A Guide to Adverse Possession Laws and Squatters’ Rights: Missouri

Navigating adverse possession and squatter rights in Missouri requires landlords to be vigilant. By understanding legal requirements, such as the necessity for squatters to occupy land openly, continuously, and exclusively for 10 years, and employing strategies like regular inspections and legal counsel, property owners can safeguard their investments and uphold their ownership rights.

Rachel Robinson
Last Updated
April 8, 2024
A Guide to Adverse Possession Laws and Squatters’ Rights: Missouri

Discovering an unauthorized person living on your vacant property can be a startling discovery for any Missouri landlord. Such occurrences are not as rare as one might think, and they introduce a complicated set of issues that demand a deep dive into Missouri's adverse possession laws and the rights of squatters.

To start, squatters are individuals who take up residence in empty properties without the lawful permission of the owner. If they claim adverse possession, an attempt to gain legal ownership of the property or land, these unauthorized occupants can pose serious legal challenges to rightful property owners.

To understand the rights of squatters in the Show-Me State and how to address them, keep reading this guide. It's designed to help arm you with the necessary information to safeguard your property and uphold your rights as an owner.

Basic requirements for an adverse possession claim in Missouri

For a squatter to claim adverse possession and gain legal ownership of a property in Missouri, they must occupy the property or land for at least 10 continuous years.

Beyond continuously occupying the property for a decade, squatters in Missouri must also meet five additional requirements: hostile possession, exclusive possession, continuous possession, actual possession, and open and notorious possession.

We explore each of these requirements in further depth below.

1. Actual possession

Actual possession means squatters exercise full control over the property, treating the property as their own. Squatters can prove this form of possession with documentation of their efforts to maintain or improve the property, like landscaping, cleaning, and structural repairs.

2. Open and notorious possession

Squatters need to make their presence on the property obvious to claim open and notorious possession. This form of possession can even be met if the property owner investigates the land or structure for suspicion of trespassing, as this proves that the squatting is apparent enough for someone to notice it.

3. Exclusive possession

This form of possession requires squatters or trespassers to be the only inhabitant on the land or property. Squatters wanting to claim exclusive possession must exclude others, including strangers, other tenants, and the rightful owner from residing on the property.

4. Hostile possession

A hostile claim doesn't refer to violence or aggression in the way the squatter claimed the property. Instead, it means that the squatter does not have the owner's permission to live on the property. Hostile possession can look like:

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

5. Continuous possession

In Missouri, a squatter can make an adverse possession claim if they have occupied the building or land for 10 consecutive years (MO Rev. Stat. § 516.010, et seq). Missouri does allow for tacking, also known as stacking, which is the legal concept where successive periods of adverse possession by different individuals may be combined or "tacked" on to meet the required 10-year period for an adverse possession claim.

Do squatters need to pay property taxes to claim adverse possession in Missouri?

Squatters do not need to pay property taxes to claim adverse possession of a property in Missouri. The essential criteria for a squatter to establish such a claim in Missouri focus on the nature of their possession being hostile, open and notorious, actual, exclusive, and continuous for at least 10 years, as discussed previously.

While paying property taxes can support a squatter's claim by demonstrating a commitment to the property akin to that of an owner, it is not a prerequisite for establishing adverse possession under Missouri law. This aligns with the broader legal perspective that emphasizes the physical occupation and use of the property over financial contributions like tax payments.

Other terms to be aware of in adverse possession claims

The concepts of "colour of title" and "holdover tenants" are integral to understanding certain legal aspects of property law and tenancy. They represent two distinct areas within these realms.

Colour of Title

Colour of title is a term used in property law that refers to a situation where someone has a document or deed that appears to give them ownership rights to a property, but due to some deficiency, does not actually convey full legal title.

This could be due to a variety of reasons such as a faulty deed or a clerical error. Having colour of title can be significant in claims of adverse possession, where a person may claim ownership of land not legally theirs by continuously occupying it for a certain period.

In Missouri, while colour of title can strengthen an adverse possession claim by demonstrating the occupier's good faith belief in their ownership, it is not a strict requirement for making such a claim​

Holdover tenants

Holdover tenants, on the other hand, are individuals who continue to occupy a rental property after their lease has expired, without signing a new lease but often with the landlord's tacit consent. This can occur when a lease ends but the tenant remains in the property, and the landlord continues to accept rent payments without formalizing a new lease agreement.

Such situations often default to a month-to-month tenancy under the law, providing both the landlord and the tenant with a degree of flexibility and insecurity. The tenant's right to remain on the property, and the landlord's right to evict, become subject to the less formal, and often more uncertain, rules governing at-will tenancy.

