If you're a landlord, you don't want a stranger to occupy your vacant property and claim the legal right to live there, do you? Unfortunately, this is common in many states.

Multiple laws protect the rights of people who occupy someone else's property if it's vacant, abandoned, or foreclosed. Squatters can even gain legal ownership of the unit, building, or area of ​​land where they're living after a specific period.

However, each state has different squatting laws, and landlords may benefit from some protections and provisions to evict squatters and regain access to their properties.

If you want to learn more about squatters' rights in Rhode Island, the local adverse possession laws, and the eviction process, read on!

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Squatting in Rhode Island

  • What is the required time of occupation to claim adverse possession in Rhode Island? According to Rhode Island law, squatters can file an adverse possession claim if they have lived on the property for 10 uninterrupted years.
  • Are squatters required to pay property taxes in Rhode Island? No, they aren't. Paying taxes can favor adverse possession claims. However, it isn't mandatory.
  • What should a Rhode Island property owner do to get rid of squatters? Landowners should start a judicial eviction process with proper notice to remove squatters from their buildings or pieces of land.
  • Is having color of title a requirement to claim adverse possession? No, it isn't. Rhode Island squatters aren't required to hold color of title. However, it may favor their claims.

What Is a Squatter?

Essentially, a squatter is a person who occupies a residential property, building, or piece of land even though it belongs to someone else. In other words, they don't have legal permission from the true owner since they aren't renting the unit.

This term is similar to "trespassing," so both are often used interchangeably. However, both actions are different.

Squatting vs. Trespassing

Trespassing and squatting describe situations where a person occupies a vacant, abandoned, or foreclosed building or land without having a legal right to be there.

However, squatting is a civil matter, while trespassing is considered a criminal act. As such, a criminal trespasser can even face felony or misdemeanor charges.

There's an exception, though. A squatter can be punished as a criminal trespasser if they occupy a property even though the owner made it clear that they weren't welcome there.

How Can Squatters Avoid Prosecution as Criminal Trespassers

Even if they occupy a property without legal permission from the owner, a squatter can avoid criminal charges for trespassing if they do the following:

  • Occupy a vacant property
  • Meet the elements required to claim adverse possession
  • Improve the property by doing landscaping, cleaning, or fixing things
  • Occupy someone else's property or land due to a legitimate emergency

Squatters vs. Holdover Tenants

Many people believe that a tenant who refuses to vacate a property is also considered a squatter. However, it isn't the correct term.

A lessee who stays in a rental unit after the end of the lease period becomes a "holdover tenant" or "tenant at sufferance."

These tenants continue to pay rent but remain in the property at the owner's will. Therefore, they can be evicted at any time without prior notice.

Additionally, holdover tenants who have already been told to vacate the property may be subject to an unlawful detainer lawsuit. They cannot claim adverse possession to gain legal ownership of the unit or piece of land.

Adverse Possession Claims in Rhode Island

In Rhode Island and other states, squatters can file an adverse possession claim to win the legal right to remain on a property. However, they must meet five requirements.

Requirements to Make an Adverse Possession Claim

These are the five essential elements to make a valid adverse possession claim:

Hostile Possession

It refers to the squatter's honest belief that they have the legal right to be on the property even without permission. However, this definition may vary from state to state. These are the three most common versions:

  • Simple occupation: The squatter genuinely doesn't know that the unit or piece of land belongs to another owner.
  • Awareness of trespassing: The squatter understands that they have no legal rights to live on the property because they're occupying it without permission from the owner.
  • Good faith mistake: The individual who occupied the property believed that they could live there and acted in good faith.

Continuous Possession

Squatters can claim adverse possession to gain ownership of a property after living there for a specific period.

Rhode Island laws say that people who occupy someone else's property can start the adverse possession process if they have lived in that unit for 10 years. After this period, the squatter isn't considered a criminal trespasser. However, it must be uninterrupted.

A person who lived elsewhere and returned to the property cannot consider that time when filing an adverse possession claim.

Open and Notorious Possession

This requirement establishes that the occupancy must be evident to anyone, including landowners who make a reasonable effort to investigate the issue.

Squatters shouldn't try to hide or deny that they're living there. Anyone who bothers to look at the situation should be able to tell that a squatter occupies the property.

Actual Possession

If they plan to claim adverse possession, squatters must be physically present in the unit or piece of land and use it as if they were the true owners.

In addition, they'll need documents to prove that they have performed regular maintenance, beautify, or improve the property.

Exclusive Possession

People often file adverse possession claims to set or modify boundaries between adjacent property owners.

