Dealing with squatters in New York can prove challenging considering the time and resources required to handle the issue properly. That said, it helps to understand the legal implications and the correct procedures for dealing with squatters on your property.

In this post, the Simply Sold crew delves deeper into New York squatters’ rights and much more.

What Is a Squatter?

A squatter is an individual who occupies a property without legal ownership or the owner’s permission. Typically, they occupy abandoned, vacant, or neglected properties.

Squatters don’t pay rent like a legal tenant would and they could squat temporarily, say, for a couple of weeks, or for years at a time. While squatters often live on property illegally, some squatters find themselves in such a predicament unintentionally.

For example, a squatter may have assumed they legally owned a property that was passed down to the family over several generations, only to establish years later that the title officially belonged to another individual.

Additional scenarios that can make an individual a squatter include:

  • Breaking into an abandoned or foreclosed building and living there.
  • Failing to move out after a lease expires, even after the landlord asked them to move.
  • Erecting a fence around someone else’s land and incorporating it as part of their own land because they genuinely believe that portion belongs to them.

Who Isn’t a Squatter?

Not every individual who enters a property without permission qualifies as a squatter. For example, a legal tenant with an expired lease becomes a former tenant who no longer has the right to reside on the property. You can also refer to such a tenant as a “holdover tenant” rather than a squatter.

Similarly, legal tenants who break the lease don’t qualify as squatters. Trespassers don’t meet the definition of squatters, either. Unlike squatters who occupy and live on vacant property, criminal trespassers enter into your private property but do not live there.

Squatters’ Rights in New York State

New York Law gives squatters some basic rights. They don’t have the same rights as tenants, but they have valid rights provided they fulfill all adverse possession requirements. Otherwise, squatters can qualify as criminals and face arrest.

A homeless individual may try taking advantage of squatters’ rights to gain ownership of a property because they won’t have any responsibility as squatters to pay rent. However, several exceptions to this rule exist.

  • A trespasser may avoid prosecution for trespassing if they beautify the land they’ve trespassed on. Beautification may involve clearing debris, landscaping, and planting flowers.
  • A squatter can only start the process of an adverse possession claim if the property in question is not in use.
  • A person may exempt themselves from a trespassing charge if they can show that they did so because of an emergency.

How Can a Squatter Gain Possession of Your Property?

A squatter can become a property’s legal owner after residing on the property for a certain period. They must meet the following minimum requirements to successfully claim adverse possession in New York:

  • Occupy the property for at least ten continuous years
  • Have a color of title

“Color of title” refers to the non-regular ownership of property. This typically occurs when an individual lacks one or more required ownership documents, like an official deed.

New York laws require a squatter to have color of title for the entire ten years of continuous occupation or actual possession before they can file a valid adverse possession claim. The state may also require the squatter to pay property taxes on the land they intend to claim.

In the United States, squatters must also meet the following general requirements when claiming adverse possession:

Hostile Possession

Different states use the following unique definitions to describe a hostile possession:

  • Simple occupation: In this case, hostile simply refers to a mere land occupation. The individual trespassing doesn’t have to have prior knowledge of the property owner.
  • Good faith mistake: Here, the trespasser must not know a property’s legal status by relying on an invalid or incorrect deed.
  • Awareness of trespassing: In this case, the individual trespassing must know that trespassing on your land breaks the law.

Open and Notorious Possession

This refers to obvious squatting. As the legitimate property owner, you should easily tell if an individual squats on your land. Here, the squatter doesn’t try to conceal their presence on the property.

Continuous Possession

With continuous possession, the squatter must reside on the property in question for an uninterrupted period (10 years in New York). The squatter can’t use the property for a few years then returns to it later and claims adverse possession.

Actual Possession

Under this type of possession, the trespasser must be physically on the property and treat it as any actual owner would. For example, beautify the land.

Exclusive Possession

The trespasser must be the only party claiming possession of the property. The claim becomes invalid if the squatter shares the property with other squatters, strangers, tenants, or even the owner.

According to NYC squatters’ rights, squatters can claim tenant’s rights after only thirty days of continuous occupation. As a property owner, you must act fast to evict squatters before the thirty days, lest the squatters automatically become legal tenants.

If you own a vacant property in New York City and don’t check it at least every few weeks for squatters, a squatter could initiate a quiet claim and legally claim squatter’s rights with the court. As a result, you may have to go through a costly and complicated legal process to remove them.

As a property owner, you should take all real estate property claims seriously.

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession or Squatters’ Rights in New York?

If a squatter fulfills the requirements for New York squatter’s rights and general squatters’ rights principles, they can bring an action to “quiet title” or file an adverse possession. A quiet title action refers to the legal action to claim a particular property’s possession and ownership.

Keep in mind, however, that just because a squatter files an adverse possession claim doesn’t guarantee its success. For a squatter to win an adverse possession case, they would need to:

  • Persuade a judge that they’ve fulfilled all state requirements for adverse possession under New York squatters’ rights.
  • File a quiet title complaint with the court.
  • Gather sufficient evidence for their claim (e.g., property tax receipts, proof of improving or beautifying the property, mail addressed to the property in their name, etc.)
  • Receive a judgment for adverse possession to perfect the title.

Evidently, squatters bear a heavy burden of proof when claiming ownership of your property. It’s a complex process that often requires the squatter to have a long period of occupation and hire an attorney.

Nonetheless, call a local law enforcement agency or an attorney immediately if you notice a squatter on your property.

How to Remove a Squatter From Your New York Property

Removing a squatter from your New York property requires you to initiate a full eviction process. As the property owner, here’s an overview of the eviction process:

  • New York law requires you to file a formal ten-day notice for non-tenants and squatters.
  • Once the ten-day notice expires, you must file a complaint for eviction called a Petition for Special Proceedings with the court that has jurisdiction over evictions in the location of your property.
  • The court will issue a summons (or Notice Petition) demanding the squatter appear in court. The sheriff or other non-party of age will serve this notice.
  • Both you, the property owner, and the squatter must attend the court hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership.
  • Once the court confirms legal ownership, it will issue a Warrant for Possession giving the squatter 14 days to vacate the property.
  • If the squatter doesn’t move out within those 14 days, a sheriff can forcibly remove them.

Remember that the sheriff and not police officers have the appropriate jurisdiction to remove a squatter.

How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant Property

The following tips can help prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property in New York:

  • Inspect your property at least once every few weeks.
  • Post “No Trespassing” signs on your property
  • Install adequate lighting and security systems to deter unauthorized entry.
  • Use sturdy locks and barriers to secure all doors, windows, and access points.
  • Encourage neighbors to report any suspicious activity on your property.
  • Consider hiring a property management company to maintain or oversee the property.
  • Make your property appear inhabited during periods of vacancy.
  • If possible, deter squatting by maintaining the property in use, even if temporarily.
  • Develop a good relationship with local law enforcement and notify them of your property’s vacancy so they can respond to trespassing and increase patrols.

Call Simply Sold to Sell Your Home Fast

Need help with New York squatters’ rights? Trust Simply Sold Real Estate. We specialize in helping property owners sell their homes fast for cash.

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About the Author: jecelyn

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