In relation to squatters' rights or adverse possession in Missouri, the key distinction is that holdover tenants had an initial legal agreement to occupy the property, which is not the case with squatters who occupy without ever having permission.

The legal treatment and rights of holdover tenants significantly differ from those of squatters, primarily because their presence on the property began with a legal right that merely extended beyond the original term of the agreement.

6 tips for property owners to deter and prevent squatters

Being proactive is key to safeguarding your property against squatters and maintaining clear ownership, especially when the property is unoccupied. By staying alert, you can establish a solid defense that greatly lowers the chances of squatters moving into your personal property.

  1. Keep a visual record: Owners should make a habit of photographing or filming their property. This visual proof can be crucial in court, showing that no unauthorized changes like landscaping or repairs have been made.
  2. Inspect your property regularly: Checking on your property frequently can help you spot squatters early on. These inspections are vital for demonstrating your active management of the property and for taking quick action against threats if needed.
  3. Connect with your neighbors: Developing a good relationship with neighbors near your property can serve as an informal neighborhood watch system. Neighbors are great for alerting you to any unusual activity or unfamiliar people around your property.
  4. Fortify your property's boundaries: Installing fences and putting up signs (i.e. “Private Property” and “No Trespassing” signs) are simple, yet effective ways to prevent squatting.
  5. Act quickly if squatters are found: If squatters or trespassers are spotted, respond swiftly by consulting with a lawyer and starting any necessary legal actions to remove unauthorized occupants.
  6. Pay property taxes: Paying property taxes promptly can help prevent squatters by proving your legal ownership in the judicial system.

How to get rid of and legally evict squatters in Missouri

If a squatter claims adverse possession of your property, there are specific procedural steps you must follow to effectively reclaim your property and avoid any legal issues. Keep reading to learn how to get rid of squatters in Missouri.

Initiating an eviction process

The first step to remove squatters from vacant properties in Missouri is to begin the eviction process. Missouri does not require a written eviction notice to evict squatters for nonpayment of rent. Thus, if the squatter does not pay rent within a month, the property owner can file an eviction lawsuit with the local court.

To evict squatters for other reasons, such as damage to the property, having too many people on the premises, or prostitution or possession of illegal substances and criminal drug activity, the landlord must issue a 10-day notice to quit.

However, any physical harm caused by the squatter or property damage costs that exceed 12 months' rent can result in immediate eviction filing. If the eviction is granted, a writ of possession will be issued. This is a squatter's final notice to vacate the premises before law enforcement will forcibly remove them.

You can learn more about Missouri's eviction laws here.

Engaging with law enforcement

If a squatter becomes uncooperative, dangerous, or commits illegal acts, you might have to contact local law enforcement. While law enforcement officials may not have the power to remove the squatter without an official court order, they can assist in keeping the peace or investigating any criminal behavior.

Documenting your interactions with law enforcement is highly advised, since this record could be crucial evidence if the situation escalates to the local court.

Legal avenues for reclaiming possession of the property

There is additional legal assistance available to landlords. For example, they may pursue a lawsuit for trespassing, which may be more effective than an eviction.

Missouri, like some other states, assists landlords with a legal disability. If the landowner is under 18 or is considered mentally incapacitated, an adverse possession claim can be delayed. Three years after their disability is lifted, they may reclaim their property or dispute the adverse possession claim.

Regardless of the path you choose to go down to get rid of a squatter, hiring a qualified attorney who specializes in Missouri law may be necessary.

Potential court procedures, costs, and timelines

Land and property owners need to be ready for the possibility of evictions escalating to the legal system and, thus, should familiarize themselves with the associated legal procedures and documents, costs, and potential timelines.

The lawsuit will follow Missouri's distinct legal process, but regardless of the state, the process generally follows three phases: filing the complaint, serving the squatter, and then awaiting a court date. Costs and fees incurred will most likely include filing fees and attorney fees.

Depending on the case's specifics and the court's current caseload, the timeline of the legal process will vary. Taking a proactive approach and being well-versed in Missouri property law can help facilitate an efficient process.

Maintaining and reclaiming legal possession of your Missouri property

Now that you understand squatting laws in Missouri, you're prepared to protect your property from one of the biggest legal obstacles you could face as a landlord. Comprehending the details of adverse possession — the requirement for squatters to occupy the property openly, continuously, and exclusively for 10 years — is vital for understanding the legal landscape and the complexities of squatting in Missouri.

The path to maintaining property ownership is clear: remain alert and proactive. Conducting routine inspections, ensuring rental agreements are up-to-date and clear, and promptly addressing any unauthorized occupancy with the assistance of legal experts are all important steps to deter squatter claims.

By staying informed and prepared, you can effectively protect the legal title of your property and ensure your investment is ultimately successful.

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.

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.

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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