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 Indiana
- How to Get Rid of Squatters: Serve an eviction notice
- Required Time of Occupation: 10 years
- Color of Title: Not required
- Property Taxes: Required for 10 years of occupation
Who is Considered a Squatter in Indiana?
A squatter is someone who chooses to occupy an abandoned, unoccupied, or foreclosed building or area of land without lawful permission. This means that they do not rent or own the property. Even so, squatting in the United States 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 civil. However, 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 can falsely claim that they have a right to be on the property. Most often, this is done by presenting false or fraudulent documents to the owner or law enforcement. This is illegal.
- Squatters have rights, but they have to meet the requirements of adverse possession. Otherwise, they can be arrested as criminal trespassers.
- Squatters can be strangers or even neighbors who want to take the title of the land.
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 be able to 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 must be unused in order for squatters to being 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. The tenant is responsible for continuing the pay rent at the existing rate and terms. The landlord can accept this without worrying about the legality of the occupancy. Then, the tenant becomes a ‘tenant at will’. The landlord can evict them at any time without notice, as they are only there ‘at the will of the landlord’.
Read more about tenants at-will here.
If a holdover tenant receives a notice to quit (or move out) and they refuse, they can be subject to a lawsuit for unlawful detainer. A holdover tenant cannot make an adverse possession claim if they have already been told to leave. At that point, they are considered a criminal trespasser.
Understanding Adverse Possession in Indiana
A squatter may be able to claim rights to a property after a certain amount of time residing there. In Indiana, it takes 10 years of continuous possession for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim (IN Code 32-21-7-1, 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 U.S., there are five distinct legal requirements that must be met by the squatter before an adverse possession claim can be made. The five distinct legal requirements are: hostile, actual, open and notorious, exclusive and continuous. However, uniquely in Indiana, the Indiana Supreme Court (Celebration Worship Center, Inc. v. Patrick Tucker, et al) restructured and renamed these common law elements for adverse possession. The occupation must be:
- Control – the squatter must show that they are in exclusive and continuous use of the property to show control.
- Intent – the squatter must claim full ownership of the property.
- Notice -the squatter gives formal notice to the legal owner of their intent and exclusive control.
- Duration – the squatter must satisfy each of these elements continuously for 10 years.
These uniquely restructured elements are requirements that must be met by the squatter to have grounds for adverse possession.
Color of Title
You may have heard the term ‘color of title’ while researching adverse possession and squatter’s rights. 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 the property isn’t registered correctly. Some states require that squatters have color of title to file for adverse possession, but Indiana is not one of them.
However, squatters that have successfully completed an adverse possession claim may claim color of title. It’s important to note that when this occurs, the color of title only gives them ownership over the area of land they have occupied. If this is part of a larger parcel of land, they will not be able to claim the rest of it.
Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes in Indiana?
In some states, the payment of taxes might reduce the required occupation time. In others, squatters don’t have to pay taxes at all.
This is not the case for Indiana. If the squatter made a “reasonable faith effort” to pay taxes that should satisfy the condition for an adverse possession transfer of title. It’s required that squatters pay property taxes and any special assessments for the entire 10 years that they occupy the property to make an adverse possession claim. The only exception to paying taxes is if a governmental entity or an entity is exempt from federal income taxation of the IRS.
How to Get Rid of Squatters in Indiana
In Indiana, there are no provisions to remove squatters specifically. In some states, there are special laws and measures that landowners can take to remove squatters quickly. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in Indiana.
However, there is a law about legal ‘disability’ when it comes to adverse possession. If the landowner has a disability (i.e., is a minor, legally incompetent, or is imprisoned, etc.) they have 2 years after their disability is lifted to gain their property back. This can mean that they come of age, regain competency, or are released from prison. Even if the 10 years of required continuous possession has expired, they still have this time.
If squatters present documents that say they should be on the property to the police, the police won’t remove them. This is one of many instances where eviction is the only way to make squatters leave.
The first step is to file an eviction notice. There are a couple of different notices that property owners can file in Indiana.
Read more about evictions in Indiana here and download our FREE eviction notice form template.
- 10 Day Notice to Pay Rent. This notice must include an amount that the squatter must pay to remain. Most of the time, the squatter won’t pay, and after ten days (not including weekends or holidays) have passed, the true owner can file an eviction.
- 45- Day Notice to Quit. If there is illegal drug activity, the owner may issue a 45-Day Notice to Quit.
- Immediate Eviction. If they commit waste or there is prostitution activity on the property, no prior notice is needed before filing an eviction suit.
The eviction can take several weeks if the squatter chooses to fight it. However, most of the time the court will rule in favor of the landowner. After an eviction is granted, a Writ of Execution shall be issued. The Writ of Execution gives the squatter a final notice to leave or they will be forcibly removed by a sheriff. It is important to note that self-eviction (like physically removing the squatter or turning off the utilities) is illegal and opens a property owner to lawsuits.
If the squatter leaves personal property behind, the landlord has to get a separate court order to remove it. Then, they must provide the squatter with notice. Once this notice is sent, the landlord can take the property to a warehouseman, or storage unit; at this point, it becomes their responsibility. The squatter has 90 days to retrieve their personal property from the storage unit or the warehouseman can sell it.
Tips for Protecting Yourself from Squatters in Indiana
- Inspect the property regularly.
- Make sure that the property is secured. Block all entrances, close all windows, and lock every door.
- Pay property taxes in a timely manner.
- 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 have different rights in different states. Make sure you refer to Indiana Code Title 32. Property § 32-21-1-1 for more information.