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 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 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.
- Many homeless people will 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 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 has to 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’.
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.
Indiana has some of the most restrictive adverse possession laws in the country when it comes to removing a squatter, what landowners can do about it, and also how the squatter goes about gaining possession of 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 requirements are not met by the squatter, then they do not have grounds for adverse possession. 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 Occupation. This rule is followed by most states today. It defines ‘hostile’ as the simple occupation of the land. 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 of 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 property. They may have an invalid or incorrect deed. They are using the property “in good faith” and are unaware of the property’s current legal status.
Actual possession requires that the trespasser is physically present on the land and treats it as if they were an owner. If the trespasser has beautified the property, improved it, or maintained it, documentation of these improvements can prove actual possession.
Open & Notorious Possession
“Open & Notorious” means that it must be obvious to anyone – including a property owner who makes a reasonable effort to investigate – that someone is squatting on the property. They must not be trying to hide the fact that they are living there.
The trespasser must possess the land exclusively. This means that the trespasser cannot share occupation with strangers, other squatters, tenants, or the owner.
The squatter must reside on the property for an uninterrupted amount of time. That means that they cannot leave the property, come back to it weeks or months later, and try to count that time into their “continuous” possession timeframe. As previously stated, 10 years of continuous occupation are required for adverse possession in Indiana.
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 actually 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. It is absolutely required that squatters pay property taxes for the entire 10 years that they occupy the property in order to make an adverse possession claim.
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 (is a minor, legally incompetent, or is imprisoned), 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 three different notices that you can file in Indiana.
- 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, you can file an eviction.
- Notice to Cure or Quit. This is most applicable when a tenant violates the lease or -rental agreement. It gives them a chance to fix the violation. As such, it’s probably not the best notice to serve to a squatter.
- Unconditional Quit Notice. If the squatter destroys the property, they can be served with an Unconditional Quit Notice, which alerts them that they must leave immediately or be evicted. If they don’t leave, you can file an eviction with the Court.
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 land owner. After an eviction, a law enforcement officer is the only one who can remove a squatter – self-eviction measures 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.
- 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.