In Maryland, a deed holder is regarded as the property's lawful owner, and squatters are regarded as trespassers unless they can prove otherwise using the rules of adverse possession.
Squatters are trespassing and subject to eviction by the property owner if they violate the conditions set forth by adverse possession.
In Maryland, it is against the law for landowners to evict squatters on their own; they must do it through the judicial system.
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Now, let’s dive in.
Maryland Squatters' Rights
Adverse Possession is the basis for determining squatters' rights. A squatter may lawfully acquire ownership of your vacant property if they occupy it for a predetermined period of time and adhere to Maryland law. This is still possible even in the absence of payment.
To prevent this, you must become familiar with Maryland Squatter's Rights. Otherwise, your property can be taken from under your nose, and there's nothing you can do about it.
At first, someone might squat on your abandoned premises without your permission. This means there's no lease agreement in place that you can terminate. If you choose to disregard their presence, enough time may have passed for them to legally seize your property.
In Maryland, if you own property, you must keep an eye out for squatters occupying abandoned homes or buildings. If not, they may assert ownership rights over your real estate asset, making it difficult for you to retrieve it.
A squatter must inhabit your land for a predetermined period of time in order to acquire squatters' rights in Maryland and file an adverse possession claim. A squatter in Maryland has to live on your property for 20 years before they can obtain legal ownership of the area.
However, the squatter will need to continuously occupy the property to establish adverse possession and make a claim.
Furthermore, squatters need to meet five specific requirements in order to claim rights over the premises.
Under Maryland law, the five factors that need to be satisfied to gain legal title over a property include:
- Continuous possession
- Hostile claim
- Open and notorious possession
- Actual possession
- Exclusive possession
In some states, a trespasser can acquire squatter rights by providing Color of Title. This denotes irregular ownership of the property. In Maryland, having the Color of Title does not affect how long a person has had continuous possession; however, it can help a person prevail in court against an opposing claim.
Color of Title
"Color of Title" refers to irregular ownership of a property and the absence of one or more legal documents from the claimant.
However, this is not the situation in Maryland. In some states, a Color of Title claim can assist considerably in an adverse possession claim and even shorten the amount of time needed for continuous possession of the property.
The squatter must have continuously occupied the land for 20 years. Squatters who successfully assert adverse possession can also be in a position to establish Color of Title.
Fortunately, there are certain measures you can implement to ensure that squatters don't occupy your Maryland property.
Taking active measures as a property owner is the best way to ensure that you protect your premises from unwelcome squatters. Here's how:
- Inspect and visit the property regularly.
- Make sure you prioritize implementing effective security measures.
- Put up "No Trespassing" or "Private Property" signs around the property.
- Hire a reliable and experienced property management company to monitor the building when you're unable to.
- Ensure there are appropriate entry barriers in place, such as locked doors and windows.
As with other issues, it's preferable to put a stop to a problem before it spirals out of control. This also relates to evicting squatters from your property before they get Maryland squatter's rights.
You are responsible for your financial situation since there is no security deposit to be possibly recovered, unlike in a normal eviction. Therefore, the Maryland security deposit laws will not apply in this scenario.
Furthermore, Maryland property owners need to follow a specific process when evicting a squatter. You cannot use the same type of eviction order that you would for a tenant.
The procedure is as follows:
- If the squatter refuses to leave your property, plan to file a wrongful detainer complaint. You can go to the county's District Court, which will then issue a summons to the squatter.
- The order will be sent to the County sheriff if the court is in favor of the landowner's case. Therefore, the sheriff will be responsible for removing the squatter provided that he/she does not file for an appeal.
Keep in mind that all self-eviction actions are illegal in Maryland. This involves shutting off the utilities or changing the locks. Failure to comply with this opens up the possibility for a squatter to file a lawsuit against the property owner.
A wrongful detainer is someone who is in possession of real property against their will. Current renters, holdover tenants, or anybody in possession of a property pursuant to a court order cannot be evicted by a landlord using a wrongful detainer lawsuit.
