Squatting occurs when a person inhabits your unoccupied property without your permission, claims it as their own, and doesn't pay rent. In other words, it's one of the most stressful experiences landlords can face.

While it's often seen as trespassing, as squatters occupy abandoned or vacant properties without discussing it with the owners, many believe this practice is unlawful. However, in New York, squatting can be considered legal in some cases.

Therefore, property owners and managers should understand squatters' rights in New York, what state laws say about them, and other important terms to address this situation. Fortunately, here's all the information you need. Read on!

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Key Facts About Squatting in New York

  • Getting rid of squatters: Landlords and property managers can kick out a squatter from their units through a criminal trespassing charge if they have occupied it for less than 30 days or with judicial eviction for longer periods.
  • Time of occupation to take possession of a unit: It's 10 years of continuous occupation.
  • Color of Title: It's required for a 10-year continuous occupancy period.
  • Property taxes: They are required for a 10-year continuous occupancy period. 

Who is Considered a "Squatter" Under New York Law?

Under New York law, a squatter is a person who resides in an unoccupied or abandoned building, usually residential, without obtaining legal permission from the property owner.

Unlike a legal tenant, a squatter doesn't rent the unit or pay any monthly amount to occupy it.

However, even though squatting means deliberately entering a property with the intent to live there without the owner's permission, it isn't illegal in all cases. Also, this practice is more common in the United States than you might imagine.

Is Squatting and Trespassing the Same?

Squatting sounds like breaking and entering. Therefore, many think that it is the same as trespassing. However, both terms are different and define different actions.

New York laws define trespassing as a criminal offense. While squatting is often a civil matter, it can be considered unlawful and handled as criminal behavior if the landlord has made it clear that the person who has occupied the property is not welcome.

Also, unlike trespassers, a squatter can be upgraded to a "legal tenant" if they have lived in the unit for 30 days or more unless the property manager or owner takes legal action to evict them within that period.

Both trespassers and squatters may attempt to claim the right to be on property by filing false documents or deeds to landlords or authorities. However, this is illegal.

In many cases involving real estate property claims, color of title must be considered because squatters use it to give the appearance that they own the unit. Nonetheless, it doesn't recognize ownership of a property and must be claimed after a successful legal process.

Squatters have some rights in New York but can be charged as criminal trespassers if they don't meet the state or federal requirements for adverse possession.

There are two exceptions to the squatting and trespassing rule in this state. These are:

  • The person who entered the property without authorization could be exempt from trespassing if there is a legitimate emergency.
  • If the property is not in use, squatters can claim adverse possession.

Are Squatters the Same As Holdover Tenants?

Also known as tenants at sufferance, holdover tenants are lessees who remain in a rental property after the rental period ends.

In these cases, essentially, holdover tenants stay in a unit without authorization from the owner. Unlike squatters, however, they must pay rent according to the conditions and rates set when the rental term began.

Landlords can agree to let the tenant stay in the unit if they meet both conditions but without admitting the legality of the occupancy. However, when property owners continue to accept rent, the lessee becomes a tenant at will.

This term states that the tenant has remained in the property "at the landlord's will." If this happens, owners and managers can evict them at any time and without notice.

In other cases, if landlords issue a notice to quit, tenants would be subject to a suit for unlawful detainer.

Another important difference between squatters and tenants is that a person renting the property cannot make an adverse possession claim if the owner has already asked them to leave since this is considered criminal trespassing.

What You Should Know About Adverse Possession in New York

In New York, squatters can claim rights to the property if they have lived there for a while through adverse possession. Under state law, this process can begin after 10 years of continuous occupation.

If squatters claim adverse possession, they can gain legal ownership of the unit or building and retain legal permission to remain on the property. Moreover, they are no longer considered criminal trespassers.

However, as mentioned, squatters must meet some requirements if they plan to file a claim for adverse possession. Find them below:

Under federal squatters' rights and adverse possession laws, individuals can initiate this process if the occupation is:

  • Hostile: The squatter has occupied the property without the authorization of the true owner and against their rights.
  • Open & Notorious: The squatter uses the property as the landlord would without hiding the occupancy.
  • Actual: The squatter controls the whole property.
  • Exclusive: The real property is in possession of the individual occupying it alone.
  • Continuous: The squatter has lived on the property for 10 years.

Squatters who don't meet these five requirements cannot claim adverse possession. However, it's important to understand what these elements mean. Here's more information on each one.

Hostile Possession

In this scenario, "hostile" occupancy doesn't mean a person violently broke into a property. The term has these three definitions:

Simple Occupation

The mere occupation of land or property is considered "hostile," but the trespasser is not required to know that the property belongs to someone else. Most estates currently follow this rule.

Awareness of Trespassing

States can also use this rule, but individuals should be aware that using the property is considered trespassing and that they have no legal rights to live there.

Good Faith Mistake

It's another additional rule that some states may follow. In these cases, trespassers must have made an innocent good faith mistake in occupying the unit because they don't know the property's legal status or have an invalid deed that makes them think they should be on that land or building.

