In the eyes of the general public, trespassing and squatting go hand in hand. Although it can be challenging to tell the difference, the law frequently permits squatting. State-specific squatter laws serve as a buffer between lawful tenants and property owners.
Squatters are generally protected by law, but they must fulfill specific requirements in order to prove a legal claim through adverse occupation. You should know the squatter laws that apply in your state if you own properties.
It's essential to understand what a squatter's rights are and how you can avoid losing your land, building, or house.
In this article, we'll provide all you need to know about squatters' rights in Ohio and the laws that apply.
Download the Landlord’s Guide to Squatter's Rights Whitepaper
Get the quintessential guide to squatter's rights on the go from DoorLoop’s “Landlord’s Guide” series.
Click here or on the banner above to download the whitepaper and get all our best tips (by the book).
Now, let’s dive in.
Squatting is when a person enters an empty or abandoned building, usually one that is vacant, deserted, or subject to foreclosure, without legal permission from the owner. It resembles breaking and entering, yet sometimes it's lawful.
These unwelcome inhabitants are considered illegal tenants, and, in some cases, they are able to acquire ownership of such homes. In Ohio, a squatter cannot assert the legal title of a property until they have lived there for a minimum of 21 years.
The government has passed laws to define squatters' rights since the 1850s. These laws distinguish between acceptable squatting and prohibited behavior like criminal trespass.
Squatter vs. Trespasser
The truth is that many people believe that trespassing and squatting are the same thing. However, the law makes a clear distinction between the two. The difference ultimately depends on whether the building is inhabited and whether the property owner has made squatters aware that they are not welcome.
Trespassing is a criminal offense, but since squatters have legal protection, most cases are resolved in civil court. A squatter is only considered trespassing once the property owner makes it clear that they are not permitted to remain on the premises.
Holdover tenants, on the other hand, typically already have a written agreement with the landlord. However, the difference is that these renters remain on the property after the lease has ended. "Tenants at sufferance" are those that refuse to leave a property once the lease has ended. They do this without the landlord's permission.
When a tenant remains in the rental unit in Ohio after their lease has ended, it is considered trespassing unless they continue paying rent and the owner permits it, in which case they are considered "tenants at will."
Ohio Adverse Possession Laws
After 21 years of residency, Ohio's law on adverse possession allows squatters to gain legal ownership of a property. Adverse possession is a legal notion that forbids squatting but permits the legitimate acquisition of another person's real estate.
However, there are requirements that must be completed to acquire properties through an adverse possession claim. A squatter must, specifically, be able to demonstrate the following:
- Exclusive possession
- Hostile possession
- Continuous possession
- Open and notorious possession
- Actual possession
The term "exclusive possession" refers to the use of the property. Squatters must demonstrate they are the only occupants of the property in order to acquire land through adverse possession in Ohio. People living with others on the property cannot claim legal title.
The term "hostile" simply describes how the squatter came to inhabit the space. This does, in certain instances, encompass situations where the occupant is aware that they are intruding. Still, it also covers cases where the squatters are in "simple" or "good faith" possession and is unaware that their conduct is unlawful.
To be considered a squatter, a person must have occupied the property continuously for an extended period. In Ohio, adverse possession claims must be made for at least 21 years. The period of occupancy restarts if they leave the residence or abandon it for a long time.
Open and Notorious Possession
This merely denotes the squatter's apparent presence on the property. It is sometimes referred to as "visible possession."
The squatter cannot conceal their presence to take ownership of property. Everyone who tries to conduct a reasonable inspection of the building ought to be able to tell that the squatter is residing there.
A squatter must reside on the premises and make use of it as though it were their own to gain ownership. Moreover, to make it their own by filing an adverse possession claim, the squatter must have completed any maintenance tasks, landscaping, or aesthetic improvements.
Ohio Squatter's Rights
A claimant must satisfy all five factors mentioned above of adverse possession and other requirements set forth by Ohio law to assert squatter's rights and acquire the title of land through adverse possession.
In Ohio, one who asserts squatter's rights must:
- Meet each of the five criteria for adverse possession listed above.
- Hold title to the property continuously for at least 21 years.
It should be noted that certain states demand that a squatter cover all necessary property taxes for the land that is being claimed. However, this does not apply in Ohio.
