Squatter’s Rights in Mississippi

Last Updated: January 27, 2022 by Elizabeth Souza

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 Mississippi

  • How to Get Rid of Squatters: Legal “disability” provision; otherwise, legal eviction
  • Required Time of Occupation: 10 years’ continuous possession & 2 years’ paid property taxes
  • Color of Title: Required
  • Property Taxes: Must be paid for 2 years
Questions? To chat with a Mississippi attorney about adverse possession, Click here

Who is Considered a Squatter in Mississippi?

A squatter is someone who occupies an abandoned, unoccupied, or foreclosed building or area of land without lawful permission. The person does not rent or own the property. Despite this, squatting is common in the United States.

Isn’t That Trespassing?

Squatting is not necessarily trespassing. Trespassing is a criminal offense, while squatting is usually a civil matter. However, squatting might be treated as a criminal behavior if the landowner or landlord establishes that the person in question is not welcome on the property.

Keep the following in mind:

  1. Squatters or trespassers might attempt to falsely claim their right to be on the property. They may do this by presenting false or fraudulent papers or deeds to the owner or to law enforcement. This is always illegal.
  2. Squatters do have rights, but they must fulfill the requirements for adverse possession to gain them. If they don’t meet these parameters, they can be arrested as criminal trespassers.
  3. Squatters can be complete strangers or even neighbors who want to obtain title to the land.

There are exceptions to the rule:

  • If a person beautifies the property (planting flowers, cleaning up, landscaping, etc.) unoccupied or abandoned residential or industrial properties, they could possibly avoid prosecution for trespassing.
  • If there is a legitimate emergency, a person who gains access to the property without permission may be exempt from trespassing.
  • The property must not be in use for squatters to being an adverse possession claim.

What About Holdover Tenants?

Holdover tenants, also referred to as tenants at sufferance, are tenants who remain on a property after their lease has ended. They are fundamentally different from squatters and must be dealt with in a different way entirely.

In this situation, the tenant may continue to pay rent at the existing rate and terms. If the landlord chooses to accept this without worrying about the legality of the occupancy, the tenant then becomes a ‘tenant at will’. This means that they are on the property ‘at the will’ of the landlord and they can be evicted at any time without notice.

Read more about tenants at will here.

Otherwise, if a holdover tenant receives a notice to quit (or move out), they must leave or be subjected to a lawsuit for unlawful detainer. A holdover tenant will not be able to make an adverse possession claim if they have been told to leave. Thereafter, they are considered a criminal trespasser.

Understanding Adverse Possession in Mississippi

A squatter can claim rights to the property after a certain time of residing there. In Mississippi, it takes 10 years of continuous occupation for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim (Miss. Code. Ann. § 15-1-13, 15). In Mississippi, you must also pay taxes for at least 2 of those years.

In addition, Mississippi has a different set of rules for “16th Section Lands”. These lands are usually held in trust for the purpose of public education. With a valid claim to title,a squatter may make an adverse possession claim over 16th Section Lands with 25 years of actual possession instead of the usual 10 (Miss. Code. Ann. § 29-3-7).

When a squatter claims adverse possession, they can gain legal ownership of the property. At this point, the squatter has lawful permission to remain on the property and is no longer a criminal trespasser.

Questions? To chat with a Mississippi attorney about adverse possession, Click here

In the U.S., there are five distinct legal requirements that the squatter must meet before they can make an adverse possession claim. The occupation must be:

  1. Hostile – without permission and against the right of the true owner.
  2. Actual – exercising control over the real property.
  3. Open & Notorious – using the property as the owner would and not hiding his/her occupancy.
  4. Exclusive – in the possession of the individual occupying the real property alone.
  5. Continuous – staying on the property for 10 years and 2 years of paying property taxes.
NOTE

If these five elements are not fulfilled by the squatter, then they do not have grounds for adverse possession.

In Mississippi, the squatter must also have paid property taxes for at least 2 years to make a claim. Let’s take a look at what each of these terms mean.

Hostile Claim

“Hostile” doesn’t necessarily mean violent or dangerous. In the legal sense, hostile has three definitions that states may choose to use.

  1. Simple Occupation. This rule is followed by most states today. Here, hostile is defined as the mere occupation of the land. The trespasser doesn’t have to know that the land belongs to someone else.
  2. Awareness of Trespassing. Using this rule, the trespasser must be aware that their use of the property amounts to trespassing. They must know that they have no legal right to be on the property.
  3. Good Faith Mistake. A few states follow this rule. This requires that the trespasser has made an innocent good faith mistake in occupying the property in the first place. They may have been relying on an invalid or incorrect deed without any knowledge of the property’s current legal status. In other words, they are using the property ‘in good faith’.

Actual Possession

Actual possession requires that the trespasser is physically present on the property and treats it as if they are an owner. There are a few ways to establish this, including documenting any beautification or maintenance that the squatter performs. Planting flowers or cleaning up debris (as mentioned before) is an example of actual possession of the land. As mentioned earlier, a neighbor can adversely possess a portion of land. Since July 1, 1998, Mississippi law has required the squatter to file a notice with the Chancery Court Clerk that states that the driveway or fence was built without permission of the landowner.  If this notice is not filed with the court clerk, it does not give enough evidence that the property was adversely possessed (Mississippi Code 15-1-13).

