What to Know About Squatters' Rights in Alabama

With this comprehensive article, learn everything you need to know about how to protect your property from falling prey to squatting. From adverse possession requirements to tips on how to prevent squatters, you’ll gain the tools needed to avoid one of the biggest legal issues a landlord can face.

By
Rachel Robinson
|
Last Updated
February 1, 2024
What to Know About Squatters' Rights in Alabama

Imagine the surprise and confusion of an Alabama landlord upon discovering an uninvited guest living in their vacant property — a classic case of a squatter. This unexpected scenario occurs more often than you might think, leaving property owners grappling with the complexities of squatters' rights.

Squatters, aptly named, are individuals who occupy a property without the owner's permission. These unauthorized occupants claim rights over the property, often invoking the concept of adverse possession, leading to significant legal challenges for rightful owners.

Keep reading this guide to understand squatters' rights and their ramifications for landlords in the Yellowhammer State. With this knowledge, you'll be equipped to protect your investment and rights as a property owner.

Basic requirements for Alabama adverse possession laws

For a squatter to claim adverse possession of a property in Alabama, they must either:

  • Occupy the property or land for at least 20 consecutive years.

or

  • Pay property taxes for at least 10 years.

In addition to paying property taxes and occupying the property, there are five distinct requirements squatters must meet before they can claim adverse possession. Those requirements include actual possession, open and notorious possession, exclusive possession, hostile possession, and continuous possession. We explore these criteria in detail below.

Actual possession

Actual possession refers to squatters exercising control over the property. This means the trespasser treats the property as their own and lives on the property. Squatters can prove this form of possession with documentation demonstrating their efforts to maintain or improve the property, including landscaping, cleaning, and repairs.

Open and notorious possession

Open and notorious possession refers to a type of squatting, where the trespasser makes their presence on the property obvious. This type of possession's criteria can even be met if the property owner investigates the property or land for suspicion of trespassing, as this proves that the squatting is apparent enough for someone to see it and investigate it further.

Exclusive possession

This form of possession requires squatters or trespassers to be the sole inhabitant of the property. Thus, large groups cannot share a property and legally claim it as their own. Squatters wanting to claim exclusive possession must exclude others, including other tenants and the rightful owner.

Hostile possession

Hostile doesn't refer to aggression or violence in the way the squatter claimed the property. It simply means the squatter does not have the owner's permission to live on the property. Hostile possession may look like:

  • Good faith mistake: The squatter or trespasser made an honest mistake in residing in the property. In this case, squatters are generally unaware of the property's legal status.
  • Awareness of trespassing: The trespasser is aware they are trespassing and have no legal right to the property.
  • Simple occupation: Occupying land or a property with or without the knowledge that it belongs to someone else.

Continuous possession

In Alabama, a tenant or squatter can make an adverse possession claim if they have occupied the building or land and had continuous possession for 20 years [(AL Code § 6-5-200; Bradley v. Demos 599 So.2d 1148 (2017)].

Preventing adverse possession: Tips for landlords

Taking the following precautions can help prevent squatters and protect you against claims over what's rightfully yours, even when your property is vacant.

  1. Regularly inspect the property: Inspecting your property regularly can help identify occupants who don't have lawful permission to be there. Inspections show active ownership and allow for swift responses to possible threats.
  2. Document and take photographs as evidence: Property owners should periodically take photographs of their property. If needed, this visual record can serve as evidence in court that shows no improvements have been made to the property without the owner's permission.
  3. Create relationships with neighbors: Establish relationships with neighbors surrounding the property. They can keep watch over the property, alerting you to any unfamiliar "tenants" or other unusual activity.
  4. Set up proper fencing and signage: A simple way to ward off squatters or trespassers is through proper signage. "Private Property" and "No Trespassing" signs can help set boundaries that deter potential squatters.
  5. Taking legal action immediately: As soon as an unauthorized occupant is identified, take action. Consult with a lawyer and begin the eviction process to reinforce your legal ownership and mitigate legal issues.

Does Alabama allow for "tacking"?

In regards to adverse possession, "tacking" refers to the legal concept where successive periods of adverse possession by different parties may be combined or "tacked" on to meet the required period for an adverse possession claim.

