Do you have squatters living on your vacant property? In New Hampshire, there are laws governing squatters' rights. If allowed to reside there for 20 years or more, these unwelcome guests can claim adverse possession and obtain legal title to the property.
In this article, we'll provide all the information you need about squatters' rights in New Hampshire and give you a few tips on how to safeguard your home and remove squatters from the property.
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Now, let’s dive in.
What Is a Squatter?
A squatter is someone who illegally inhabits a vacant, abandoned, or repossessed building or plot of land. This indicates that the person isn't the legal owner or a tenant, nor do they have the property owner's consent to be there. In spite of this, squatting is extremely widespread in the US.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Squatters could make up a reason for their occupation of the land. They can accomplish this by providing counterfeit documentation or invalid deeds to the police or landowners. This is illegal, and the law does not support such conduct.
- While squatters have certain rights, they risk being detained as criminal trespassers if they fail to meet the criteria for adverse possession.
- No one can file an adverse possession claim for public property.
- Squatters can be neighbors or strangers who desire to claim the land's title.
New Hampshire Exceptions
There are a few exceptions to the rules mentioned above. They are as follows:
- A person may be able to escape legal action for trespassing if they make the property more attractive (by adding flowers, clearing away the trash, or landscaping, for example).
- The property should not be in use if a squatter wants to file an adverse possession claim.
- Those who entered a property without consent may not be considered to have been trespassing if there is a real emergency.
Squatting Vs. Trespassing
Trespassing does not always include squatting. Squatting is typically a civil issue, whereas trespassing is considered a criminal offense. However, it may be considered illegal if the landlord or property owner has made it clear that the occupant is not welcome.
Tenants that remain in a rental unit after their lease has expired are known as tenants at sufferance" or holdover tenants. In this case, the tenant is in charge of paying rent according to the current conditions and rates. Landlords may agree to this without acknowledging the legality of the occupancy if they so choose.
The renter becomes a tenant at will, which means that they are on the premises "at the landlord's will" and are subject to eviction at any time and without justification if the landlord decides to continue receiving rent.
Adverse Possession Laws
To gain possession of the property, squatters have to meet certain criteria, as stipulated by New Hampshire law. Let's take a look at these five elements.
Open and Notorious Possession
It must be clear to everyone that someone is occupying the property. A squatter must be detectable even to a property owner who makes a reasonable effort to look into the matter. If squatters try to conceal their presence, they cannot claim adverse possession.
The squatter must have been the sole occupant of the premises for a cumulative 20 years to properly launch an adverse possession claim. This implies that no other occupants, renters, outsiders, or the owner may occupy the land while the settler resides there.
In addition, the squatter must maintain continuous possession of the land for a minimum of 20 years while adhering to all other conditions. This is likely the most challenging requirement to meet in New Hampshire.
The squatter must currently reside on the land and maintain it as their own residence. He or she can demonstrate actual possession by performing routine maintenance and improving the property's aesthetics.
There are certain situations in which squatters may make adverse possession claims.
Good Faith Mistake
Several states also adhere to this guideline. In order for this to apply, the trespasser must have initially occupied the property unwittingly and in good faith. They could be relying on a faulty or invalid deed, but regardless of their lack of understanding regarding the property's legal status, they feel as though they belong there.
Awareness of Trespassing
To comply with this rule, the home invader must understand that their usage of the area constitutes trespassing. They must be aware that they have no legal authority to be there.
The majority of states today abide by this rule. Here, the term "hostile" is interpreted as the simple act of occupying the property. The squatter is not required to be aware that they are trespassing.
It's challenging for squatters to assert an adverse possession claim on your land (since they must live there for 20 consecutive years), but it's still necessary to be on guard and defend yourself from squatters.
Here are some strategies you can use to keep squatters away from your property:
Set up a Reliable Security System
Unwanted guests can be kept off the property by installing high-quality locks on all windows and doors and a security system. Be careful to keep your security systems up to date and replace any worn-out locks. Checking these systems regularly is also essential to ensure they are doing what they are supposed to.