If the individual has never been a lessee or had the legal right to own the property, the landowner may file a lawsuit to evict them.
Burden of Proof
The trespasser asserting adverse possession has the burden of proof. Therefore, the squatter needs to prove the five requirements in court.
If they do, it is the property owner's responsibility to provide evidence to refute those claims; for example, the trespasser might lose their rights under adverse possession if the property owner can show that they haven't been on the premises for a continuous 20-year period.
Any entry and possession for a continuous 20 years that fits all the criteria above is sufficient to support the claim of adverse possession in Maryland. The trespasser does not need to access the property with knowledge in order to do so.
If the court determines that the squatter has no leasehold stake in the property, there is no need to give notice prior to initiating a wrongful detainer action; instead, the court will grant the property owner a judgment of possession.
After that, the court will issue a warrant for the squatter's eviction, which a sheriff will execute later.
The owner of the property may potentially receive a monetary judgment from the court to cover court costs, legal bills, or damages.
If a person's legal incapacity, imprisonment, or status as a minor renders them legally incompetent of managing the property, they will have an additional three years to reclaim the land once their 'disability' has been lifted.
If you're trying to remove a squatter from your property, keep the following factors in mind:
- Make sure that all your actions are legal. Don't attempt to use any 'self-help' eviction processes, as this will only make it more difficult for you to retain legal ownership of your property. You also risk facing counter lawsuits if you try to switch off the utilities or replace the locks.
- If you're dealing with an unwanted squatter on your property, you need to approach the sheriff. They can deal with the situation much more appropriately than the police.
The Bottom Line
It's crucial to familiarize yourself with squatter's rights if you're a Maryland property owner. Keeping up to date with and understanding these laws is the best way to ensure that a squatter does not file an adverse possession claim against you and receive legal ownership of your property.
However, if you also need to refresh your memory with the relevant Maryland Landlord-Tenant Laws, Doorloop has a comprehensive guide that you might find useful. Furthermore, we have a range of free forms and resources for you to use to ensure that you're not leaving out any crucial elements in your leasing agreements.
Is a Squatter a Trespasser?
Squatters are those who occupy someone else's foreclosed, abandoned, or vacant property without the owner's consent. Squatting is a civil infraction, whereas trespassing is a criminal one. Hence, a squatter is not always a trespasser. Squatting, however, may turn into a crime if the owner of the property proves that the squatter is not welcome.
By presenting a counterfeit deed or other false documents to law enforcement or the property owner, a squatter may fraudulently assert that they have the right to occupy a piece of property.
Should I Contact the Sheriff or Police If I'm Dealing with a Squatter?
If a landowner has concerns about a squatter, they should speak with the sheriff. The local police may be helpful if there is a criminal trespasser; however, they cannot assist if there's a squatter who has forged documents allowing them to be on the land. This is due to the fact that the sheriff has a different jurisdiction than the police.
Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes in Maryland?
No, Maryland squatters do not need to pay property taxes to file an adverse possession claim. Furthermore, paying property taxes will not decrease the required adverse possession timeframe.
How Does Adverse Possession Law Work?
Adverse possession is a legal principle that enables a trespasser—occasionally a stranger, but generally a neighbor—to gain legal title to another person's property. The idea originated in ancient Britain. However, more recently, it has been used to achieve a just and equitable outcome when one owner has disregarded or forgotten about land, while another has been occupying it or caring for it for so long that forcing them to leave would be difficult.
In Maryland, adverse possession is largely governed by the courts, although it is also somewhat governed by statute.
Is There a Knowledge Requirement for Adverse Possession in Maryland?
Maryland courts emphasize that in order to demonstrate adverse possession, there is no need for the entry and continuing possession of the property to have been done with knowledge.
Instead, a claim of title by adverse possession may be supported by any entry and possession for a minimum of 20 years that is hostile, exclusive, actual, continuous, and open, even if it is made under an incorrect claim of title.