However, if squatters share the unit or land with other tenants, squatters or trespassers, or even the landlord, they cannot claim adverse possession.

Color of Title

If you want to understand squatters' rights and adverse possession laws, you should also know what "color of title" is.

"Color of title" is a document that seems legitimate to prove a person's right to live or use a property. However, it isn't a legal title. There's a defect or missing requirement that makes it "irregular."

Many states require squatters to hold color of title to claim adverse possession. However, Rhode Island isn't one of them.

This document could benefit squatters' cases. However, it isn't a mandatory requirement to gain ownership of a property. Actually, they'd have color of title after completing the adverse possession process if it's successful.

How Can Property Owners Remove Squatters in Rhode Island?

There are no specific laws for property owners who want to remove squatters from their Rhode Island properties. However, landlords can start a judicial eviction process.

This legal procedure is time-consuming and costly but can help landowners get rid of squatters and regain occupancy of their property.

However, Rhode Island has a disability provision that allows property owners to postpone adverse possession claims against them if they're legally disabled.

Landlords can dispute such claims or evict squatters from their properties even 10 years after their legal disability is lifted.

If they're legally able to start a judicial eviction process, property owners should serve squatters with an eviction notice. These are the options available in Rhode Island:

  • Nonpayment of Rent: Landlords should issue a 5-day Notice to Pay Rent to squatters who have lived in the property for over two weeks to inform them about the amount they should pay to remain there. If the individual refuses to pay this amount, and the notice period ends, the landlord can file a "Complaint for Eviction of Nonpayment of Rent."
  • No Lease or End of Lease: When a person lives in a property even though there is no lease agreement, or the rental period has ended, landlords can serve a notice to quit. The notice period depends on the tenancy. A 10-day Notice to Quit is suitable for week-to-week tenancies, a 30-day Notice to Quit for month-to-month tenancies, and a 90-day Notice for year-to-year tenancies.
  • Illegal Activity: In Rhode Island, landlords can evict squatters who commit an illegal act on their property without prior notice.

After the court grants the eviction, the squatter must vacate the property. If they refuse to do so, the sheriff can force them to leave with the Writ of Execution.

Landlords shouldn't try to remove squatters from their properties by themselves, or they could face legal trouble. The sheriff is the only person authorized to evict them.

What To Do To Protect Your Property from Squatting

Is there a way to protect your property from squatting? To prevent a stranger from occupying your vacant unit or piece of land, check these tips!

  • Conduct regular inspections on your property
  • Secure your property's windows and doors
  • Pay property taxes on time
  • Serve squatters with written notices to vacate your property as soon as you discover they occupied it
  • Use "No Trespassing" signs to stop other people from occupying your vacant property
  • Carefully analyze your situation and review the related laws to determine the best course of action
  • Rent out your property to squatters
  • Contact the sheriff to remove squatters from your property or piece of land if they don't vacate it
  • Get legal assistance from a seasoned lawyer to handle the process, fight adverse possession claims, and start the eviction process

Final Thoughts

Rhode Island has several laws that favor landlords, but there are also many protections for squatters. Therefore, you must make informed decisions to protect your property.

Fortunately, an experienced attorney can help you carefully review your case to determine the best course of action and start the legal process to have squatters vacate your property.

If you have questions about squatters' rights or related laws, don't hesitate to contact an attorney. You can also find valuable resources below!

Free Forms Available for Rhode Island Landlords

If you need help with your eviction process or just want to save time, DoorLoop's free forms and templates are ideal! We offer everything you need to streamline your rental business and legal processes. Click here to check out our resources!

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Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes in Rhode Island?

No, they don't. Unlike other states, Rhode Island doesn't require squatters to pay property taxes to claim adverse possession and attempt to gain ownership of someone else's building or land.

However, if a squatter proves they have paid property taxes, that may benefit their cases.

Experts highly recommend that landowners pay taxes in a timely manner to protect their properties from squatting.

What Does "Legally Disabled" Mean in Rhode Island?

In Rhode Island, a person who is "legally disabled" cannot perform regular legal duties. This term is used to describe underage, legally incompetent, or imprisoned people.

Should Landlords Call Local Law Enforcement Officers If They Want to Evict Squatters?

Landlords who want to evict squatters from their properties should call the sheriff, who is the only person authorized to deal with them. A law enforcement officer deals with criminal trespassers.

Can Squatters File an Adverse Possession Claim If They Live With Other Tenants?

No, they can't. Squatters must meet the "exclusive possession" requirement to be able to file an adverse possession claim in Rhode Island.

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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!