A Guide to Squatters' Rights in Oregon

This article outlines the nuanced legal framework of squatters' rights in Oregon, emphasizing the complex conditions under which squatters can claim adverse possession, including actual, open and notorious, exclusive, hostile, and continuous possession for 10 years. It serves as a comprehensive guide for property owners and landlords on protecting their rights and navigating these legal complexities.

By
Gemma Smith
|
Last Updated
March 14, 2024
A Guide to Squatters' Rights in Oregon

The term "squatter" might evoke images of homeless individuals temporarily occupying abandoned buildings, but the legal reality is far more complex and nuanced. A squatter, in legal terms, is someone who occupies land or property without the owner's permission.

While this might seem like a straightforward issue of trespassing, under certain conditions and over time, squatters can also gain legal ownership rights to the property they occupy through a concept known as adverse possession. This principle allows individuals to claim ownership of land without purchasing it, provided they meet specific criteria laid out by the law.

In Oregon, as in other jurisdictions, the requirements for adverse possession are designed to ensure that only those who have demonstrably treated the property as their own in a consistent, open, and legal manner can lay claim to it.

Understanding these requirements is essential for property owners, landlords, and real estate investors to safeguard their property rights and navigate the complexities of real estate ownership.

Requirements for adverse possession in Oregon 

Adverse possession is a legal concept allowing someone to claim land ownership under certain conditions without purchasing it. This principle is recognized in various jurisdictions, including Oregon, and has specific criteria that must be met. 

Understanding these criteria is particularly important for property owners, landlords, and real estate investors to protect their property rights. Below, we discuss the basic requirements for adverse possession in Oregon.

1. Actual possession: Demonstrating control over a property

For adverse possession to be considered, the person claiming ownership (often referred to as a squatter) must demonstrate actual possession of the property. This means they are utilizing the land in a way that a typical owner would. 

Examples of actual possession include building structures, making improvements, or cultivating the land. To meet this criterion, the squatter must treat the property as their own in a physical, visible, and tangible manner.

2. Open and notorious possession: Visible presence that cannot be ignored

Possession must be open and notorious, meaning it is visible and apparent to anyone, including the rightful owner, that someone is occupying the land. This visibility acts as a sort of notice to the actual owner that someone is claiming the property. 

Signs of open and notorious possession could include fencing in the area, posting signs, or otherwise making improvements that are clearly visible and unhidden. The key aspect is that the squatter's presence and actions on the property are made openly, without any attempt to conceal them.

3. Exclusive possession: Excluding others from the property

Exclusive possession requires that the squatter possesses the property to the exclusion of others, including the rightful owner. This means the squatter does not share control, possession, or use of the property with the owner or the public. 

For instance, locking gates, posting "no trespassing" signs, or otherwise taking actions to keep others out demonstrate exclusive possession. The squatter must act as the sole owner of the property, using it without sharing access with others.

4. Hostile possession: Possession without the landlord's consent

Hostile possession is a bit of a misnomer, as it doesn't necessarily involve overt aggression or conflict. Instead, it refers to the squatter's possession of the property without the legal owner's permission. 

The term "hostile" is used in a legal sense to mean that the possession is against the rights of the true owner. It's not about the squatter's attitude but rather the fact that the possession was not consented to by the legal owner of the property.

5. Continuous possession: Maintaining presence over time

In Oregon, the law requires that the squatter maintain continuous possession of the property for a period of 10 years. This means the squatter's possession must be uninterrupted for the entire duration. 

Short-term absences might not necessarily disrupt the continuity of unauthorized occupation, provided the squatter maintains control over the property and intends to return. This continuous possession ensures that only those seriously asserting ownership over a significant period can claim adverse possession.

Understanding these elements is crucial for anyone involved in real estate, particularly in Oregon, to recognize the signs of adverse possession and take appropriate actions when necessary. For landlords and property managers, staying informed about who occupies your property and how it's being used is essential.

Do squatters have to pay property taxes in Oregon?

In Oregon, paying property taxes is not mandatory for squatters to claim adverse possession rights. While a squatter's payment of property taxes can potentially strengthen their claim by demonstrating a level of responsibility and investment akin to that of a property owner, it is not a legally required element of a standard adverse possession claim under Oregon law.

What is Color of Title?

Color of Title refers to a legal concept that indicates a person has a document or documents that give the appearance of having a valid claim to ownership of property, but for some reason, the documentation is not legally adequate to confer actual ownership.

Essentially, it means something in the chain of title (the history of ownership) is flawed or incomplete, preventing the title from being perfect or fully clear. This might be due to a variety of issues, such as clerical errors, improper conveyance, or a failure to record a deed properly.

