Squatters living on a vacant or abandoned property may seem like nothing more than troublesome criminal trespassers- but that is not the case according to the law. Minnesota squatters' rights protect them to a certain extent- especially if they reside in one place long enough and make an effort to treat the property as if it was their own.
Landlords and owners in Minnesota must understand squatting laws to be able to protect their properties and avoid a potentially costly error. Here is a complete guide to squatters' rights and adverse possession laws in this state.
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Now, let’s dive in.
Minnesota Squatters Rights
- Squatters are not committing a criminal offense until the rightful owner has officially issued notice that they are not welcome.
- If they adhere to certain conditions for a set amount of time (15 years in Minnesota), they can claim adverse possession.
- No color of title is required according to Minnesota squatters' rights.
- Landlords and owners do not have the right to forcibly remove squatters.
- When issued with an eviction notice, squatters have the right to dispute.
Adverse Possession Claim
Adverse possession claims allow squatters to gain lawful permission and even ownership of the property they occupy. The legal doctrine is an integral part of squatters' rights across the country- including in Minnesota.
Could a Squatter Really Gain Legal Ownership of My Property?
As a property owner, the thought of someone being able to simply take over legal possession seems unfair- but it is possible under certain circumstances. In short- yes, it is possible to lose ownership of a property to a squatter- but it doesn't happen overnight.
Adverse Possession Rules
Before a squatter claims adverse possession, they must be able to prove they have followed certain rules and met the following possession conditions.
- Open and Notorious
Definitions of the Five Elements of Adverse Possession According to Minnesota Law
Hostile Possession or Hostile Claim
'Hostile' in this sense does not mean dangerous or violent- it means the squatter must be there without permission.
There are three types of hostile claims in Minnesota:
- Simple occupation (they are there- with or without knowing the land belongs to someone else)
- Awareness of trespassing (they know they are trespassing)
- Good faith mistake (they genuinely didn't know they didn't have the right to be there)
Minnesota recognizes all three definitions- but most cases come under a simple occupation claim. It is difficult to prove a good faith mistake unless they are a neighbor with a color of title they genuinely believed gave them ownership of the property. Even so, it does not reduce the time requirement.
Actual Possession of the Property
As well as physically occupying the property, they must treat it as the actual owner would. This includes caring for the area, maintaining the appearance, and paying property taxes (see below for more details).
Exclusive Possession of the Property
A property cannot be shared amongst several squatters. Only someone who has exclusive possession can make a claim. If there are a group of people, they must be able to prove they are together.
Open and Notorious Occupation
Open and notorious possession means making no attempt to hide the fact they are there. Squatters must make it obvious enough that they are occupying the property for neighbors and owners to have every opportunity to become aware of their presence.
Continuous Possession of the Property
In Minnesota, squatters must reside on a property for 15 consecutive years before they can claim adverse possession. There is no way for them to shorten the time requirement.
Squatters Must Also Pay Property Taxes
Minnesota squatters must pay taxes on the property they are occupying for five consecutive years. The rules surrounding squatting and taxes are different from state to state- with some requiring full payment for the entire occupation period and others asking for none at all.
This state sits somewhere in the middle. As long as the squatter paid taxes continuously for five years at any point during the 15-year occupancy, they have the right to pursue adverse possession under Minnesota law.
No Color of Title is Required for a Minnesota Adverse Possession Claim
In some state laws, a color of title is required for an adverse possession claim. That is not the case in Minnesota. A color of title is some form of documentation that looks like a legal title but is not.
Squatters don't need to have one- which makes it easier to make a successful adverse possession claim- although they still need to meet all the other conditions.
Luckily, it is quite easy to get rid of squatters in Minnesota. Here are the steps you need to follow.
The Eviction Process
Minnesota eviction laws have no special system for dealing with squatters- you should follow the same procedure as you would for any other tenant. The only difference is that you don't need to file an eviction notice for someone who never had a lease agreement- you can go straight to filing the lawsuit.
Once you file an eviction lawsuit, a notice period is given by the court. You must then wait for the notice to expire before asking the sheriff to intervene and remove the squatters (if they don't leave of their own accord).
If you have an at-will holdover tenant (someone whose lease has expired and has stopped paying rent), you must first submit a 14-day notice. After that, you can proceed with the lawsuit and legal eviction.
