Squatters' Rights NY: A Guide For Property Owners

Did you know that in New York, squatters can gain legal rights to live in a property? Discover the surprising reality of squatters' rights, the challenges property owners face in dealing with them, and the steps to protect your property from unwanted occupants.

Nichole Stohler
Last Updated
March 21, 2024
Squatters' Rights NY: A Guide For Property Owners

In New York, squatters can gain legal rights to live in a property after occupying it for a certain period of time. This is known as adverse possession, and it's a surprising and concerning reality for property owners. Imagine discovering that unwanted people have moved into your property without your knowledge or consent. Even more alarming is the fact that these squatters could potentially gain legal rights to stay there, making it a lengthy and costly process to remove them.

Squatting, otherwise known as adverse possession, is a frequently misunderstood aspect of real estate law. This guide will help you understand everything you need to know about the state of New York squatters' rights and adverse possession laws. We'll cover real estate property claims, what gives squatters legal rights, the steps to remove them properly, and how to prevent them from taking up residence in the first place.

If you own property and are looking to understand your rights and responsibilities, this article will give you the information needed to take appropriate actions under New York property law.

Who are squatters?

Squatters are people who occupy a property without the owner's consent or the legal right to do so. This situation can happen intentionally or unintentionally. Common scenarios that qualify as squatting include:

Intentional squatting

Intentional squatting can take two primary forms. The first involves gaining unauthorized entry to a vacant, abandoned, or foreclosed property and residing there without the owner's permission. For example, a person might break into an empty house and start living there without the owner's knowledge or consent.

The second scenario involves a renter who becomes a holdover tenant by staying on the property after the lease term has ended. Originally a legal tenant, they no longer pay rent and live in the unit without the landlord's consent.

Unintentional squatting

Unintentional squatting can happen when someone enters a property with permission but stays beyond the agreed-upon time frame. For instance, a person might be allowed to stay in a friend's apartment for a month, but they end up remaining there for several months without the friend or landlord's ongoing consent.

Another form of unintentional squatting happens when a person mistakenly believes that a portion of someone else's land belongs to them. Acting on this belief, they may decide to build barriers, such as fences, around the area they think they own.

Is squatting different from trespassing?

Yes, squatting and trespassing are different. Trespassing is always illegal, as it involves entering someone else's property without permission.

If you trespass, the owner can immediately call the police to have you removed as a criminal violator. Squatting initially starts as a civil matter between the squatter and the property owner. Squatters seek to claim legal possession of abandoned properties through specific laws. If they meet certain criteria and follow the required legal processes, a squatter can potentially gain ownership rights to the property.

Why do squatters have rights?

Squatters have rights in New York under the legal principle of adverse possession. This allows individuals who openly occupy and maintain a property for a specific period to potentially gain legal ownership, even if they initially entered illegally.

The state of New York created adverse possession laws to seek productive use of land, prevent neglect by owners, and promote efficient land use. These laws also help resolve ownership disputes when the original property owners are absent or neglectful for an extended period while a squatter maintains the property.

Squatters' rights in New York

To make a successful adverse possession claim in New York, a squatter must meet the following requirements:

Open and notorious possession

The squatter's occupation of the property can't be a secret or hidden from the owner or the public. Their presence and use of the property have to be open, visible, and obvious to anyone who might take notice.

Hostile possession

The squatter cannot have the owner's permission to be on the property through a rental, lease agreement, or other arrangements. Their possession must be "hostile" to the rights of the true property's owner.

  • Awareness of trespassing: The squatter must be aware that they are trespassing and occupying the property without the owner's permission.
  • Simple occupation: Just being present on the property isn't enough. The squatter has to treat the property as if it's their own. They need to take reasonable steps to maintain and improve it. This could involve repairs, landscaping, or even making renovations.
  • Good faith mistake: In some cases, a squatter might have a genuine, good-faith belief that they have a legal right to be on the property, maybe due to an invalid deed or some other mistake. This could help their claim as long as they still meet the other requirements.

Continuous possession

They need to maintain a continuous presence on the property for the entire statutory period required by New York law, which is 10 years for residential properties and 20 years for vacant land.

Exclusive possession

During their time as squatters, they must have exclusive possession and control over the property. They can't be sharing it with the true owner or anyone else.

Actual possession

The squatter needs to have actual physical possession and control of the property. Simply claiming ownership without actually occupying and using the land is not enough. They have to treat it as their own, living on or actively using the property in a way that shows their possession.

Color of title

A squatter must also show proof of color of title. Color of title means that the squatter has a document or deed that appears to give them legal ownership of the property, even if the document is invalid or defective. This could be a faulty deed, an incorrect property description, or a document from someone who didn't actually have the right to transfer ownership.

Payment of property taxes

During the time they occupy the property, squatters must also pay the property taxes associated with it. This demonstrates their claim to ownership and helps support their case for claiming adverse possession.

How does a squatter claim squatters' rights in New York?

