Did you know that squatting is legal in many states? Although most people believe that it's a criminal offense, certain laws protect those who occupy someone else's vacant property.
However, squatting laws vary from state to state. While squatters have several protections and can claim ownership of the property they occupy, landlords also have multiple resources to defend themselves.
Do you want to know how you can prevent other people from occupying your property and claiming the right to live there? Here's everything you need to know!
Read on to find a comprehensive guide on squatters' rights in Vermont, the requirements to file an adverse possession claim, and the steps to evict these individuals from your property.
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Now, let’s dive in.
Squatting in Vermont
- Do squatters need color of title to claim adverse possession in Vermont? No, they don't! In Vermont, it isn't necessary. However, having color of title can help squatters with their adverse possession claims.
- How can landlords remove squatters in Vermont? In this state, landlords should start a judicial eviction process to remove squatters from their properties. A 14-day notice to pay rent must be served.
- Should squatters pay property taxes in Vermont? No, they shouldn't. In Vermont, squatters aren't required to pay taxes.
- How long must squatters live on a property to claim adverse possession? Squatters can claim adverse possession after 15 years of continuous occupancy.
What Is a Squatter?
Before delving into related laws and protections in Vermont, you should understand what a squatter is.
This term describes people who occupy a vacant or foreclosed property or area of land belonging to someone else. A squatter doesn't own the unit. Therefore, this individual doesn't have permission to be there.
Squatting vs. Trespassing
Since squatting involves living on a property without the owner's permission, many believe it's unlawful and should be treated as trespassing. However, there are clear differences between both terms.
While both actions are similar, trespassing is a criminal behavior. This offense can be punished as an infraction, misdemeanor, or felony.
Squatting, on the other hand, is handled as a civil matter. However, it often becomes a criminal act if the property owner establishes that the occupant is unwelcome.
Can a Squatter Avoid Being Prosecuted as a Criminal Trespasser?
Squatters can avoid prosecution for trespassing in the following scenarios:
- These individuals occupy a property that isn't in use and meet the requirements to file an adverse possession claim.
- They plant flowers, remove debris, and make improvements intended to beautify the property.
- A legitimate emergency led the squatter to occupy the property.
Squatters vs. Holdover Tenants
Some lessees refuse to vacate a property even if the rental period ends. If this occurs, they don't become squatters but holdover tenants or "tenants at sufferance."
Holdover tenants are responsible for rent payments and can remain in the property at the owner's will. However, they cannot claim adverse possession if they've been told to leave.
Also, they may face legal trouble. They're subject to an unlawful detainer lawsuit if they don't vacate the unit.
Adverse Possession Claims in Vermont
In Vermont, squatters can start an adverse possession process to claim legal ownership of the property they occupied after living there for 15 uninterrupted years.
After this period, a squatter is no longer considered a criminal trespasser and faces no charges. However, they must meet five legal requirements to file an adverse possession claim.
Requirements to File an Adverse Possession Claim
A squatter who meets the following five requirements has the grounds for claiming adverse possession:
The occupation of a property is considered "hostile" in the following cases:
- Simple occupation: The individual who trespasses on a property doesn't know the unit or land belongs to someone else.
- Awareness of trespassing: The trespasser is aware that they occupied the property or land by trespassing and understands that they have no legal right to be there.
- Good faith mistake: Squatters believe they have a right to be on the property and are using it in good faith.
Open and Notorious Possession
Squatters can claim adverse possession only if it's obvious that they live on your property. The use of the building or land must be visible to anyone who makes a reasonable effort to investigate, including the true owner.
As mentioned, a person who occupies someone else's property can claim adverse possession after living there for at least 15 continuous years.
If squatters leave the property and return later, they're interrupting this period.
A squatter planning to file an adverse possession claim has to show that they have treated the property as their own. They can use evidence to prove their efforts to maintain or improve the building or land.
The individual who occupied the unit or land cannot share possession with other tenants, strangers, or the owner.
Color of Title
There's another term you should be familiar with if you're dealing with squatting issues – color of title. It's a document that apparently grants the right to own a property. However, it isn't "regular" due to a title defect.
In many states, squatters need this document to file an adverse possession claim. However, while it may benefit their cases, it isn't a mandatory requirement in Vermont.
How Can Property Owners Remove Squatters in Vermont?
You already know the laws and protections for squatters in Vermont, but how can you remove them from your property?