However, in New York, claiming hostility can be more difficult than in other states, as squatters must prove they had a reasonable belief that they belonged there or had title to the property.

Actual Possession

If they plan to make an adverse possession claim, the trespasser must be physically present in the unit and live there as the owner would. In legal proceedings, squatters can establish actual possession by documenting that they have maintained or beautified the property.

In some states, removing debris or planting flowers may be seen as beautification, and squatters may comply with the actual possession requirement.

However, planting some flowers or doing minor landscaping might not be enough for an adverse possession claim in New York.

Open & Notorious Possession

This term indicates the occupancy should be obvious to file an adverse possession claim. In other words, squatters should not try to hide that they live on the property, and anyone should be able to tell that someone is there.

Exclusive Possession

Only a trespasser should possess the land or property. To establish exclusive possession, the squatter must not share occupancy with other owners, squatters, strangers, or tenants.

Continuous Possession

Finally, to file a successful adverse possession claim, squatters must reside on the property for an uninterrupted period.

If they stopped using the unit and returned there later, squatters cannot count the time the property was abandoned as continuous possession.

As mentioned, according to New York laws on squatters' rights, the period required is 10 years.

Is It Necessary To Have Color Of Title?

If squatters want to make a claim to take ownership of someone else's property in New York, they must have color of title, which indicates that their ownership is not regular.

The color of title also states that one of the legal documents regarding the property's ownership, including memorials or registrations, is missing.

In New York, color of title can be claimed after filing an adverse possession claim as long as the individual has 10 years of continuous occupation.

Getting Rid of Squatters in New York

The state has implemented a unique law on squatters and trespassers. However, it doesn't determine their eviction. Here's what a property owner or manager should know about it.

Since New York law states that squatters who stay in a property for 30 days or more are automatically upgraded to "legal tenants," if there is no landlord-tenant relationship, property owners must issue a 10-day notice to quit.

After the 30-day period, if a property manager or owner wants to evict a squatter from their units, they must seek judicial eviction.

Squatters may be removed from properties as criminal trespassers within 30 days. However, landlords must also comply with some steps and requirements, starting with the eviction notice.

If the squatter remains on the property and becomes a legal tenant, property owners can issue three different notices. These are:

  • 14-day notice to pay rent or quit: It informs the tenant that paying rent is required or they must vacate the property in 14 days. Landlords can file an eviction after that period.
  • 30-day notice to quit: When the tenant stays in the property after the lease term expires or there is no contract, the unit's owner can issue a 30-day notice to quit. However, this only applies to tenancies of one year or less.
  • Illegal activity: Landlords may proceed with eviction if the squatter is involved in illegal activity on the property.

After the eviction is granted, the property owner must seek a Writ of Execution from the court. Once the squatter receives this document from the sheriff, they have 14 days to vacate the property.

How Property Owners Can Protect Themselves From Squatting

In New York, attempting to make a squatter vacate the property is illegal and can set the stage for a lawsuit, even if you have been successful in the eviction process. Therefore, you must call the sheriff to remove them.

Additionally, property owners should follow these tips to protect themselves from squatters in New York:

  • Inspect vacant units regularly
  • Secure the properties by locking doors and windows
  • Pay property taxes on time
  • Put "no trespassing" signs on the property
  • Issue written notices as soon as squatters occupy the property
  • Offer to rent the property to the squatters
  • Call the sheriff to remove a squatter instead of the local police unless the situation involves a criminal trespasser
  • Hire a lawyer to get the right legal counsel if proceeding with a lawsuit is necessary

Final Thoughts – Resources Available for New York Property Owners

Squatters' rights in New York can be hard to understand. However, you can find all the information you need with adequate resources.

As mentioned, you may be able to remove a squatter from your property if you serve an eviction notice and follow legal procedures. Hiring an attorney could also help, especially if you have to file a legal claim. However, the process can take time and be quite stressful.

Do you need more help? Check out these resources to find more helpful details!

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Must Squatters Pay Taxes to Be Eligible for an Adverse Possession Claim?

Under New York law on squatters' rights, they must prove that they paid property taxes for 10 years of continuous occupancy. Otherwise, they wouldn't be eligible for an adverse possession claim.

Can Squatters Claim Adverse Possession and Take Ownership of a Property?

Yes, they can. New York's law for adverse possession allows squatters to legally claim property if they are eligible and meet all the requirements.

Can I Call Local Law Enforcement to Remove Squatters from My Property?

Landlords and property managers should always call the sheriff instead of local law enforcement. However, if the unit is being occupied by a criminal trespasser, owners may call the local police.

What Happens If the Squatter Doesn't Meet One of the Adverse Possession Elements?

If they are thinking of claiming adverse possession, squatters must meet all the elements. Otherwise, the process would be dismissed.

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David is the co-founder & CMO of DoorLoop, a best-selling author, legal CLE speaker, and real estate investor. When he's not hanging with his three children, he's writing articles here!