Conduct Regular Checks
Visiting the property regularly is a great way to assert legal ownership and ensure that squatters know you are the owner. If you know that you are going to be gone for a long time, get someone to visit the property on your behalf.
Shut Off Utilities
Another effective way to deter squatters from residing on a vacant property is to shut off the utilities. This will make it much less appealing to intruders.
Pay Property Taxes
By paying taxes on time, you can establish yourself as the rightful owner and ensure that you do not lose the land to an adverse possession claim.
Put Up Signs
By displaying "No Trespassing" signs around the property, you can ensure that intruders are made aware that their presence there is unwelcome and will work in your favor if someone tries to claim adverse possession of the property.
If despite your efforts, squatters move onto the property, you can take steps to remove them and avoid having to deal with an adverse possession claim. There are no regulations in New Hampshire that explicitly address evicting squatters from your land. They must therefore be evicted through the legal eviction process.
Send an Eviction Notice
The type of eviction notice to quit will depend on the nature of the occupancy. Let's take a look at the different types of notices that can be filed against squatters in New Hampshire.
Seven-day Notice to Quit
The occupants have seven days from the date of this notification to pay rent as specified to continue occupying the property.
Moreover, if the squatters damage or pose a threat to the property or threaten the health or safety of others, this notification may be used. After seven days, you can file an eviction lawsuit if they still haven't vacated the property.
30-day Notice to Quit
A landowner may give a tenant a 30-Day Notice to Quit if they continue to occupy the rental property after the lease period has ended or if there was never a tenancy agreement in the first place.
File an Eviction Lawsuit
If the squatter refuses to leave within the designated period, a property owner may launch an eviction lawsuit to force them to leave. After 10 days of the eviction filing, a hearing will be held, and the squatter may decide to contest the eviction to extend their stay, which could result in a lengthy legal dispute.
However, if the landowner wins their case, they cannot evict the squatter on their own. The judge must issue a Writ of Possession, which the Sheriff's office must deliver.
What Not to Do
Even after an eviction, it is prohibited for a property owner to take any action (such as cutting off the amenities or replacing the locks) to make a squatter leave. The squatter must be escorted off the property by a sheriff, so it's important to wait until that happens.
Moreover, the landowner is required to store whatever personal goods the occupant has left behind for a period of seven days at their own expense. He or she may dispose of the items however they see fit without giving notice if the squatter fails to claim them within those seven days.
Keep in mind that there is a provision for disabled property owners. Landowners have more time to recover their land from intruders if they are legally unable to do so, such as if they are minors, incarcerated, or incompetent.
A disabled person's property cannot be taken by adverse possession until five years after the disability is remedied (either they have been released from jail, come of age, or regained competency).
Squatters that have paid property taxes and can prove continuous possession of a property for a minimum of 20 years may be able to claim adverse possession. However, landowners can take steps to prevent this, such as putting up "No Trespassers" signs and visiting the area regularly.
If you are a rental business owner, then it's important that you stay on top of things to avoid having to deal with someone else trying to gain legal ownership of your property. DoorLoop is an intuitive property management software solution that puts everything you need at your fingertips.
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Do squatters in New Hampshire have to pay property taxes?
In contrast to other states, squatters in New Hampshire do not need to pay property taxes to assert adverse possession of their land.
However, there are additional restrictions, and they must remain on your property for 20 years without interruption.
Does New Hampshire honor color of title claims?
"Color of title" refers to paperwork that seems legitimate but is erroneous or outdated.
Due to irregular ownership of the land, certain states recognize "color of title" actions, which exempt squatters from having to submit all necessary documentation for an adverse possession claim.
Squatters are required to submit all required standard paperwork for a claim to be processed in New Hampshire, where this form of claim is not recognized.
Moreover, if a squatter has a color of title, it does not reduce the requirement for continuous possession. Squatters may assert color of title if an adverse possession claim has been satisfactorily completed.
Should I contact law enforcement if I notice squatters on my property?
Squatters are civil matters, so you should contact the Sheriff's office and not the local police if you notice a squatter on your personal property.
If a squatter doesn't meet the five requirements, can they still claim adverse possession?
No. All five requirements must be fulfilled for a squatter to gain possession of the property.