Squatting happens when a person moves into a vacant property or one that's abandoned without talking to the property owner first. Though it might sound like it's illegal (breaking and entering), it might be allowed.
As a landlord, it's up to you to understand the squatting laws in Missouri and follow them to the letter. You'll learn what a squatter is, how they're different from holdover tenants, how adverse possession might come into play, and much more in this article. Let's get started!
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Who Is a Missouri Squatter?
A squatter is anyone who chooses to occupy abandoned, unoccupied, or foreclosed lands and buildings without permission. They don't own or rent the property. Though it's a nuisance, it's quite common in the US.
You might think that would be considered trespassing, but it often isn't. Trespassing is considered to be a criminal offense. However, squatting is civil. Likewise, it could be treated as criminal behavior if the squatter is unwelcome by the property owner.
Please keep these things in mind:
- Trespassers and squatters could falsely claim they've got a right to be on your property. They can present fraudulent deeds or false papers to law enforcement or the owner, which is highly illegal.
- Squatters have rights, though they have to fulfill the adverse possession claim requirements first. If they don't, they will be arrested as a trespasser.
- Squatters cannot claim adverse possession for pious, public, and charitable land anywhere in Missouri.
- Squatters could be neighbors or strangers who wish to get the title for the land or building.
There are some exceptions to the rule, such as:
- If someone removes debris, plants flowers, or does other beautification efforts, they could avoid the criminal trespass prosecution. This is true for industrial and residential properties.
- No one can be using the property when squatters start their adverse possession claim.
- If there's an emergency, the person accessing the property without permission or authorization is generally exempt from the trespassing law.
What Are Holdover Tenants?
A holdover tenant is sometimes called a tenant at sufferance. They remain on the property once the lease agreement ends. They're not considered squatters, so you'll have to deal with them differently.
In this situation, the tenant continues to pay rent at the current terms and rate. The landlord can choose to accept that without fear, and the tenant is then called a "tenant at will." This indicates they're only on the property because the landlord wants it and could still be evicted without notice at any time.
Typically, a holdover tenant will receive a notice to quit, which means to move out, and they will have to do so within the time frame, or they could be sued. Likewise, a holdover tenant cannot make an adverse possession claim once they've been asked to leave. They will be treated as a criminal trespasser.
Understanding Adverse Possession Laws in Missouri
Squatters can claim the rights to the property after they've lived there for a specified time period. It takes about 10 years of fully continuous possession in Missouri for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim. At that point, they could gain legal ownership of that property. They've had lawful permission to be on the property all that time and aren't considered a trespasser.
There are five legal requirements the squatter has to meet before they could see a successful adverse possession claim. The occupant has to be:
- Actual - Exercises control over the property
- Hostile - Has no permission from the true owner
- Exclusive - Individual occupies the property alone and is in possession of it
- Open/Notorious - Uses the property as an owner would without hiding the occupancy
- Continuous - Has been on the property for at least 10 years
If those requirements aren't met by the squatter, they've got no grounds to claim adverse possession. Let's focus on each of these conditions more:
Hostile doesn't always mean dangerous or violent. From a legal doctrine standpoint, there are three definitions:
- Simple Occupation - Most states follow this rule now. Here, the term "hostile" is defined as occupation of the land. The squatter may not know the property belongs to another.
- Good Faith Mistake - Some states follow this rule. The trespasser had to have made a mistake while occupying the property. They're relying on an incorrect deed or invalid documentation, ultimately making a good faith mistake and aren't allowed to be there.
- Awareness of Trespassing - With this rule, the trespasser is aware they're using the property illegally and have no right to take legal possession of it.
Open and Notorious Possession
Open and notorious possession means that it's obvious to everyone that someone's squatting on that property. When the property owner makes a reasonable effort to check into things, they'll notice someone who shouldn't be there. In fact, the squatter isn't trying to hide the fact that they're living on the property illegally.
With actual possession, the squatter is living on the property and physically present. They're treating it as if they're the owner.
Typically, you'll see actual possession through beautification efforts and maintenance to improve the area.
Continuous possession means that the trespasser or squatter has to live on the property for a full 10 years before filing an adverse possession claim. They can't leave for long periods, even weeks or months. Overall, the occupation must be fully uninterrupted for this to work from a legal standpoint.
Exclusive possession means the trespasser possesses the land exclusively. They cannot share it with tenants, strangers, other squatters, or the owner.
