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 Oregon
- How to Get Rid of Squatters: Legal “disability” provision, otherwise judicial eviction
- Required Time of Occupation: At least 10 years of continuous occupation
- Color of Title: Not required, but may help adverse possession claim
- Property Taxes: Not required for standard adverse possession claim; for co-tenancy adverse possession claim, required for 20 years
Who is Considered a Squatter in Oregon?
A squatter is someone who occupies an abandoned, foreclosed, or unoccupied building or area of land without the lawful permission of the owner. The person does not rent or own the property. Even so, squatting is common in the United States.
Isn’t that Trespassing?
Squatting isn’t necessarily trespassing. While trespassing is a criminal offense, squatting is usually civil in nature. However, once the landowner has established that the squatter is unwelcome, they can be treated as a criminal offender.
Keep the following in mind:
- In Oregon, a person cannot make an adverse possession claim against property or land owned by the railroad or used for railroad operations.
- Oregon has some unique laws in regard to squatters, so it is important for landowners to be well-armed with legal advice if there is an adverse possession claim made against the property.
- Squatters or trespassers might falsely claim a right to be on the property. They might present false or fraudulent paperwork or other documents to law enforcement. This is illegal.
- Squatters do have rights, but they must meet the requirements for adverse possession to gain them. If they do not meet these requirements, they can be arrested as criminal trespassers.
- Squatters can be strangers or even neighbors who want to obtain title to the land.
There are exceptions to this rule:
- If a person beautifies an abandoned or unoccupied property (by removing debris, planting flowers, or doing other landscaping work, etc.), they may 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.
- In Oregon, a squatter can make an adverse possession claim if the property is occupied by other tenants or squatters, but only under certain conditions.
What About Holdover Tenants?
Holdover tenants, otherwise known as ‘tenants at sufferance’, are tenants who refuse to 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 with the existing terms.
If the landlord chooses, they may continue to accept the rent without worrying about the legality of the occupancy. In this case, the tenant becomes a ‘tenant at will’. This means that they are only on the property at the will of the landlord. They can be evicted at any time without notice.
Read more about tenants at will here.
However, if the holdover tenant receives a notice to quit (or move out) and refuses to leave, they may be subject to a lawsuit for unlawful detainer. A holdover tenant will not be able to make an adverse possession claim if they have already been asked to leave the property. At this point, they are considered a criminal trespasser.
Understanding Adverse Possession in Oregon
A squatter can claim rights to the property after a certain time residing there. In Oregon, it takes (at least) 10 years of continuous occupation for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim (OR Rev. Stat. § 12.050 and OR Rev. Stat § 105.620). When a squatter claims adverse possession, they can gain legal ownership of the property. At this point, the squatter is no longer a criminal trespasser and can remain on the property as if they have legal permission.
In the U.S., there are five distinct legal requirements that a squatter must meet to make an adverse possession claim. The occupation must be:
- Hostile – honest belief that they are the owner therefore without permission and against the right of the true owner.
- Actual – exercising control over the real property.
- Open & Notorious – using the property as the owner would and not hiding his/her occupancy.
- Exclusive – in the possession of the individual occupying the real property alone.
- Continuous – staying on the property for 10 years; 20 years for co-tenancy.
These five requirements must be met with “clear and convincing evidence” (ORS 105.620(c)) or the squatter does not have grounds for adverse possession.
Let’s take a look at what each of these terms mean.
“Hostile” doesn’t necessarily mean violent or dangerous. In the legal sense, hostile can have three definitions.
- Simple Occupation. Most states follow this rule. 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.
- Awareness of Trespassing. This rule requires that the trespasser is aware that his or her use of the property is trespassing. They know that they have no legal right to be on the property.
- Good Faith Mistake. A few states choose to follow this rule. Here, the trespasser must have made an innocent, good faith mistake in occupying the property. They may be relying on an invalid or incorrect deed. In other words, the squatter is using the property ‘in good faith’ and is unaware of the property’s current legal status. In Oregon, the squatter must have “honest belief” that they have actual ownership, and this is a requirement for the entire 10 years.
Under the hostile claim, the squatter must have a written conveyance document, written claim to the title of land or color of title. This must be proved when the squatter first enters possession of the property.
Actual possession requires that the trespasser is physically present on the property and treats it as if they are an owner. This can be established by documenting beautification efforts (as mentioned above), as well as taking measures to clean up the property or perform regular maintenance.
