Michigan Squatters' Rights: What You Need to Know

Do squatters have the right to live on your property in Michigan? This article explains the laws surrounding squatters' rights and the steps that property owners need to take to remove them and keep their property secure.

By
Nichole Stohler
|
Last Updated
May 15, 2024
Michigan Squatters' Rights: What You Need to Know

Squatters' rights are often misunderstood. It's a common belief that someone can simply move in and live on your property for a short time to gain rights, but this isn't actually the case. To get legal rights to your property, they must meet certain requirements over a long period and formally file for adverse possession.

Getting legal ownership through adverse possession is not easy. Squatters must treat the property like a true owner for years — maintaining it, paying taxes, making improvements, and more. Even after meeting all these requirements, squatters still have to go through legal processes to formally claim ownership.

Property owners should know the legal aspects of squatting and what to do if an unauthorized person lives on their property. If you don't act quickly and follow the law, it can lead to costly legal issues, and in some cases, you may even lose ownership of your property.

This article gives an overview of Michigan's squatting laws. It clears up common misunderstandings and highlights how you can take steps to secure any vacant or unoccupied properties you own. Knowing these key points can help you protect your legal rights and prevent unlawful occupation from happening.

What is squatting?

Squatting refers to the unauthorized occupation of a property by an individual or group who has no legal claim or ownership rights to the premises. The state of Michigan considers squatters trespassers who have unlawfully entered and occupied a property without the owner's consent.

Squatters vs. trespassers in Michigan

Both squatters and trespassers are unlawfully present on a property, but there is a subtle difference between the two:

  • Trespassers: Enter a property without permission but do not intend to establish residency. 
  • Squatters: Occupy a property with the intention of living there even though they have no legal right to do so.

Michigan adverse possession laws

In Michigan, squatters don’t have automatic rights to occupy a property, but they can potentially gain legal ownership through adverse possession. This legal principle means that if someone lives on and takes care of a property for a long enough period, they might eventually be able to claim it as their own.

To establish adverse possession in Michigan, a squatter must meet the following criteria:

1. Continuous possession

The person must have lived on the property continuously and uninterruptedly for at least 15 years. This means they can't have left the property for extended periods during that time. 

2. Actual possession

The squatter must have treated the property like their own. This means they make improvements, pay property taxes, and exercise control over the premises as a true owner would.

3. Open and notorious possession

The person's occupation of the property can't be a secret — it has to be visible and known to the true owner and the public. They should openly live in the house, maintain the yard, and not try to hide their presence.

4. Exclusive possession

The squatter must have occupied the property exclusively without sharing possession with others, including the true owner.

5. Hostile possession

This doesn't mean the occupier has to be aggressive or hostile in the traditional sense. It means their possession of the property is without the true owner's permission and against the owner's rights. Even if the owner is unaware of the squatter's presence, it would still be considered hostile possession.

Claiming adverse possession in Michigan

If a Michigan resident has met all the requirements for adverse possession under state law, they can file a claim to legally obtain ownership of the property. They do this through a process known as quiet title, which seeks to establish legal title for the squatter.

To initiate quiet title and claim adverse possession, the occupant must:

  • Gather evidence supporting their adverse possession claim. This could come in the form of mai addressed to them at the property, paid tax receipts, or proof of maintaining or improving the property.
  • File a quiet title action with the appropriate Michigan court.
  • Attend a hearing, present their case, and show to the judge that all adverse possession requirements were satisfied over the statutory period.
  • If successful, the person will receive a court judgment declaring them the legal owner through adverse possession.

Abandoned vs. unoccupied properties

When squatters claim adverse possession, Michigan courts handle abandoned properties and unoccupied properties differently.

Abandoned property

An abandoned property is one that an owner has stopped maintaining and allowed to deteriorate. Squatters often target these properties because the owner’s long-term neglect makes the property seem unwanted and therefore easier to move into.

Signs of abandonment include unpaid taxes, overgrown vegetation, visible damage, and disconnected utilities. The owner may have died, moved away permanently, or intentionally deserted the property.

Unoccupied property

An unoccupied property has an owner who intends to return or eventually sell; they’re just temporarily away for work, military service, or other obligations. These properties are still maintained, with active utilities and no overt neglect. Even if the owner has been away for years, it remains illegal for someone to simply occupy an unoccupied property, as the owner hasn’t surrendered ownership rights.

