Squatters Rights: How to Handle Squatters in Massachusetts

Squatter rights in MA

Discovering a squatter on your property can incite a whirlpool of emotions: shock, confusion, and even fear. Most property owners feel violated and want to take action ASAP – but they also know that squatters have rights.

But how extensive are these rights? After all, you own the home. How can a stranger possibly have a claim on your property?

Don’t panic; in this article, we’ll guide you through what you need to know to start taking meaningful action to evict squatters and gain back possession of your home. Let’s get started.

What is a squatter?

A squatter is someone who lives on a property without the legal right to do so. This could be a piece of land, a building, or even a house, that they neither own nor rent. A squatter hasn’t received permission from the owner to stay there, but they’ve moved in and set up residence anyway.

What’s the difference between a squatter and a trespasser?

The main difference between a squatter and a trespasser lies in their intent and duration of stay.

A trespasser is someone who enters or stays on a property without the owner’s permission, often for a short duration. Trespassing is usually considered a criminal act, and a trespasser can be arrested or sued by the property owner. Trespassers typically have no intention of staying on the property for an extended period or claiming it as their own.

On the other hand, a squatter is also someone who enters the property without the owner’s permission but does so with the intent to live there for a long time. Squatting is often seen as a civil matter rather than a criminal one, making it more complex to deal with from a legal perspective.

What’s the difference between a squatter and a holdover tenant?

A holdover tenant is someone who was once legally allowed to occupy the property because they had a lease or rental agreement with the landlord. When their lease or rental agreement ends, they continue to live there without the landlord’s agreement, essentially “holding over” past the expiration of their legal right to stay. While the landlord can decide to accept rent and continue the tenancy, they can also begin eviction proceedings to remove the holdover tenant. A holdover tenant differs from a squatter because a squatter never had a legal right to occupy the property in the first place.

Can squatters claim ownership of your house?

Yes, squatters can potentially claim ownership of a property through a legal principle known as “adverse possession.” However, this is certainly not easy to do – it’s not a case of finding an empty house you like and moving in. Adverse possession laws vary greatly from state to state, but in Massachusetts, the required period of continuous possession is 20 years.

What is adverse possession?

Adverse possession is a legal principle that allows a person to gain ownership of a property, without purchasing it, after occupying it for a certain period (20 years in Massachusetts). The purpose of this principle is to ensure the maximum use of land and to provide for its administration and protection when the true owner fails to do so.

However, simply squatting on a property isn’t enough to gain legal ownership through adverse possession. There are specific requirements, which vary by jurisdiction, but typically include the following:

  1. Hostile Claim: The squatter is occupying the property without permission from the owner. “Hostile” doesn’t mean aggression; it means the absence of the owner’s consent.
  2. Actual Possession: The squatter is physically present and treats the property as if they were the owner.
  3. Open and Notorious Possession: The squatter doesn’t hide their possession. It should be obvious to anyone that the squatter is residing there. The neighbors should be so familiar with them that they would have no idea they were squatting.
  4. Exclusive and Continuous Possession: The squatter isn’t sharing possession with others and lives on the property for an uninterrupted period. In Massachusetts, this must be 20 years.
  5. Payment of Property Taxes: In some states, the squatter must have paid property taxes on the land for a certain period of time, but this is not the case in Massachusetts.

If all these conditions are met, the squatter can make a claim for legal ownership of the property. If successful, the title of the property changes hands, even if the original owner did not consent to the transfer.

Can I evict squatters? How do I do so in Massachusetts?

Yes, in Massachusetts, as a property owner, you have the right to evict squatters, but the process involves certain legal steps. Here’s a general guide to how you might handle this situation:

Optional: Talk to Locals and Call the Police

When you suspect or discover squatters, first try to (safely) figure out how long they’ve been there and what kind of people they are. If they are not residing in the house as if they own it (i.e., are living out of boxes in an empty room or similar), you can call the police.

The police may consider it a civil matter (and thus be unable to do anything), but if the person or people inside appear to have broken the law by entering the property recently, they may be able to move the people out of the home.

If it is a civil matter because the person or people there have been there for some time, and are living in the home as if it is their own, you’ll need to proceed with a formal eviction, rather than calling the police for a quick fix.

Give a Notice to Quit

Massachusetts law requires landlords to provide a 7 to 30-day “Notice to Quit” before eviction proceedings can begin. (7 days is the minimum, and 30 days is usually supplied to tenants that have overstayed their lease term.) This might seem strange since the squatter is not a legal tenant, but providing this notice is an important part of the legal process. This notice informs the squatter that they are living on the property illegally and must leave.

File a Summary Process Action

If the squatter doesn’t leave after receiving the Notice to Quit, you will need to go to court and file a summary process action, which is the legal term in Massachusetts for an eviction lawsuit. A judge will set a date for a hearing. At the hearing, it will be necessary for you to prove that the squatter has no legal right to live on your property.

Eviction by a Sheriff

If the court rules in your favor, the court will issue an execution which is the final eviction notice. In Massachusetts, only a sheriff or constable can forcibly remove the squatter. You as the landlord cannot physically remove the squatter yourself.

Get Legal Help

Remember, laws can vary and legal proceedings can be complex, so it’s a good idea to consult with an attorney or a legal expert in your area to help guide you through this process.

It’s crucial not to take matters into your own hands, as attempting to physically remove the squatter yourself as you may put yourself in harm’s way or get yourself into legal trouble. Note that you cannot take actions such as changing the locks or turning off the utilities prior to formal eviction, as this is illegal.

You Are Not Powerless

Dealing with squatters can be a challenging and time-consuming endeavor. It can be particularly frustrating if the property in question is causing you more trouble than it’s worth. If that’s the case, remember: you have options.

We understand that sometimes, the best solution is to part ways with a problematic property. That’s why we offer a simple, straightforward solution for homeowners in Massachusetts. We buy homes for cash, regardless of their condition. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your property, whether it’s due to squatters, disrepair, or any other issue, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We can walk you through your options and provide you with a cash offer for your home. By choosing this route, you could bypass many of the hassles associated with traditional real estate sales and, of course, any ongoing squatter issues. Your peace of mind is invaluable, and we’re here to help restore it. Click here to learn more about our process or to get a cash offer for your home.

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