Open & Notorious Possession

“Open & Notorious” means that it must be obvious to anyone that someone is squatting on the property. This means that the squatter must not be trying to hide the fact that they live there. Even a property owner who makes a reasonable effort to investigate should be able to tell that the squatter is on the property.

Exclusive Possession

The trespasser must be the only one possessing the land. They cannot share possession with other squatters, the owner, strangers, or tenants.

Continuous Possession

The squatter must reside on the property for an uninterrupted amount of time. That means that the trespasser cannot give up the use of the property for weeks or months, return to it later, and use the time they were gone as part of the “continuous” possession time period. As stated previously, 10 years of continuous occupation are required for adverse possession in Mississippi (unless the land is a 16th Section Land, in which case 25 years of continuous occupation are required).

Color of Title

You have probably come across the term ‘color of title’ during your research into squatter’s rights. Color of title simply means that the ownership of the property isn’t ‘regular’. The person in possession of the property doesn’t have one or more of the correct documents or registrations.

If the property owner has failed to pay taxes,a squatter may purchase the property’s title over a period of 5 years. After the tax sale, 2 years must pass. After that, a squatter must possess the land under the laws of actual possession (they must be physically present) for 3 years. Then they may buy the title. This qualifies as a valid color of title under Mississippi law (Miss. Code Ann. § 15-1-15).

A squatter can also claim color of title after the successful completion of an adverse possession claim.

Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes in Mississippi?

In Mississippi, squatters must pay property taxes to make an adverse possession claim. They must pay property taxes for at least 2 years of the 10 years required for adverse possession.

How to Get Rid of Squatters in Mississippi

Mississippi doesn’t have any specific laws regarding squatter removal. Instead, you must treat the squatter as if they are a tenant and go through an eviction process.

However, there is a provision for disabled landowners and adverse possession. If the landowner is legally disabled (they are a minor (18) or legally incompetent), they will have an additional 10 years after their disability is lifted (they come of age, are released from prison, or regain competency) to reclaim their property. However, no adverse possession for mental illness case can be delayed longer than 31 years (Miss. Code Ann § 15-1-7).

Otherwise, a landowner must go through a legal eviction to remove the squatter. Any attempt to self-evict the tenant, either by changing the locks or shutting off the utilities, is illegal and can open a landowner up to a potential lawsuit.

Mississippi law requires landowners to have a legal cause to evict tenants. In the case of a squatter, failure to pay rent is the legal cause that needs to be addressed. First, the landowner must send a Three-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. This notice must include an amount that must be paid for the squatter to remain (Miss. Code Ann. § 89-7-27).

There are a few other eviction notices a landowner may issue such as a no lease or end of lease eviction notice. A 7-Day Notice to Quit shall be sent do tenancies where rent is paid on a week-to-week basis or a 30-Day Notice to Quit for month-to-month tenancies. If squatters violate a health, building, safety or housing code, no notice is required and may proceed directly to filing an eviction suit.

In most cases, the courts will rule in favor of the landlord when it comes to squatters. Even after winning an eviction, a landowner cannot take measures to remove the tenant or squatter themselves. These actions, including changing the locks or turning off the utilities, are illegal and can open the landlord up to a lawsuit.

Instead, a landowner must wait for a sheriff

to arrive and deliver a Writ of Execution to the squatter which is a notice granted by the judge to remove the squatter. If the grounds for eviction is for nonpayment of rent the writ shall be issued immediately, all other grounds for eviction shall be done within 5 days.

After the squatter has been removed either willing or by the sheriff they may have left behind personal property. Mississippi doesn’t have a law specifically telling landlords what to do with it, but it’s generally considered a good idea to contact the squatter and let them know that they have a reasonable amount of time to reclaim their property. However, if the judge determines that the landowner is granted exclusive possession of the property, the landowner may immediately dispose of the personal property without further notice or legal action.

NOTE

When dealing with squatters, you should always be dealing with the sheriff directly. Sheriffs have different jurisdiction than local law enforcement and are in a much better position to help with squatters. That said, if there is an illegal trespassing situation, you can still call the local law enforcement to help with removal.

Tips for Protecting Yourself From Squatters in Mississippi

  • Inspect the property regularly.
  • Secure the property (Block entrances, close all windows, lock all doors, etc.).
  • Put up “No Trespassing” signs on the property, especially if it is currently unoccupied.
  • Pay property taxes in a timely manner.
  • Serve written notice as soon as you realize that 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. In some cases, you may need to take legal action to get a squatter off of your property. Having legal counsel on your side to make sure that you are always acting within the law can be helpful.

It’s important to arm yourself with the right legal knowledge to prevent someone from making an adverse possession claim on your property. Make sure you refer to Mississippi Code §§ 15-1-7, 15-1-13, 15-1-15, 29-3-7 for more information.