Squatters' rights in Minnesota allow them to dispute the eviction, but it rarely changes the outcome. In most cases, they have no legal right to be there, so the dispute only serves to give them more time on the property.
Dealing with Personal Belongings
Any personal property left behind by squatters must be handled in a specific way according to Minnesota law. The correct process is as follows:
- Belongings should be safely stored for 28 days, with any reasonable attempt to notify the owners taken by the landlord.
- After 28 days, you can either dispose of the property or sell it.
- If you plan on disposing of it, you don't need to notify the owner.
- If you plan on selling it, you must provide 14 days' notice.
- Any storage fees incurred in the process can be claimed back from the squatters by suing them in court.
Minnesota Legal Disability Clause
If the landowner is legally disabled, an adverse possession claim can be delayed by five years. The Minnesota disability provision is in place to give extra time to those who need it. One exception to the rule is if the owner is an infant.
Also, a landowner who is temporarily disabled, mentally incompetent, or under the age of 18 has one additional year once their disability is lifted, they are ruled competent, or come of age.
Protecting Your Property
Prevention is better than cure- and it is easier to prevent squatters than remove them. Here are a few simple steps you can take as a landlord or owner to reduce the likelihood of your property being taken over by unwanted occupants.
Visit the Property Regularly
The best way to stop squatters from being able to claim ownership through adverse possession is to spot them quickly. Visiting the property regularly not only maximizes your chances of getting on top of things immediately- it is also likely to put people off of trying to settle in the first place.
During your visits, make efforts to maintain the property's appearance. A building that looks like someone is looking after it is less appealing to squatters who are hoping to claim adverse possession.
Ask Neighbors to Watch Out for Movement
If you can't watch over your vacant property all the time, ask someone who is nearby to do it for you. A neighbor can spot unusual activity and report it to you so you can take the necessary next steps.
Put Up No Trespassing Signs
No trespassing signs are more effective than you might think. If you own an unoccupied building, it is beneficial to have clear notice that squatters are not welcome- as it suggests you are likely to be on the lookout and remove them quickly.
Check the Locks
Make sure the locks on all your doors and windows are high-quality and secure. A squatter is more likely to occupy a property that is easy to get into. If they can't get in quickly, they may look elsewhere.
It is also worth backing up your security with cameras and alarms if you are concerned about it becoming a target.
Pay Your Taxes
Minnesota requires property taxes as part of an adverse possession claim. If you pay them promptly, the squatters won't have a chance to pay them instead- meaning they can never claim adverse possession or legal ownership.
Minnesota doesn't make it easy for squatters. Although they have rights, there are many requirements for someone who hopes to become the legal property owner. Adverse possession claims are a nightmare for landowners- but as long as you look after your vacant property and take simple steps to look out for squatters- you shouldn't have a problem.
There are many helpful forms and documents that are handy for landlords in Minnesota- to help manage their properties and their relationship with tenants.
Is a holdover tenant the same as a squatter- according to Minnesota law?
No- not quite. A squatter is usually someone who never had a lease agreement to begin with- which is why it is easier to evict in Minnesota. Holdover tenants used to have a lease and decide to stay longer- sometimes with the permission of the landlord on a rolling weekly basis.
If they stay over their lease without permission or refuse to pay rent, they are trespassing- and an eviction notice can be served. Holdover tenants cannot claim adverse possession. You also need to take into account security deposit laws for tenants that overstay their welcome.
When can local law enforcement get involved in the removal of squatters?
Only the sheriff can remove squatters- a local law enforcement officer can't get involved. Once the eviction lawsuit has been granted, you can involve the sheriff.
Can a landlord turn off amenities while their property is under the occupation of squatters?
It is illegal to do anything that could be construed as an attempt to forcibly remove trespassers or squatters. Turning off water and electricity- or changing the locks- is not allowed. Instead, you must follow the correct legal process- or risk ending up in court yourself.
Do Minnesota adverse possession laws allow someone to make a claim without paying property taxes?
No- Minnesota required property taxes to be paid for at least five years consecutively before a squatter can attempt to claim adverse possession. Some other states do not require them to pay property taxes- but luckily, Minnesota does.