If you own large properties in West Virginia, chances are you have had to deal with a squatting situation at least once before.
An unoccupied property is always at risk of being invaded by unwanted occupants, and thanks to the West Virginia squatters rights, getting rid of them is not a simple thing.
Understanding how property owners can safeguard their assets from being taken over by squatters could prove vital if ever you find yourself having to fend off an adverse possession claim.
At DoorLoop, all the tools a landowner needs to prevent squatters from claiming ownership of their property are provided in a simple format that is easy to follow and implement. Visit the website right now and see what they have to offer!
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Now, let’s dive in.
Squatting vs. Trespassing vs. Holdover Tenants
Just like property owners can be different from landlords, there are important distinctions too concerning whoever is occupying your property illegally.
If you want to stand the best chance of defending your rights as the property owner, adverse possession laws require you to understand the following definitions:
Squatting is the act of invading a foreclosed, abandoned, forgotten, or simply vacant property to establish a permanent residence there, without the permission of the real property owner, and either knowing or not knowing that doing so is illegal.
Entering a secured, fenced, or otherwise demarcated area without the permission of the owner, knowing that doing so is illegal is called trespassing.
- Holdover tenants
Holdover tenants are tenants whose lease agreement has expired but for one reason or another, they have stayed over longer than the owner wanted.
There are many reasons why a tenant may end up staying longer than they are supposed to and as the landlord, you need to first understand these reasons before initiating eviction proceedings.
West Virginia Squatters' Rights
As shocking as it may seem, the illegal occupants of your personal property have rights, according to West Virginia law, that you need to contend with.
However, these squatters rights are not designed to infringe on the rights of the property owner in any way but only to help resolve property disputes most efficiently and amicably as possible.
This means, once a property owner discovers squatters on his premises, he must follow the correct protocol for evicting unwanted guests.
The main goal of having squatters rights is to prevent acts of vigilante justice from being used against squatters, such as the use of violence or threats to remove squatters from their property.
Squatters Rights vs. The Rights of the Property Owner
In West Virginia, both the property owner and the squatters have rights when it comes to an adverse possession claim. In most cases, squatters are allowed to stay on the property as long as the property owner does not take any action to remove or evict them.
On the side of the property owner, he has the right to initiate eviction orders against all squatters on the property if any notices to vacate have been ignored.
If there were any "No Trespassing" signs erected on the boundary of the property, the property owner has the right to sue the illegal occupants.
Adverse Possession Laws
Every West Virginia property owner has to be aware of the adverse possession laws of that state and how they apply to their situations.
Adverse possession is a law that states that if a squatter has been staying on a property for 10 years while paying property taxes, and the property owner makes no attempt to evict them, the squatter has the right to make an adverse possession claim.
Adverse possession laws should not be seen as a means for squatters to take away the rights of the property owner to the land but as a means to solve the dispute between the two parties and verify who should take possession of the property.
With the right documentation, a property owner does not need to fear losing their assets.
Color of Title
While color of title implies that the squatter who is claiming adverse possession has a few important details or documents missing, it is still something a property owner needs to take seriously.
This is because color of title gives the squatters a means to have their adverse possession claim heard and therefore they have a fighting chance to win the property according to the West Virginia adverse possession laws.
If a color of title with an incorrect deed is being used to claim ownership of the property's legal title, there is a chance that the remaining documents and other factors, such as length of residency and the payment of property taxes may be enough for the West Virginia court to rule in favor of the squatter.
Adverse Possession Claim
West Virginia has a set of requirements that squatters need to meet if they hope to win their adverse possession claim and wrestle the land away from the property owner. These requirements are as follows:
10 years of continuous possession is the minimum requirement for a property owner to lose their legal rights to a squatter.
However, if at any point during that 10 years, the squatters moved out and relocated to another residence, the continuous possession law will not apply.
Certain things, such as paying taxes and developing the property may result in the 10-year requirement being reduced significantly and allow the squatters to be awarded the property.
Exclusive possession means that only one party must have been squatting on the property for the duration of the continuous possession. If at any point, other squatters were known to be sharing the property, the adverse possession claim will be denied.