A squatter may begin legal actions through Ohio's court system and make their adverse possession claim before a judge if all the aforementioned conditions have been met.
Having a squatter take possession of the property is understandably one of the greatest concerns property owners have. How can you protect your real estate from an adverse possession claim? In the section below, we'll discuss effective ways to prevent a squatter from gaining legal possession of your vacant property.
1. Put Up Signs
You can deter squatters by placing "no trespassing" notices around the premises. This will let trespassers know they are not welcome on your land and shield you against allegations of adverse possession.
2. Don't Leave It Vacant for Extended Periods
Squatters might take ownership of your property more easily if you are gone for an extended period. This is why it is important to visit your property as frequently as possible to prevent an adverse possession claim. You can also get someone else to do this on your behalf if you know you will be away for a long time.
3. Stay Up to Date on Property Taxes
When you pay property taxes on time, this will undoubtedly serve to establish your legitimate ownership of the premises, making it more difficult for squatters to seize control.
4. Make Sure It's Secure
To keep squatters out, secure all entrances, including doors, windows, and gaps in the fence. If a person can't get in, they cannot make an adverse possession claim and gain legal ownership of your property.
Fortunately, all is not lost if, despite your attempts to keep squatters off the property, you discover that they have taken up residence on your land.
Whatever you choose to do, be careful to handle squatters and have them leave using the correct legal procedures. Legal repercussions may result from certain actions, such as cutting off utilities or threatening them.
Here are your options to remove squatters in Ohio and prevent them from filing an adverse possession claim:
Serve an Eviction Notice
You will need to serve an eviction notice if you do not wish to lease the property to them. By following the eviction process, the intruders will be made aware that they are not wanted on the land and must vacate.
There are several grounds for eviction in Ohio. These include:
Expired or No Lease
A landlord can give a tenant a notice to leave if there was never a contract in the first place or if they are still there after the lease period has ended. The length of notice is determined by the kind of tenancy. Property owners may provide a 30-day notice to vacate for month-to-month leases and a seven-day notice to vacate for week-to-week leases.
Landowners have the right to give squatters a three-day notice to leave if there has been unlawful drug use on the property or if the occupant is a convicted sex offender.
Safety or Material Health Violation
Squatters may receive a 30-day notice to leave the premises if they break any health, safety, building, or housing codes. If the squatter refuses to comply, the owner may start eviction proceedings.
Failure to Pay Rent
A property owner has the right to send a squatter a three-day notice for payment with a specific sum of money due in three days. He or she has the right to initiate an eviction lawsuit with the court if the squatter doesn't pay their rent.
Contact the Sheriff's Office
It's important to note that if the individual claiming possession of the premises is deemed a squatter and not a trespasser, the Sheriff's office might not be able to drive them from the property.
Consulting the Sheriff is a smart first step, though, as it creates a record of the events and a report that the owner of the property may use as proof if the matter proceeds to court.
Report to Local County Court
File an eviction complaint with your regional county court if the occupants don't leave within the allotted time. The squatters will be summoned, and court proceedings will follow. In some cases, the case may be taken to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Now that you understand a squatter's rights in Ohio, it's important to put measures in place to safeguard your property. At DoorLoop, we are committed to helping landlords, and property owners make the most of their businesses. If you require more information about a squatter's rights or want to learn more about our intuitive software, get in touch with us!
You can find free forms for Ohio rentals here.
Do squatters pay property taxes in Ohio?
No, in Ohio, squatters may assert adverse possession without having to pay property taxes. The bulk of matters regarding squatters are handled in court and are not viewed as criminal offenses, even though squatting is technically unlawful. Squatters are still given legal rights despite this.
Will I need to hire a lawyer to remove a squatter?
In some cases, it may be necessary to get legal aid to deal with a squatter. However, you might be able to remove occupants by sending them an eviction notice or contacting the Sheriff.
Do color of title claims apply in Ohio?
A document called a color of title can allege a squatter's good faith belief in their right to the premises. The most prevalent include unregistered or missing legal documents or a flawed title to a property. In any instance, the color of a title may lead someone to believe that they are the true owners of a piece of land that actually belongs to another person.
In some circumstances, holding a color of title might reduce the amount of time that must pass before making an adverse possession claim. Ohio, however, is an exception to this. Even if they possess a color of title, a person must live on a property continuously for at least 21 years before they can assert adverse possession.