Squatters in every state (including Massachusetts) are protected by the law. If they comply with adverse possession laws, a squatter could claim your property legally.
We understand how severe this may sound for most property owners, so this article aims to teach everything you should know about adverse possession claims, how squatters are protected, and all the legal consequences that come from squatting.
Even though squatters are protected, they must meet certain requirements to gain legal ownership of your vacant property - and meeting those isn't easy and takes a significant amount of time.
Keep reading if you want to learn more about adverse possession laws in Massachusetts!
- Time of Occupation to Take Actual Possession/Legal Ownership of a Property: 20 years of continuous possession.
- Is the Color of Title Required?: No.
- Getting Rid of Squatters: The property owner can serve an eviction notice.
What's a Squatter?
A squatter in Massachusetts can be any person who occupies a vacant/abandoned property without the property owner's consent. Any person who isn't renting the owner's property is, therefore, considered a "squatter."
Squatting is fairly common in all states in the US, including Massachusetts, and it's also considered a civil issue.
Squatters in Massachusetts can make an adverse possession claim as long as they comply with all of the rules we'll mention below. The primary rule requires squatters to have continuous possession of the property for at least 20 years.
Keep in mind that adverse possession laws don't apply to conservations, parks, recreation areas, wildlife protection areas, water protection areas, or non-profit land.
Squatter and Trespasser
Squatting and trespassing are similar terms, but they're significantly different in the legal sense. While squatting is considered a civil matter, trespassing is considered a criminal offense; this means people can go to jail if they're sued for trespassing a property.
It's important to note that a squatter can be treated like a trespasser if the owner is aware that there's someone squatting on their property and doesn't allow it.
Some people try to create false deeds in order to claim actual possession of a property. However, this is illegal, and if the person is found to be presenting false papers, they could get arrested.
Now, there are some exceptions where a squatter may avoid trespassing charges. Let's explain each one in detail:
- If the person enters the property for a legitimate emergency, they could avoid trespassing charges.
- Squatters who beautify or improve the property/land in any way could avoid getting prosecuted for criminal trespass. Moreover, this applies to residential and industrial properties.
- Finally, squatters who want to make adverse possession claims must ensure the property isn't currently in use.
Squatter and Holdover Tenant
Squatters are also often compared to holdover tenants. Again, while both of these terms are similar, they're not the same. A holdover tenant is someone who got to the end of their lease term and choose to remain on the property.
Landlords, in this case, can choose to let the tenant stay as long as they comply with the established landlord-tenant laws and keep paying rent.
However, that process implies that the tenant is now an "at-will" one. This means that the landlord can now evict them at any moment without prior notice.
Massachusetts Adverse Possession Laws
If a squatter meets the adverse possession laws in Massachusetts, they can claim actual possession of the property. On the contrary, the property owner will have the right to ask the squatter to get out.
What happens once the squatter claims rightful ownership? In essence, they will be able to live on the property without paying anything to the property owner.
There are certain conditions the squatter must meet before claiming ownership, and we'll cover them below:
According to Massachusetts General Laws (Chapter 260 § 21), the squatter must remain on the property for at least 20 years to start an adverse possession claim. If the squatter is able to make the claim, they can't be treated as a criminal trespasser anymore.
Something that makes the rules in Massachusetts slightly different than in other states is the state's land registration system. Overall, if there's a dispute and/or question of title between the property owner and squatter, they can ask the Land Court to make an investigation.
The "Land Court" can investigate the true title for the property, and it can also issue an updated certificate for the title. If this happens, the squatter won't be able to make an adverse possession claim anymore.
About the Color of Title
You may have heard of the term "Color of Title" upon investigating adverse possession claims. In essence, it's a document that squatters get and gives them a reason to think they can occupy the property.
Unfortunately for squatters, a Color of Title isn't a legally valid document. Moreover, having a Color of Title document won't affect a squatter's adverse possession claim in any way. They must still prove continuous possession of the property for 20 years before making a claim.
Adverse Possession Claim
All states in the US have five requirements a squatter must meet to claim adverse possession. If they can't prove these five requirements, their claim is likely to get rejected, or they may not even be allowed to file it.