Despite its deficiencies, Color of Title can still have significant legal implications. For instance, in the context of adverse possession, having Color of Title can sometimes reduce the amount of time the claimant must possess the property before claiming ownership. This is because Color of Title demonstrates an attempt by the possessor to deal with the property as the rightful owner, even if their claim is not legally perfect.

Color of Title thus represents an interesting intersection of law and fact where the appearance of ownership does not equate to actual legal ownership. However, it can still have substantial legal effects under certain circumstances.

Who is not classed as a squatter?

A squatter is someone who occupies an unused or abandoned property without the legal permission of the owner. However, not everyone who lives in an abandoned or unoccupied property without the owner's explicit permission is considered a squatter. Here are a few examples of individuals who aren't squatters:

  1. Tenants holding over: These are tenants who remain on the property after their lease has expired. While their original right to occupy the property was based on a valid lease, staying beyond this period without the owner's consent does not make them squatters but rather holdover tenants subject to different legal considerations.
  2. Guests: Individuals who have been invited to stay on the property by the legal owner or a tenant with the authority to extend such an invitation are guests, not squatters. Their occupation of the property is based on the consent of someone with legal rights to the property.
  3. Trespassers: While squatters and trespassers enter or stay on the property without the owner's permission, trespassers typically do not attempt to claim ownership or establish long-term residence on the property. Trespassing is often a temporary and criminal intrusion.
  4. Renters under a verbal agreement: Individuals who rent property based on a verbal agreement with the owner are not squatters. They have entered into a landlord-tenant relationship based on the verbally agreed-upon terms, even if there's no written lease.

Understanding these distinctions is important for property owners and landlords, particularly when determining the appropriate legal actions to manage their properties.

Procedures for landlords to challenge squatters

Now we have discussed exactly how squatters can claim their rights, let's take a look at the procedures to challenge squatters in Oregon:

Legal avenues available for reclaiming possession

Property owners have several legal avenues to reclaim possession of property from squatters. One effective method is to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit, which is a legal action to regain possession of the property.

Additionally, issuing a Notice to Quit serves as a formal notice to the occupant, indicating illegal occupancy and the owner's intent to regain possession. Understanding and adhering to Oregon's specific laws regarding eviction notices and procedures is crucial throughout this process.

This approach ensures that the property owner acts within the legal framework and streamlines the process of removing squatters and reclaiming property rights.

Potential court procedures, costs, and timelines

Navigating the legal process to challenge squatters and reclaim property involves understanding potential court procedures, associated costs, and timelines. Once the notice period provided to the squatter expires, property owners must file a complaint of forcible detainer with the court. This legal filing starts the formal court process.

Following the filing, a trial is typically scheduled within 15-30 business days, during which the property owner is expected to present evidence and possibly witnesses to substantiate their claims against the squatter. It's important for property owners to meticulously prepare their case, including gathering all pertinent documentation and evidence, to ensure a strong legal standing.

Adhering to proper legal procedures and effectively meeting all designated deadlines throughout this process is vital for a successful outcome in eviction lawsuits. This disciplined approach, combined with a thorough understanding of Oregon's laws on squatting and eviction processes, equips landlords with the necessary tools to challenge squatters and regain possession of their property effectively.

Engaging with local law enforcement

When dealing with squatters, property owners must refrain from taking self-help actions, such as changing the locks, which could complicate the situation further. Instead, property owners should engage in legal processes and work with local law enforcement to address the issue.

This approach ensures that squatter removal is conducted in accordance with the law, maintaining the integrity of the eviction process and avoiding potential legal repercussions for the property owner.

Preventing adverse possession: Essential tips for landlords

In light of the legal framework surrounding adverse possession in Oregon, it's crucial for landlords and property owners to proactively safeguard their properties against the risk of losing ownership through adverse possession claims. 

By understanding the basic requirements of adverse possession laws, landlords can implement strategies to protect their property rights. Here are practical tips to help landlords prevent adverse possession:

Regular inspection of the property

Frequent and thorough inspections of your property are essential. These inspections can help you identify any unauthorized use or occupancy early on. Establishing a routine inspection schedule ensures that you stay informed about the condition and usage of your property regularly, allowing you to address any issues promptly.

Documentation and photographic evidence

During inspections, document your findings and take photographs as evidence of the property's condition and usage. This documentation can be invaluable if you need to demonstrate your ongoing involvement and control over the property, especially in legal situations. 

Keep detailed records of your property management company's activities, including maintenance, repairs, and any interactions with tenants or unauthorized occupants.

Engaging with neighbors

Neighbors can be your eyes and ears when you're not on-site. Building a good relationship with them can encourage them to alert you to any unusual activities or occupations on your property. 

Neighbors who are aware of your property boundaries and your expectations regarding its use are more likely to notice and report suspicious behavior.

