Squatting is when a person finds an abandoned or vacant property and moves in without discussing it with the property owner. It sounds like breaking and entering – except sometimes it is legal.
Quick Facts for Illinois
- How to Get Rid of Squatters: Legal “disability” (where applicable), legal eviction
- Required Time of Occupation: 20 years of continuous possession
- Color of Title: Not required
- Property Taxes: Not required
Who is Considered a Squatter in Illinois?
A squatter is someone who is occupying an abandoned, foreclosed, or unoccupied residential building or area of land. They are there without lawful permission, and they do not rent or own the property. Even so, squatting in the United States is legal and happens more often than you’d expect.
Isn’t That Trespassing?
Squatting isn’t necessarily trespassing. Trespassing is a criminal offense, while squatting is usually a civil matter. Squatters can be treated like criminal trespassers if the landlord or property owner establishes that they are unwelcome.
Keep the following in mind:
- Squatters or trespassers may falsely claim that they have a right to be on the property. Sometimes, they can present false or fraudulent documents to the owners or law enforcement, but this is illegal.
- Squatters have rights, but if they don’t meet the requirements for adverse possession, they can be arrested as criminal trespassers.
- Many homeless people try to take advantage of squatter’s rights laws in order to gain ownership of a property without paying rent or mortgage.
There are exceptions to the rule:
- If a person beautifies an abandoned property (by planting flowers, cleaning up debris, or making other improvements), they might avoid prosecution for trespassing.
- If there is a legitimate emergency, a person who gains access to the property without permission can be exempt from trespassing.
- The property has to be unused in order for squatters to begin the process of an adverse possession claim.
What About Holdover Tenants?
Holdover tenants, or tenants at sufferance, are tenants who do not leave the property when their lease has ended. In this situation, the tenant is responsible for continuing to pay rent at the existing rate and terms.
If the landlord chooses to accept this without admitting the legality of the occupancy, the tenant becomes a “tenant at will.” This means that they are on the property at the will of the landlord. They can be evicted at any time without notice.
However, if a holdover tenant does not leave after they receive a notice to quit (or move out), they will be subject to a lawsuit for unlawful detainer. A holdover tenant will not be able to claim adverse possession if they have already been told to leave. At this point, they are considered a criminal trespasser.
Understanding Adverse Possession in Illinois
A squatter may be able to claim rights to the property after a certain amount of time living there. In Illinois, it takes 20 years of continuous possession for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim (735 ILCS § 5/13-101 et seq). When a squatter makes an adverse possession claim, they can gain legal ownership of the property. At this point, the squatter is not a criminal trespasser and has lawful permission to remain on the property.
In the US, there are five distinct legal requirements that must be met by the squatter before an adverse possession claim can be made. The occupation must be:
- Open & Notorious
If these five elements are not fulfilled by the squatter, then they do not have grounds for adverse possession.
In Illinois, a squatter must also claim the sixth requirement, “color of title.” Let’s take a look at what each of these means.
Hostile doesn’t necessarily mean violent or dangerous. When it comes to adverse possession, hostile has three legal definitions.
- Simple occupations. Most states follow this rule, which details that the simple occupation of the land is ‘hostile’, as it goes against the interests of the property owner. The trespasser doesn’t have to know that the land belongs to someone else.
- Awareness of trespassing. This rule requires that the trespasser is aware that their occupation fo the property amounts to trespassing. They have to know that they have no legal right to the property.
- Good faith mistake. A few states follow this rule. This requires that the trespasser has made a good faith mistake in occupying the area. They may have an invalid or incorrect deed. They are using the property ‘in good faith’ and are unaware of the property’s legal status.
Actual Possession requires that the trespasser be physically present on the land and treat it as if they were an owner. If the trespasser has improved or beautified the property (as mentioned earlier), documentation of these efforts can prove actual possession.
Open & Notorious Possession
“Open & Notorious” means that it has to be obvious to anyone that the squatter is living on the property. Even a landowner who makes a reasonable effort to investigate should be able to tell. The squatter must not be trying to hide the fact that they are living there.