This state doesn't have specific laws for evicting squatters. Property owners must start a judicial eviction process to remove them from their buildings or pieces of land. In addition, no provision or exception benefits disabled landlords or delays an adverse possession claim.
However, property owners should begin this process by serving an eviction notice. There are several types. These are:
- Nonpayment of Rent: Landowners can serve a 14-day Notice to Pay Rent, detailing the amount that squatters should pay to remain in the unit or land.
- No Lease or End of Lease: Property owners can serve squatters with a notice to quit if there's no lease or it has expired. The notice period depends on the type of tenancy and can be a 7-day Notice to Quit (for no lease, 21-day Notice to Quit) for week-to-week tenancies or a 30-day Notice (60-day Notice to Quit) for month-to-month tenancies.
- Illegal Activity: Landlords can issue a 14-day Notice to Quit if squatters commit an illegal activity on the property.
Both the landowner and squatter should attend a hearing if the individual who occupied the property remains there after the notice period expires.
Squatters can fight eviction if they have a strong defense or solid legal reason to occupy the unit or land. However, most judges rule in favor of property owners.
If the court grants eviction, the squatter receives a Writ of Possession, which is the final notice to leave the property. Landlords must contact the sheriff to remove individuals from their building or piece of land if they refuse to vacate it.
What to Do to Protect Your Property from Squatting
Do you want to prevent someone else from occupying your vacant property and claiming ownership of your building or land? Here are some tips to protect yourself against squatting.
- Inspect your property frequently
- Don't forget to pay property taxes on time
- Secure all entrances, doors, and windows of your property
- Serve written notices if you discover that squatters are occupying your unit or land
- Hang "No Trespassing" signs on unoccupied properties
- Negotiate a lease agreement with squatters
- Review the adverse possession laws to determine if squatters can claim ownership of your property
- Call the sheriff to remove squatters from your property if they refuse to leave
- Hire a lawyer with the right legal knowledge and ask for assistance to evict squatters or handle other legal procedures
Unfortunately, Vermont has many laws that favor squatters. Compared to other states, it doesn't allow adverse possession claims to be delayed and has no provisions for disabled landlords. Furthermore, an individual can claim ownership of a property only 15 years after living there.
However, that doesn't mean there aren't laws protecting landowners. Squatters must still meet certain requirements to be able to file an adverse possession claim. Also, you can start a legitimate process to evict them.
If someone has illegally occupied your property, an experienced attorney can help you understand your rights, analyze your particular situation, and take legal action. You can also check the following resources if you need additional information!
...And don't forget to schedule a free DoorLoop demo to see how it can revolutionize your business!
Can Landlords Remove Squatters from Their Property Themselves?
Even if the court grants eviction, landlords cannot force squatters to vacate property. If they take any action to do so, such as turning off utilities or changing the locks, property owners can be sued.
The sheriff is the only person legally authorized to carry out a court-ordered eviction. Another law enforcement officer could handle the process if there's a court order.
Should Squatters Pay Property Taxes in Vermont?
Paying taxes benefits property owners in many states, as it's one of the ways to prevent someone else from occupying their units or pieces of land. However, things are different in Vermont.
This state doesn't require squatters to pay property taxes in order to be eligible to file an adverse possession claim.
After Finding Out That Squatters Have Occupied Your Property, Should You Call the Sheriff or Local Law Enforcement Officers?
As mentioned, the sheriff is the only person who can execute a court-ordered eviction and remove squatters from a property.
Local law enforcement officers don't have the authority to force squatters to vacate a property. They're only authorized to deal with criminal trespassers.
If someone has occupied their vacant properties or pieces of land without lawful permission, landowners should always call the sheriff or constable.
Can a Squatter Claim Continuous Possession If They Did Not Occupy the Property for a Short Time During the 15-year Period?
No, they can't. Squatters can only claim adverse possession if they have lived on the property continuously for 15 years.
This period cannot be interrupted. In other words, a squatter cannot claim the time they were away as part of their "continuous possession" requirement.
Can Holdover Tenants Claim Possession of a Property If They Have Been Asked to Leave?
No, they can't. Tenants who refuse to vacate a property after their lease ends should continue to pay rent at the existing rate according to the terms set in the original agreement.
If landlords accept rent payments even though the legality of the occupancy is unclear, the lessee becomes a "tenant at will" and can be evicted at any time, even if the landlord doesn't serve a notice.
However, when the landlord serves a notice to quit or move out, holdover tenants should vacate the property. Otherwise, they may be subject to a lawsuit and be considered criminal trespassers.