What's a Color of Title? Will It Help with an Adverse Possession Claim?
You've probably heard the phrase "color of title" while researching squatters rights. This means that the property ownership isn't "regular." Overall, the owner is missing at least one legal document or registration required for ownership.
Some states will require the landowner to have color of title for the adverse possession claim, though Missouri isn't one of them.
Having a color of title can help with the claim, but the squatter will still have to follow the rest of the rules for squatting, including the 10-year stipulation.
Will Missouri Squatters Pay Property Taxes?
Some states will require a squatter to pay property taxes before making an adverse possession claim. Others reduce the continuous possession time required if they're paying property taxes.
Missouri law states that squatters don't have to pay the property taxes. If they do so, it won't reduce their continuous possession time required. However, it could help their case to pay property taxes.
Getting Rid of Squatters in Missouri
Missouri has no special laws to make it easy or quick to remove squatters. However, it does offer assistance for disabled landowners.
It's possible to delay an adverse possession claim if the landowner has any legal disability. This includes being under 18 years of age or being mentally incapacitated. After the disability is lifted, they have three years to reclaim the property and dispute the adverse possession claim.
Otherwise, you will have to legally evict them to remove them from your property. You'll find various eviction options that might be relevant to your situation. Since Missouri doesn't require a written rent notice for nonpayment, you can easily file for an eviction if they don't pay rent within the month.
Landlords can also issue 10-day notices to quit when there's any violation, such as having too many people in the home or damaging the property. Here are a few other options:
- 30-day notice to quit when the tenancy is less than a year
- 60-day notice to quit when the tenancy is over one year
- 10-day notice to quit for any illegal activity, such as possession of a controlled substance or prostitution
- Immediate eviction filings for physical harm to others caused by the squatter, property damage that exceeds 12 months of rent, or criminal drug activity
Once the judge grants the eviction, you'll have to wait to receive a Writ of Possession. This is the final notice for the squatter to vacate before the sheriff can forcibly remove them. You cannot self-evict in this case. For example, if you turn off the utilities or change the locks, you could end up with a lawsuit on your hands. It's wise to hire a lawyer who understands property law and squatter's rights.
Be aware that only a sheriff can deal with squatters. Local law enforcement can remove illegal trespassers, but squatters aren't part of their jurisdiction. Therefore, always go to the sheriff to deal with squatting situations.
Landlords are required to send a notice if the squatter leaves any personal property behind. The letter should list the items and say you intend to dispose of them. However, if rent remains unpaid for 30 days, and you've issued the notice to the last known address of the squatter, you can do what you want with the property after not hearing from the other party.
Why Work with DoorLoop to Protect Yourself from Squatters
Property owners must protect themselves from legal problems, and the easiest way to do that is through DoorLoop. Check out the articles for Missouri and download the free forms for your state, as well. If you're dealing with squatters, you'll want to remove them quickly!
... And to see what DoorLoop can do for you and your business, schedule a free demo today!
How Can I Evict a Missouri Squatter?
You will have to go through the eviction process in Missouri to get rid of squatters. Typically, you'll do this before they put in claims for adverse possession.
To evict someone in Missouri, you'll have to send an eviction notice with a demand for rent or provide a 10-day notice to vacate. After that period has ended, you'll file for eviction in court.
Why Do I Not Want Squatters in My Home/Apartment?
Property owners don't want to deal with squatters because they're unauthorized residents who won't pay rent and could cause serious damage. Plus, they could gain legal ownership through adverse possession claims, which means you could lose your property.
How Does an Adverse Possession Claim Work in Missouri?
Squatters have to meet specific requirements to make claims of adverse possession. These include:
- Living on the property for 10 years before making the adverse possession claim
- Not sharing it with others, including the owner of the property
- Treating the property as if it were their own
- Not hiding; being open about living on the property
- Focusing on the hostile claim aspect (good faith mistakes, simple occupation, and awareness of trespassing)
How Can I Protect My Property from a Squatter?
You must follow the adverse possession laws in Missouri, and the best way to avoid squatters is to never have a vacant property. This isn't always feasible, so you should:
- Regularly inspect the property
- Secure the property with locks and blocked entrances
- Use "no trespassing" signs if it's unoccupied
- Pay property taxes on time
- Serve a written notice when you notice squatters
- Call the sheriff and not the local police to get rid of squatters if they won't leave
- Offer to rent to the squatters legally
- Hire a lawyer to take legal action against the squatters