The trespasser must possess the land exclusively. This means that they cannot share occupation with strangers, other squatters, tenants, or the owner.
The squatter must reside on the property for an uninterrupted period of time. That means that they don’t leave the property and come back to it weeks or months later and try to count that time as part of their “continuous possession” timeframe. As previously stated, 20 years of continuous occupation is required in Illinois.
Color of Title
You may have come across the term “color of title” while researching adverse possession. Color of title simply means ownership that isn’t “regular.” This can be claimed when someone doesn’t have one or more of the correct legal documents, or if their property isn’t registered correctly.
In Illinois, color of title isn’t required for an adverse possession claim, but it can decrease the timeframe for continuous occupation. If someone can claim color of title over a property, they only have to occupy the property for 7 years instead of the regular 20 years.
Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes in Illinois?
In Illinois, squatters are not required to pay property taxes in order to claim adverse possession. However, if they are paying property taxes, they may be able to make an adverse possession claim in as little as 7 years, rather than the regular 20 years of continuous occupation required.
How to Get Rid of Squatters in Illinois
To get rid of squatters in Illinois, you’ll have to go through a legal eviction. Some states have special provisions for getting rid of squatters, but Illinois isn’t one of them.
However, there is a provision for an owner who is disabled. In this sense, a legal ‘disability’ might mean that the property owner is a minor who has inherited the land, is legally incompetent, or is imprisoned. The owner has 2 years after such disability has been lifted to reclaim their land from a squatter, regardless of the 7 or 20 years have already expired. This might mean that they come of age, regain competency, or are released from prison.
In all other cases, you will probably have to file an eviction. If you call the police for a trespasser, they might be able to present (even false) documents that say they are allowed to be there. In this case, the police won’t remove them.
The first step to filing an eviction in Illinois is sending the squatter an eviction notice.There are three types of eviction notices that you can file against the squatter.
- Five-Day Notice to Pay Rent: This might be the best notice to serve to squatters if they haven’t caused any damage to the property. You must include an amount that the squatter must pay to remain there. Most of the time, they won’t pay, and after the five days, you can file an eviction.
- A Ten-Day Notice to Quit is usually only applicable if the squatter has broken terms of a rental agreement, so it might not be right for squatters. It gives them 10 days to fix the violation.
- Unconditional Quit Notice. If the tenant has used, possessed, or sold illegal drugs or controlled substances on the property, you can serve them with a 5-day notice to quit. After those five days are up (with no chance for them to fix the situation), you can file an eviction.
The eviction process may take several weeks, but if the squatters have no reason to be on the property in the first place, the judgment will likely be in favor of the landlord. Once the eviction has been finalized, the sheriff or constable is the only one who has the authority to remove the squatters.
Remember that self-eviction is always illegal. You cannot remove the squatters yourself, and you cannot do anything that might cause them to leave (such as turning off the utilities). Also, the sheriff or constable is the only one who can deal with the squatters at this point. The local police will have no authority to remove them.
If the property is in Chicago city limits, the landowner has to store any personal property left behind for five days. If it remains unclaimed after those five days, the landowner can dispose of it however they see fit. For any other location in Illinois, the landowner must take steps to inform the tenant and give them a reasonable amount of time to claim it.
Tips for Protecting Yourself from Squatters in Illinois
- Inspect the property regularly.
- Make sure that the property is secured. Block all entrances, close all windows, and lock every door.
- Put up “No Trespassing” signs on the property, especially if it’s currently unoccupied.
- Serve written notice as soon as you realize squatters are present.
- Offer to rent the property to the squatters.
- Call the sheriff (not the local police) to remove squatters from the premises if they do not leave.
- Hire a lawyer. You may need to take legal action to get the squatters to leave, and having the correct legal advice at every step of the journey is key.
Squatters can be a landlord’s worst nightmare. Make sure that you arm yourself with the right legal knowledge to prevent someone from making an adverse possession claim on your property. Refer to Illinois Statutes Chapter 735, Civil Procedure § 5/13-101 to learn more.