Proper fencing and signage

Clear physical boundaries, such as fencing and visible signage, can deter unauthorized access and use of your property. Signs that indicate private ownership and prohibit trespassing help reinforce your property rights and can serve as a legal safeguard. 

Ensure the fencing and signage are well-maintained and clearly visible to anyone approaching the property.

Prompt legal action against unauthorized occupants

If you discover unauthorized occupants on your property, taking legal action is crucial. Consult a real estate attorney to understand your options and identify the best course of action. 

Early legal intervention can prevent squatters from meeting the continuous possession requirement needed to make an adverse possession claim.

Does Oregon allow for tacking?

Yes, Oregon allows for tacking in the context of an adverse possession case. Tacking refers to the legal principle that allows successive occupants with a claim of adverse possession to combine their consecutive periods of possession. This is done in order to meet the required statutory period for an adverse possession claim, which is 10 years in Oregon.

The implications of tacking for landlords are significant. It means that a current occupant can potentially claim ownership of a property through adverse possession by adding their period of possession to that of a previous occupant, as long as the transition of possession between occupants is done in a manner recognized by law (e.g. through a written conveyance). This continuity of possession is essential for the tacking principle to apply.

For landlords, this underscores the importance of regularly monitoring and managing their properties to prevent unauthorized occupancy. It also highlights the need for clear and well-documented transitions of legal possession among tenants or between landlords and tenants.

Benefits of legal counsel

Consulting with an attorney specializing in real estate law can benefit landlords, especially when navigating the complexities of adverse possession or property boundary disputes. Here are several reasons why legal counsel is advantageous:

  • Expert guidance: Real estate attorneys offer expert guidance on state-specific laws and regulations, ensuring landlords comply with all legal requirements. Their expertise in adverse possession can be invaluable in preventing potential claims and addressing any claims that arise.
  • Dispute resolution: Attorneys can provide strategies for dispute resolution that avoid costly and time-consuming litigation. They can represent landlords in negotiations and mediations, aiming for amicable solutions that protect the landlord's interests and maintain neighborly relations.
  • Litigation support: If a dispute escalates to litigation, having an attorney with experience in real estate law is crucial. They can navigate the court system effectively, present a strong case on behalf of the landlord, and work towards a favorable outcome.
  • Document and record management: Legal counsel can help ensure that all property documents and records are in order, which is vital for defending against adverse possession claims. This includes ensuring that property deeds, boundary surveys, and tenant agreements are accurate and up-to-date.
  • Preventative measures: An attorney can advise on preventative measures to protect against adverse possession, such as properly documenting and addressing trespassing or unauthorized use of the property. They can also help draft clear, comprehensive leases that include provisions to prevent tenants from making adverse possession claims.

Protecting your property from squatters in Oregon

Adverse possession presents a unique intersection of law and real estate, serving as a reminder of the importance of vigilant property management and awareness of property law for landlords and property owners in Oregon.

The criteria for adverse possession — actual, open and notorious, exclusive, hostile, and continuous possession — form a legal threshold that, while protecting the rights of long-term occupiers, also underscores the necessity for property owners to manage and monitor their property rights actively.

For landlords, implementing practical measures such as regular property inspections, clear fencing and signage, and maintaining good relationships with neighbors are essential strategies to prevent unintended adverse possession claims.

Moreover, given the complexities and potential legal ramifications of adverse possession, engaging with professional legal counsel is prudent for navigating disputes or unclear situations regarding property rights. Legal professionals can offer valuable guidance, from preventive advice to litigation support, ensuring property owners' interests are protected effectively.

In the dynamic landscape of real estate, understanding and addressing the nuances of adverse possession in Oregon is not just about safeguarding assets; it's about ensuring the integrity and stability of property ownership in the face of evolving legal interpretations and societal norms.

Squatter's right Oregon FAQs

How long does it take to evict a squatter in Oregon?

The eviction process for a squatter in Oregon can vary, typically ranging from a few weeks to several months. This timeline depends on the legal proceedings involved, including serving the eviction notice, filing an unlawful detainer lawsuit, and obtaining a court order for eviction.

How do I claim squatters' rights in Oregon?

To claim squatters' rights or adverse possession in Oregon, an individual must possess the property openly, notoriously, exclusively, and continuously for a period of 10 years. The possession must also be hostile, meaning without the owner's permission. Legal documentation and proof of these conditions must be provided to claim ownership.

Can police remove squatters in Oregon?

Yes, police can assist in removing squatters in Oregon, but typically only after the property owner has obtained a court order or an eviction notice. Without a written notice or a legal directive, police intervention may be limited to addressing any immediate criminal activities.

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.

Gemma Smith

With 7 years in property management, Gemma serves as a key content strategist at Azibo.com. While excelling in writing, editing, and SEO, she also enhances Azibo's social media presence. Passionately, Gemma educates others to make informed real estate investment decisions in the ever-changing market.

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