Landlords and property managers have to take care of many things, including paperwork, repairs, and maintenance. However, there's something that many owners are much more concerned about and even fear: squatting.
A squatter is a person or group of individuals who occupy vacant land and live there without permission from the legal owner. While this action is seen as an offense, in some US states, it's completely legal. Moreover, squatters can gain ownership of a property through adverse possession.
Therefore, if you have a vacant unit in Oregon and want to protect yourself against this act, understanding squatters' rights and local regulations on these matters is essential. Would you like to learn more about them? Read on!
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Oregon Squatter's Rights
- Getting rid of squatters: Landlords can remove squatters from their properties through the legal "disability" provision or a judicial eviction.
- Time of occupation required to take ownership: Squatters can make an adverse possession claim after 10 years of continuous occupation.
- Property taxes: Squatters are not required to pay property taxes to make a standard adverse possession claim. However, in a co-tenancy case, property taxes are mandatory for 20 years.
- Color of title: While not required, having "color of title" can benefit squatters in the adverse possession process.
According to Oregon law, a squatter is an individual who takes up residence on a vacant or abandoned property without receiving authorization from the owner.
To be considered squatters, people must intend to live on the property and treat it as if it were their own. However, they aren't required to pay rent or comply with the conditions set in a rental agreement. Therefore, squatting can be problematic for many landlords.
Squatting vs. Trespassing
Squatting is somewhat similar to trespassing, but both terms are different. A trespasser could face legal action for a criminal offense, for example.
However, unless the property manager or owner states that they are not welcome in the unit, squatters' rights are defined by civil regulations.
Oregon has particular laws regarding squatting. If you have a vacant property in this state, you should better understand all the related aspects and get legal advice to protect your unit.
As mentioned, squatters do have some rights. However, if they want to rely on adverse possession to take ownership of a property, they must meet some requirements. Otherwise, their cases could turn into criminal matters since they will be prosecuted as trespassers.
Also, some squatters falsely claim they have a right to be on the property by showing a fraudulent lease agreement or other documents to authorities or landlords. However, this is also illegal.
Besides learning about squatters' rights, it's also crucial to understand the common exceptions to the related rules. These are:
- Some squatters can avoid being prosecuted as criminal trespassers if they beautify an unoccupied or abandoned unit by doing landscaping work, cleaning, and more.
- An individual who gained access to the property without the owner's permission could also avoid legal action for trespassing if there is a legitimate emergency involved.
- Oregon allows squatters to make an adverse possession claim even if they share the unit with other squatters or tenants. However, they must meet some conditions.
Squatters vs. Holdover Tenants
Many people think that holdover tenants are also called squatters. However, again, these terms are different.
Holdover tenants (tenants at sufferance) are those who occupied the property with a lease agreement but refused to leave it after the term ended. In this scenario, lessees must still be paying rent according to the conditions they and the landlords established in the original contract.
If the property owner agrees to let the holdover tenant continue to reside in the unit in exchange for payments, they don't have to worry about the occupancy's legality. Through this process, the lessee becomes a "tenant at will."
Being a "tenant at will" means that the individual remains on the property with permission from the rightful owner but can be evicted at any time. Landlords aren't required to issue an eviction notice to remove them from the unit.
What Happens If the Holdover Tenant Refuses to Leave?
If a holdover tenant receives a notice to move out or vacate the unit but refuses to do it, they could face legal action through an unlawful detainer suit.
In addition, holdover tenants who were already asked to leave a unit after the rental period ended cannot make an adverse possession claim. Instead, this action is considered criminal trespassing.
One of the terms landlords often hear when looking for information on squatters' rights is "adverse possession," but what does it mean?
This principle allows squatters to claim rights to a unit if they have lived there for a continuous period. Under Oregon law, the time required to take ownership of real property is 10 years (continuous occupancy).
A squatter can use the adverse possession doctrine to gain permission to live in a unit that is not theirs while avoiding prosecution as a criminal trespasser.
Under US laws on squatters' rights, occupancy must have five key elements if they plan to make an adverse possession claim.
Requirements to Make an Adverse Possession Claim
Squatters can only start this process if occupancy has been:
- Hostile: They must honestly believe they have the right to be in the unit and remain there without the owner's permission.
- Actual: The squatter must have full control over the unit.
- Open & Notorious: Squatters must not hide that they have occupied the property and live there.
- Exclusive: They must occupy the real property alone and cannot share it with strangers (this requirement varies slightly in Oregon).
- Continuous: Squatters should have been on the property for at least 10 years for adverse possession or 20 years for co-tenancy.
Understanding Each Element
As mentioned, to gain legal possession of the property, squatters must meet these requirements:
The term doesn't describe a dangerous or violent act in this scenario. Instead, when it comes to adverse possession, "hostile" can be defined in the following three ways.
If they plan to claim adverse possession, squatters must not know that the vacant property belonged to someone else. In simple terms, mere land occupation is considered "hostile."
Many states follow this rule to determine if squatters' claims are legitimate and to decide if they can gain legal ownership of a unit.
Awareness of Trespassing
States that follow this rule require squatters to be aware that they gained access to the property through trespassing and understand that they have no legal right to remain there.
Good Faith Mistake
In some states, through the good faith mistake rule, squatters can gain ownership of a property if they made an innocent mistake in occupying it.