Judges are much more likely to reject adverse possession claims on unoccupied properties where owners clearly intended to retain possession versus truly abandoned properties.

Removing squatters through eviction in Michigan

If you ask a squatter to leave and they don't comply, you'll have to go through the formal legal eviction process in compliance with Michigan law. You cannot forcibly remove the person yourself because doing so could get you in legal trouble for assault or illegal eviction. 

Here are the steps for evicting an unauthorized occupant in Michigan:

Provide notice

Serve the proper eviction notice as required by Michigan law. This official notice acts as the first step in the eviction process. For squatters, you would typically use a 7-day notice to quit, informing them that they need to vacate the property within 7 days.

Court filing

If the person doesn't voluntarily leave after the notice period ends, the next step is filing an official eviction lawsuit through the local district court asking for their removal.

The court will issue a summons, which an officer or process server must deliver to the squatter to order them to appear for an eviction hearing.

Court hearing

At the hearing, you'll need to provide documentation and testimony establishing your legal ownership rights over the property that the squatter is occupying. This includes deeds, tax receipts, or any records that validate you as the rightful owner. If the evidence is convincing, the judge will rule in your favor.

Writ of Restitution

When a court determines that you are the lawful owner, the judge issues a Writ of Restitution. This is a court order that authorizes the sheriff or police to forcibly remove the squatter if they refuse to leave.

Before the physical eviction, the sheriff must give the squatter a final notice period, usually 24-48 hours, to vacate voluntarily before being forcibly removed. The officers can then proceed with legal action and enter to remove them from the property.

Tips for preventing squatters

If you have vacant property in Michigan, preventing squatters from occupying your property in the first place is the best approach. Here are some strategies you can use:

  • Regular property inspections: Check your property on a regular basis. Physically visit the site and make sure that everything is secure and as it should be.
  • Secure the property: Keep your property as secure as possible, with locks on all doors and windows and reinforcement of any potential entry points. Consider installing a security system with cameras and motion sensors to deter potential unauthorized occupants. The system can also provide evidence if any illegal activity does occur.
  • Post "No Trespassing" signs: Clear and visible signage can be a deterrent. Make sure to display prominent signs on your property stating that unauthorized entry is prohibited and constitutes trespassing. 
  • Hire a property manager: If you don't have the time or resources to manage your vacant property yourself, consider hiring a property management company. They can handle maintenance and security, including regular inspections and implementing appropriate safeguards against trespassers.
  • Maintain the property: A well-maintained property is far less inviting to squatters than a neglected one. Keep the landscaping tidy, promptly address any repairs, and maintain care and upkeep. 

Mastering the basics of Michigan squatters' law

Squatters' rights in Michigan are a complicated legal matter requiring a thorough understanding of the state's laws and rules. While squatters may possibly gain ownership rights through adverse possession, the process is challenging and time-consuming. Unauthorized occupants have to jump through a lot of hoops over many years before they can even try to claim your property.

Property owners: don't take any chances! Stay proactive and vigilant about preventing squatters from gaining a foothold on your properties in the first place.

If you discover a squatter situation, refrain from handling it yourself. Follow the proper legal and formal eviction process to protect your ownership rights and remove trespassers from your rightful properties in a fully legal way. Dealing with trespassers from the start is much easier than trying to regain control after they've occupied your property for a long period.

Michigan squatters' rights FAQs

Is squatting legal in Michigan?

Squatting is the act of occupying an abandoned property without the owner's permission. This is generally not legal in Michigan and is considered trespassing or unlawful entry, both of which are criminal offenses.

Can you go to jail for squatting in Michigan?

Yes, squatting can potentially lead to jail time in Michigan, especially if the squatter refuses to leave the property after being ordered by law enforcement or the property owner.

Does Michigan allow adverse possession?

Michigan recognizes adverse possession, which allows a person to gain legal ownership of a property they have occupied and maintained for a specified period, even without the original owner's consent.

Important Note: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as legal, accounting, or tax advice, nor should it be used as a substitute for such services. Always consult your own legal, accounting, or tax counsel before taking any action based on this information.

Nichole Stohler

Nichole co-founded Gateway Private Equity Group, with a history of investments in single-family and multi-family properties, and now a specialization in hotel real estate investments. She is also the creator of NicsGuide.com, a blog dedicated to real estate investing.

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