Open & Notorious Possession
“Open & Notorious” means that it must be obvious to anyone that someone is squatting on the property. A landowner who makes a reasonable effort to investigate should be able to tell that someone is squatting, and the squatter must not be trying to hide that they are staying there.
Oregon handles exclusive possession a bit differently from other states. Usually, a squatter cannot claim adverse possession if other squatters, tenants, or the owner resides on the property. However, co-tenancy is accepted in Oregon.
If a squatter has continuous possession of a property (regardless of other tenants) for an uninterrupted period of at least 20 years (and has paid all property taxes during that time), their possession of the property doesn’t have to be exclusive for an adverse possession claim.
The squatter must reside on the property for at least 10 years without interruption. They cannot leave for weeks or months, return later, and try to claim the time they were absent as part of the 10-year continuous occupation period (or 20-year period with co-tenancy).
Color of Title
You may have 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 is not ‘regular’. The owner is missing one or more of the required documents, memorials, or other legal registrations.
In Oregon, color of title is not required; however, it helps cover the hostile requirement. If a squatter has color of title, it can absolutely help their case, but it is not a requirement to make a claim.
Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes in Oregon?
For a standard adverse possession claim, a squatter does not have to pay property taxes in the state of Oregon. However, taxes are required for a period of 20 years in the case of a co-tenancy adverse possession claim.
How to Get Rid of Squatters in Oregon
Oregon doesn’t have any specific laws when it comes to getting rid of squatters. In most cases, a landowner must file a judicial eviction to have a squatter removed from their property. However, Oregon has some of the most extensive laws when it comes to landowners with disabilities. While some states have general provisions, Oregon goes into detail on the types of disabilities and how they affect adverse possession cases, let’s take a closer look:
- Disability– When a landowner is insane or legally incompetent due to mental illness, their property cannot be the subject of an adverse possession claim for as long as they remain insane/legally incompetent. Once the landowner is released from a mental health facility, they have one year to dispute an adverse possession claim.
- Minors– In the case of minors, an adverse possession case can be delayed five years. After they turn 18, they have 1 year to dispute an adverse possession claim.
Additionally, Oregon also has a statute of limitations meaning that if the true owner wants to evict the squatter, they must do this within 10 years of the squatter being in possession of the land. In all other cases, landowners in Oregon will have to use a judicial eviction process to get rid of squatters on their property. This begins with an eviction notice.
- The landowner can serve a squatter with a 72 Hours’ Notice to Pay Rent. This notice must specify an amount that is owed for rent and fees, as well as a date and time it must be paid by. If the squatter fails to pay the amount, the landowner can go straight to the county court and file a formal eviction.
- If there was no lease or a lease has ended, a landowner may issue a notice to quit. For week-to-week tenancies a landowner may issue a 10-Day Notice to Quit and month-to-month tenancies a landowner may issue a 30-Day Notice to Quit.
- If illegal activity is committed on the land, a landowner may issue a 24-Hour Notice to Quit. Illegal activity includes prostitution, controlled substances, manufacture of cannabinoid extract, crimes, burglary, or threats to others.
It is important to note that a landowner cannot self-evict the squatter. This means that any actions taken by the landowner to make the squatter leave, including turning off the utilities or changing the locks, is illegal and can result in a lawsuit. Only a law enforcement officer with a court order can physically remove a squatter from the property.
Unless the squatter has a solid defense (either they have legal rights to be on the property or the notice was served incorrectly), it is likely that most judges will grant the eviction. The landowner must wait for a Writ of Execution to be issued by the judge, this is the squatters final notice to vacate within 4 days before being forcibly removed by the sheriff.
If the squatter leaves personal property behind, the landowner is required to store it in a safe location and send notice to the squatter informing them that they have 15 days to take their property back. If the property remains unclaimed after notice, the landowner can sell or dispose of it.
Tips for Protecting Yourself from Squatters in Oregon
- 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.
- Post “No Trespassing” signs on the property, especially if it’s currently unoccupied.
- Serve written notice as soon as you notice that squatters are present.
- Offer to rent the property to the squatters.
- Call the sheriff (not the local law enforcement) to remove squatters from the premises if they do not leave.
- Hire a lawyer. You may need to take legal action to remove squatters, and having the correct legal advice is critical for every step of the journey.