Let's dive deeper into each rule:
There are three different definitions for a "hostile" claim:
- Trespassing Awareness - The squatter or trespasser must be aware of their "trespassing" condition. In other words, the person must know they're not allowed to stay on that property.
- Simple Occupation - This rule implies that squatters don't necessarily have to know that they're occupying someone else's land or property. Most states follow this definition.
- "Good Faith Mistake" - Finally, this is the rule that the least states follow. It states that the person made an honest mistake by getting into the property. This can imply using an incorrect or invalid deed, so the squatter wasn't aware of the land's legal status.
Keep in mind that "hostile" doesn't refer to anything dangerous in this context. It refers to the occupation of any property or land.
The following rule states that the squatter must be physically present on the property and treat it as if they owned it.
Some of the resources that squatters use to meet this rule include maintenance documentation, which implies they're doing a reasonable effort to beautify or maintain the property.
Open and Notorious Possession
It should be obvious to anyone that there's a squatter in the property. In other words, the squatter can't attempt to hide their "squatting" status to comply with the "open and notorious possession" rule.
As mentioned before, the person must live on the property for at least 20 years before claiming adverse possession. However, it's vital to note that they must stay on the property regularly/uninterruptedly for that period; they can't leave for weeks/months, as that time won't count for the claim.
The exclusive possession rule states that squatters cannot share the land with any other people, including the owner, if they want to make a claim.
Unlike other states in the country, there aren't any disability conditions for adverse possession cases in Massachusetts. This means that the only way to remove a squatter (in most cities in the state) is to start a civil eviction claim.
In other words, you would have to evict the squatter as if you were going to evict a regular tenant. However, if the land or property is part of the Boston Housing Authority, there could be an exception.
Depending on the case, owners can choose to send a 7, 14, or 30-day notice to quit to the squatter.
"Summons and Complaint" Claims
Property owners can start a "Summons and Complaint" case. Then, they will get a hearing date when they can explain the details of the case. If the owner gets their eviction request granted, they will get a "Writ of Execution," which gives the squatter a total of 48 hours to leave.
If the squatter doesn't leave after receiving written notice, a local sheriff can be sent to the property to remove them. Owners aren't allowed to try removing squatters themselves.
Even though squatting is common in Massachusetts, there are some ways to avoid it. If you want to protect your property (and yourself) from squatters, follow these tips:
- Pay your property taxes when they're due.
- Make regular property inspections.
- Secure all your property, including doors, windows, and any other areas.
- Consider putting up "No-Trespassing" signs.
Now, if you already have a squatter, consider the following:
- Send them a notice to leave as soon as possible.
- Offer them a renting option.
- If the squatter doesn't leave, hire a lawyer and call your local sheriff for help.
Keep in mind that those measures may not protect you with 100% certainty in some cases, especially if your land isn't occupied by anyone at the moment.
However, filing for adverse possession isn't easy and takes a lot of time, so rest assured that it won't be easy for strangers to legally occupy your property as long as you take action.
That's all there is to know surrounding adverse possession laws in Massachusetts. Knowing how these cases work in each state is essential for property owners who want to avoid dealing with them.
If you ever find yourself in a position where you have to deal with a squatter, make sure you're aware of all your rights and what resources are available to deal with that situation.
Free Forms for Massachusetts Property Owners
Are you looking for rental documents for Massachusetts? Check our free forms page.
Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes in Massachusetts?
No, a squatter isn't legally required to pay property taxes. However, if they pay property taxes, those records will show in the court's system.
How Long Does Someone Have to Be in a House to Enjoy Squatters' Rights?
It depends on the state. In Massachusetts, the squatter must have been physically present in the property and lived there for at least 20 years if they want to make an adverse possession claim.
Can a Tenant Claim Squatters' Rights?
No, since a person can't be a squatter and a tenant simultaneously, and the circumstances for both cases are different.
Why Are Squatters Protected by the Law?
Squatters are protected so that property owners don't resort to violence or make threats for evicting squatters.