The Complete Guide to Squatters' Rights: Missouri

This detailed guide will provide you with the knowledge needed to protect your Missouri property from squatters. From understanding the nuances of adverse possession to implementing strategies to deter squatting, you'll gain the critical information required to navigate and tackle one of the biggest legal hurdles landlords encounter.

By
Rachel Robinson
|
Last Updated
February 9, 2024
The Complete Guide to 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 consent 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

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.

Indiana does not require squatters to have a "Color of Title" to make an adverse possession claim. Squatters are also not required to pay property taxes to make an adverse possession claim.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

6 tips for property owners to prevent adverse possession

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 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, 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.

Special provisions or exceptions

In addition to understanding Missouri's standard adverse possession laws, it's also important to have insight into unique property regulations and exceptions. We explore a couple of those laws below.

Different rules for government-owned land

Government-owned land or structures follow a unique set of regulations and are subject to more complex laws than private properties. While squatters might try to claim ownership of vacant property through adverse possession, taking legal ownership of a government property through this process is often very challenging, if not outright impossible. This is because one would need to occupy the government property continuously for a decade.

Property boundaries

Unclear property boundaries can create legal issues for Missouri landlords. Property neglect resulting from unclear boundaries or a lack of awareness is an invitation to squatters looking to gain ownership of the land or structure through adverse possession. Demarcating property lines is crucial for preventing squatters from fulfilling the criteria needed to make a successful adverse possession claim.

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 crucial 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.

Missouri squatters' rights FAQs

What's the difference between holdover tenants and squatters?

Also known as a "tenant at sufferance," a holdover tenant is a renter who continues to occupy a rental unit longer than the length of the lease agreement. These tenants can remain on the premises with the property owner's consent.

If the landlord issues a notice to vacate and the holdover tenant doesn't leave within the notice period, they may face legal repercussions. A notice to vacate voids the holdover tenants' ability to make an adverse possession claim, as they are now considered trespassers.

What are the adverse possession requirements in Missouri?

To make a successful adverse possession claim, squatters in Missouri must occupy a property or land for at least 10 continuous years. However, the occupation of the property must also meet five additional requirements: continuous, actual, exclusive, and open and notorious possession.

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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