Actual possession means that the squatter must adhere to the following:
- Be physically present at the property
- The property be used for the original intended purpose of the property owner
- Repairs and maintenance be done on the property
- The property must not be used for any illegal activities
Open and Notorious Possession
No matter how big or remote the property is, any squatters living on it must do so openly, without trying to hide from the owner if they hope to make an adverse possession claim in the future. Open and notorious possession means the owner must be able to find the squatters with no trouble.
A hostile claim under West Virginia laws does not imply the use of violence to take possession of a property but that the squatter did not get permission to live on the property from the owner. It can be explained using the following:
This is the act of simply moving in and taking up residence on the property without any permission from the owner.
Good faith mistake
If the squatters are living on the property without knowing that they are trespassing or that the property owner wishes to see them gone, this is termed a good faith mistake.
An example is when neighbors accidentally encroach on each other's properties and end up using, maintaining, developing, and paying taxes on the property for many years thinking it belongs to them.
Awareness of Trespassing
When a trespasser knowingly enters a property without the permission of the owner and continues to live on the property knowing that it is illegal to do so, this is called trespassing and the property owner can sue the transgressor.
Considering the risk of losing your property if you allow squatters to claim ownership through adverse possession, it is best to use everything at your disposal to prevent squatters from taking up residence on your property.
The following steps will help you make your case in front of a West Virginia if your rights to the legal title of the property are ever questioned due to an adverse possession claim:
Pay Property Taxes
In adverse possession claims, nothing is more powerful than up-to-date receipts that show that you have paid taxes timeously on the property in question and, therefore, have the legal right to claim it as your own.
The last thing you want is for a squatter to be able to prove that they have been paying taxes on the property while you have not!
Visit the Property Regularly
Just showing your face now and then and taking a look around to see if anything is amiss is a good way to:
- Deter would-be squatters from taking up residence on your property
- Find any squatters who have moved in and take the necessary steps to have them evicted long before they can claim continuous possession
- Keep up with the maintenance and repairs that will help you should you need to prove that you still have a valid interest in your property
Put Up “No Trespassing” Signs
If you find that you do not have the time to go chasing after squatters every time they invade your property, you can erect "No Trespassers" signs around the perimeter so that whoever invades the property will be subject to the full penalty for trespassing.
Install Alarms and Locks
Another way to prevent entry to your property is to use locks and alarms. Anyone who decides to bypass your security measures will do so knowing that they are committing a very serious crime.
Have squatters already taken up residence on your property? Getting rid of them is not always an easy thing to do, but you can take the following measures:
- Determine whether they are squatters or trespassers before you take any action that may be considered an infringement of squatters rights
- Follow the eviction process, starting with serving the squatters a notice to vacate
- If required, approach the county sheriff for assistance in removing the squatters and engage a lawyer for sound legal advice
- Do not wait too long before acting
- Never take matters into your own hands!
At doorloop.com you will find templates, educational material, forms, and a host of other useful resources and tools to help you in your fight against the squatters threatening your ownership rights to your property. Visit the website now and download what you need.
Is an Adverse Possession Claim the Same as Color of Title?
No, these are similar in many aspects but they differ in that a color of title usually has some important documents, such as title deeds, missing and cannot in itself be used to win an adverse possession claim.
Where Can I Get Help for My Squatting Problem?
DoorLoop is your one-stop shop for all things related to real estate property management. If you have some squatters on your property who you want to evict lawfully, visit doorloop.com right now for all the information, advice, and templates you need.
If I Accept Rent Payments Will I Still Be Able To Evict Squatters From My Property?
Accepting rent from the squatters on your property means that some kind of agreement has been made, in which case they will seize to be squatters but tenants.
You will still be able to evict them at the end of the lease period but as holdover tenants rather than squatters.
Do I Need a Written Notice To Evict Squatters From My Property?
Yes, it is advisable to issue the squatters on your property with a written notice to vacate so that you follow the required eviction process and steer clear of any squatters rights that you may end up infringing upon.