If a squatter has fulfilled the requirements for the state of New York squatter's rights, they can make an adverse possession claim. This process includes:

Quiet title action: A legal process that allows a squatter to claim the right of possession and ownership of a property through adverse possession. To succeed in a quiet title action, a squatter must prove they have fulfilled the specific requirements set by New York law.

Evidence gathering: To support their claim, squatters must collect various pieces of evidence, such as:

  • Mail addressed to the property in their name.
  • Receipts proving that they pay property taxes.
  • Evidence that they've maintained or improved the property.

Filing a complaint: After gathering enough evidence, the squatter files the quiet title complaint with the appropriate court. This legal document initiates the process of seeking to establish ownership through adverse possession.

Hearing: After filing the complaint, the squatter must attend a hearing before a judge, where the property owner will also be present. During this hearing, the squatter will present their case, providing evidence and arguments to demonstrate that they have met all the criteria for adverse possession.

Judgment: If the squatter fulfills all the requirements and convinces the judge, the judge will issue a judgment granting adverse possession. This judgment perfects the title and establishes the squatter's legal ownership of the property. But winning an adverse possession case can be challenging, as the squatter must provide evidence to satisfy the strict standards set by New York's squatters' rights laws.

How do you prevent squatters from accessing your property?

There are strategies you can take as the legal owner of the property to prevent squatters from accessing your property:

Regular inspections

Check your property frequently to identify any signs of unauthorized entry or squatting early on. Regularly visit your property to monitor its condition and detect potential activity before it escalates into a squatter situation.

Maintain an inhabited appearance

Even when the property is vacant, create the impression that it is occupied to deter squatters from targeting it. Keep some furniture out or leave a radio playing inside the property to give the illusion that someone is living there.

Secure the property

Implement physical security measures to restrict unauthorized access to the property. This can include installing adequate lighting and a security alarm system, making sure that all doors and windows have sturdy locks and barriers to make it more difficult for someone to enter the property, or posting "No Trespassing" signs around the property to show that unauthorized entry is prohibited.

Build relationships with neighbors

Seek the help of nearby residents to keep an eye on your property and report any suspicious activities. Notify local law enforcement about the vacancy to encourage increased patrols in the area, further deterring potential squatters.

Hire a property management company

Hire a property manager to maintain and oversee the property until legitimate tenants or buyers occupy it. Property management companies have experience in maintaining vacant properties and can regularly check for any signs of squatting. They can also manage the process of removing squatters if discovered on your property.

Use temporary occupancy

Keep the property occupied, even if just for storage purposes, to make it less inviting to squatters. You could use the property for storage, occasional visits, or even short-term rentals.

How to evict a squatter in New York

If you discover squatters on your property in the state of New York, follow proper legal procedures for eviction proceedings. Here are the typical steps:

  1. Consult with a real estate attorney: Seek legal advice from an experienced real estate attorney. They can guide you through the eviction process to make sure that you follow the correct procedures and protect your rights.
  2. Serve a ten-day notice to quit: The property owner serves the squatter with a ten-day notice to quit, informing them to vacate the property within ten days.
  3. File a Petition for Special Proceedings: If the squatter remains, the property owner files a Petition for Special Proceedings with the appropriate court system to initiate the eviction process.
  4. Obtain a summons: The court issues a summons, served by the sheriff, requiring the squatter to appear in court.
  5. Attend the court hearing: Both parties present evidence supporting their claims of ownership or right to occupy the property at the court hearing.
  6. Obtain a warrant for possession: If the court confirms the property owner's legal ownership, it issues a warrant for possession, giving the squatter 14 days to vacate.
  7. Request the sheriff's assistance: If the squatter doesn't leave within 14 days, the property owner can request the sheriff's assistance to forcibly remove them.

Squatters rights in New York State

Understanding the laws surrounding squatters' rights in New York can help you protect your property. It's rare for someone to take ownership of your property by squatting unless you completely neglect it for years without noticing someone has moved in.

Take a proactive approach and implement practical strategies to protect your property. Regularly inspect your property, maintain an inhabited appearance, and keep it secure. Build relationships with neighbors, consider hiring a property manager, and use temporary occupancy to help deter unauthorized occupants.

If you are dealing with squatters, be sure to follow the proper legal procedures for eviction. Consulting with a real estate attorney, serving the appropriate notices, and attending court hearings help to protect your rights as a property owner while following New York's laws.

New York State squatters' rights FAQs

How do I claim adverse possession in NY?

To claim adverse possession in New York, you must occupy the property continuously for 10 years, openly, notoriously, exclusively, and under a claim of right, without the owner's permission. Then, file a legal action in court to claim ownership.

What are tenants' rights in NYC?

Tenants in New York City have various rights, including the right to a habitable living space, the right to be free from discrimination, the right to reasonable privacy, and the right to organize tenant associations.

Tenants also have protections against excessive rent increases and unjustified evictions, depending on their rental agreement type.

What is the burden of proof for adverse possession in NY?

In New York, the burden of proof for adverse possession lies with the person claiming ownership of the property. The proof must demonstrate that their use of the property was clear, notorious, and uninterrupted during that period.

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.

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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