Alabama state law does not specifically mention "tacking" in reference to squatting or adverse possession claims. However, such laws can be nuanced and subject to change, so it's important to consult current legal resources or a qualified attorney in Alabama for the most current information.

Procedures for landlords to challenge squatters in Alabama

When a squatter claims adverse possession in Alabama, landlords and property managers must follow specific steps to effectively reclaim their property and avoid any legal repercussions. Learn about this legal process below.

Initiating an eviction process

The first step in removing a squatter from a property in Alabama is to serve an eviction notice.

A 7-day written notice to pay rent can be used to evict the squatter. If the squatter does not comply within the specified notice period, landlords can proceed by filing an eviction lawsuit with the local court.

Engaging with law enforcement

It may become necessary to contact local law enforcement, especially if the squatter becomes uncooperative, poses a threat, or commits illegal activity. While police may not be able to immediately remove the squatter without a court order, they can be crucial to maintaining peace or assessing possible crimes.

It's important to document your interactions with local law enforcement as evidence if the situation is escalated to court.

Legal avenues for reclaiming possession of the property

In addition to the eviction process, there is additional legal assistance available to landlords. For example, landlords can pursue a lawsuit for trespassing if they believe it could be more effective than an eviction.

In either case, it may be necessary to hire a licensed attorney to navigate local laws and squatter rights in Alabama. You can learn more about the difference between squatters and trespassers here.

Potential court procedures, costs, and timelines

Landlords should always be prepared for the eviction process to reach the courts, and thus, the legal procedures, legal doctrine, costs, and timelines involved.

The lawsuit will follow Alabama's specific legal process, but no matter the state, the process generally follows these steps: filing the complaint, serving the squatter, and then awaiting a court date. Costs can include everything from filing fees to attorney fees.

The timeline may vary, depending on the case's specifics and the court's backlog. To ensure the process is as efficient as possible, landlords must be proactive and knowledgeable about Alabama law.

Special provisions or exceptions

When discussing adverse possession laws and squatters' rights in Alabama, it's crucial to cover property law's unique regulations and exceptions. For instance, unclear property boundaries can lead to issues for landlords in Alabama.

Accidentally overlooking a portion of their land due to obscure property lines could be an invitation for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim. Demarcating property boundaries can help prevent squatters from meeting the requirements for adverse possession and making an eventual claim.

Maintaining property ownership in Alabama

With this essential knowledge, you're now better equipped to navigate Alabama's squatter laws and rights. Understanding the criteria for adverse possession is crucial: continuous, open occupation, and a claim to exclusivity over a specific period are key factors that define a squatter's legal standing.

For landlords in Alabama, the path to maintaining property ownership is clear: remain vigilant and proactive. Regular property inspections, up-to-date and clear rental agreements, and prompt legal responses, with the help of attorneys specialized in property law, are all vital tools in your arsenal against squatter claims.

By staying informed and prepared, you can effectively protect the legal title of your property and ensure your investment remains secure.

Alabama squatters' rights FAQs

What's the difference between squatters and holdover tenants?

A holdover tenant is someone who remains in a rental property after a lease has ended, also known as a "tenant at sufferance". If the landlord allows it, holdover tenants may stay in the property, paying rent at the current rate and under the conditions of the expired rental agreement.

However, if the landlord gives the holdover tenant a notice to vacate, they may be subject to legal repercussions if they do not leave the property in the notice period. After receiving a notice to vacate, they cannot claim adverse possession, as they are now considered trespassers.

What are the adverse possession requirements in Alabama?

To gain ownership of a property through an adverse possession claim, squatters must occupy a property or land for at least 20 consecutive years or pay property taxes for at least 10 years. Occupation of the property must also be continuous, actual, exclusive, and open and notorious.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials are for general informational purposes only. This content may not constitute the most up-to-date legal information. No reader, user, or browser of this article should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information herein without first seeking the advice of a legal professional.

Rachel Robinson

Rachel Robinson has 6 years of experience in writing, editing, and SEO, specializing in rental property and real estate. She excels in market trends and landlord-tenant dynamics, producing content that drives traffic and informs. Outside of work, she enjoys climbing Colorado's granite boulders.

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