents.
Having color of title is mandatory and can even favor adverse possession cases in some states. However, that isn't the case in Maine, as this document doesn't reduce the required continuous possession time.
In other words, even those squatters who hold color of title must live in the unit for at least 20 uninterrupted years in order to make an adverse possession claim.
Removing Squatters in Maine
According to Maine law, there is no specific way to remove squatters from a property. Therefore, you must start the eviction process as if they were tenants. The first step is to serve them with an eviction notice. Maine courts usually recognize these alternatives:
- A 7-Day Notice to Pay for those who fail to pay rent
- A 7-Day Notice to Quit for those who perform an illegal activity, pose a health risk, or violate security regulations
- 30-Day Notice to Quit if there's no lease or the rental period has ended
Landlords can also issue a nonpayment of rent notice, but they must include the amount squatters should pay if they want to stay in the unit.
Once the eviction notice period ends, the property owner can take legal action and file a formal eviction suit. Tenants have the right to respond to notices, but their responses rarely help them win the case.
Finally, if the court rules in favor of the landlords and grants eviction, a Writ of Possession must be issued, asking the squatters to vacate the unit within seven days. If they refuse to leave, property owners can seek help from the sheriff or constable to remove them and their personal items from the unit.
Protect Your Legal Title
Whether your property has been occupied by squatters or you want to prevent this from happening, you can protect yourself and your buildings or land. Find some tips below!
- Inspect the vacant unit frequently to verify that everything is in order
- Hang "No Trespassing" signs on your property if it's vacant
- Pay property taxes on time to prove that you're the rightful owner of the real property
- Secure the unit or area of land with fences or locking systems on doors and windows
- Send a written notice to squatters as soon as you realize they are on your property without your permission
- Call the sheriff to remove squatters from your unit instead of doing it yourself
- Hire a real estate attorney with experience in squatting, eviction proceedings, and adverse possession laws
Squatters can become a property owner's worst nightmare, especially if they have been there for a certain period and plan to make an adverse possession claim. However, in Maine, gaining ownership of someone else's unit or area of land can be difficult.
Besides having to live in the real property for a 20-year continuous possession period, squatters must meet other requirements in order to start the adverse possession process.
Therefore, besides understanding squatter's rights, you should seek legal advice to protect your properties or find the best solution if they have already been occupied by strangers. Do you need more help? Find more resources below!
Free Forms Available for Maine Landlords
Whether you plan to offer your vacant property for rent or want to evict squatters from a unit you haven't used for years, DoorLoop is the best place to find the tools you need. We have rental applications, eviction notices, and many more free forms for you!
Can Squatters Make an Adverse Possession Claim If the Property Owner Is Legally Disabled?
In Maine, legally disabled landlords have extra time to fight the adverse possession claim and regain ownership of their property. This extended period applies to minors, prisoners, or legally incompetent people.
Once the disability is lifted, property owners have 10 additional years to fight for the rights to their units or land, even if the 20-year continuous possession period has expired.
Can I Self-Evict Squatters in Maine?
No, you can't. Any attempt to self-evict squatters from your property is illegal and could set the stage for them to take legal action against you.
Why Should I Pay Property Taxes?
If you paid property taxes, you would be able to prove that you are the legal owner of the property and prevent squatters from claiming rights to it.
Can I Call the Police to Evict Squatters?
Ideally, you should call the sheriff if you want to evict squatters, as local law enforcement officials handle criminal acts and cannot help you under these circumstances. However, in some cases, you can seek help from the police if you have a Writ of Possession.