However, they must not know the property's current legal status and should have relied on some invalid but convincing documentation. In other words, the squatter must have honestly believed they had the right to be and live there.
Also, if they want to prove hostile possession, squatters must have a written conveyance document, color of title, or a written claim to the land title.
Open & Notorious Possession
A squatter should also establish open and notorious possession if they plan to claim adverse possession, proving that it was evident that someone was squatting the unit.
If they try to hide that they occupy the property, the adverse possession claim could be dismissed. Therefore, anyone should be able to notice that someone resides there.
Another requirement that squatters must meet is actual possession, which indicates that they must be physically present on the property and treat it as if it belonged to them.
Squatters may rely on documents proving beautification efforts to establish actual possession. It may include work to remove debris from the property, regular maintenance, and planting flowers.
In many states, squatters are not able to claim adverse possession if another squatter, tenant, or stranger lives in the unit. The same is true if the legal owner resides there.
However, Oregon accepts "co-tenancy." If a squatter has been in continuous possession of a property for at least 20 uninterrupted years and has paid property taxes during that period, they gain ownership without resorting to adverse possession.
Squatters must have lived in the property for 10 continuous years (or 20 years for co-tenancy) to be able to file an adverse possession claim.
Therefore, if they leave and later return, the period the unit remained abandoned should not be considered when determining the occupancy time, and it isn't considered continuous possession.
Color of Title
Another of the terms that landlords come across when looking for information on squatters' rights is "color of title." It's an instrument that proves an individual has irregular ownership over a property or area of land.
In these cases, there is usually an important document missing, such as memorials or other registrations. Therefore, it's required by many states.
However, under Oregon's adverse possession laws, this instrument is not required. Having "color of title" can help squatters make a claim to take possession of the property, but it isn't mandatory.
Unlike other states, Oregon has not established specific laws about how a landlord can remove squatters from their property. Many opt for filing a judicial eviction, but there are other options.
The state protects property owners with disabilities. In fact, Oregon is one of the states with the most extensive landlord legal disability laws in the United States.
These are the types of disabilities that Oregon details in its general provisions and how they may affect an adverse possession case:
- Disability: If a landlord is legally incompetent or insane, their vacant unit cannot be subject to an adverse possession claim. In addition, they have up to a year after leaving a mental health facility to dispute these cases.
- Minors: An adverse possession case can be delayed for at least five years if the owner is underage. Landlords have up to one year after turning 18 to dispute a claim.
Statute of Limitations in Oregon
The state also has a statute of limitations regarding when landlords should evict squatters.
Essentially, a property manager or owner has 10 years after the unit was occupied to remove a squatter. Additionally, Oregon landlords must follow an eviction process to vacate their buildings in some cases, beginning with the eviction notice.
Key Details Property Owners Need to Know to Evict Squatters
- A landlord can serve a 72-hour Notice to Pay Rent, specifying the amount owed, fees, and a due date. If the squatter fails to pay, the property manager or owner can file an eviction in court.
- Property managers and owners can also send a 24-Hour Notice to Quit to squatters who have committed illegal activity on their properties (prostitution, cannabinoid extract production, controlled substance consumption, crimes, threat to other people, and more).
- A landlord can also issue a Notice to Quit if the lease term has ended or there was no contract. This notice can vary (be it a 10-day notice or a 30-day notice) depending on the type of tenancy.
- If property owners are successful in the eviction process, they must obtain a Writ of Execution. The sheriff must deliver this document or "final notice" to the squatter, asking them to vacate the property in at least four days.
- Landlords must store any personal items the squatter left behind in a safe place and send a notice to the individual, informing them that they have 15 days to take their personal property back.
Besides knowing squatters' rights, property managers, owners, and landlords should follow these tips to protect themselves from this act:
- Inspect properties regularly
- Pay property taxes on time
- Securing the property with locking systems or fencing
- Put "No Trespassing signs" if the unit is unoccupied
- Rent the property to the squatters
- Issue a written notice as soon as they learn that the property has been occupied without authorization
- Call the sheriff instead of the local law enforcement officers to kick out squatters from the property
- Seek legal help from a seasoned lawyer!
The Bottom Line
While an eviction notice may be enough to remove squatters from a property sometimes, the process could be complicated, especially if they're thinking of claiming adverse possession.
Therefore, understanding squatters' rights is essential if you own property in Oregon and want to protect it from this act.
Although squatters can take possession of a property that has been abandoned, they must meet some requirements, including living on the property regularly and paying taxes. That's something you can use to your advantage with the right legal help!
Are you looking for more information on squatters' rights? Here are more helpful resources:
Free Forms for Oregon Landlords
Do you need help speeding up the processes related to your property in Oregon? Find free templates for lease agreements, rental application forms, and more at Doorloop!
Can a Landlord Self-Evict a Squatter?
No, they can't. Trying to self-evict a squatter can result in a lawsuit.
Should Squatters Pay Property Taxes in Oregon?
No, they shouldn't. In Oregon, squatters aren't required to pay property taxes.
What Happens If I Change The Locks To Prevent Squatters From Entering The Property?
If you do it after their occupation, it's unlawful due to the regulations regarding the eviction process. Therefore, this action may result in legal action against you.
Can a Squatter Gain Ownership If the Property Was Abandoned for a Few Years After Occupancy?
No, they can't. Squatters must establish continuous possession to take ownership of the property.