A Squatter Could Acquire Legal Rights to Your Hampton Roads Home!
A squatter is someone that resides in a building or a piece of a land that isn’t theirs. It's common for squatters to occupy properties that have been abandoned, foreclosed, or unoccupied.
The state of Virginia, much like many other locations in the U.S., gives squatters certain rights. Through a successful Virginia Adverse Possession claim, a squatter can gain legal ownership of a property without technically purchasing it.
By taking certain preventative measures, you can lessen the risk of a squatter taking control of your Virginia property and claim adverse possession. In this article, you’re going to learn everything you need to know about Hampton Roads squatters’ rights.
Remember that while this article contains plenty of useful information about the rights of landowners in the case of adverse possession, it shouldn't be interpreted as a legal document.
What is Trespassing?
It's fairly common to confuse trespassing with squatting.
A trespasser is someone that knowingly and willingly resides on someone else’s property without permission. A squatter, on the other hand, is someone that knowingly and willingly occupies someone else’s property with the aim of taking possession or legal ownership of it.
Trespassing is criminal in nature, while squatting is a civil matter. To remove a trespasser from your property, you may only need to call the police. However, with squatters, the property owner will need to evict them just as they would tenants. For a full understanding of legal eviction proceedings, be sure to familiarize yourself with Virginia's fair housing legislation.
What Does Color of Title Mean?
Color of Title is a term in property and adverse possession law that refers to irregular property ownership.
In other words, it means that the occupant of the property lacks one or more of the required documents for standard property ownership. In the state of Virginia, a squatter looking to make an Adverse Possession claim needs to have a Color of Title.
Do Squatters Need to Pay Property Taxes in Virginia?
Some states make paying taxes mandatory for squatters seeking to make an adverse possession claim. This isn’t the case in Virginia, however.
So what requirements must a squatter fulfill in order to file an Adverse Possession claim in Virginia?
The Squatter Must Be Physically Living on the Property
Under Adverse Possession rights, actual possession is a requirement to prove adverse possession. Besides physically living there, the squatter must be able to show that they have been maintaining the property as though it were their own. For example, they could show that they've been making improvements and conducting repairs.
The Squatter Must Make their Occupation of the Property Obvious to Anyone
The squatter must not try to hide the fact that they are living on the property if they tend to claim legal ownership through adverse possession. The legal owner should be able to note their squatter's presence on the property.
The Squatter Must Possess the Property Exclusively
Sharing the possession with strangers, other tenants, or even the owner can invalidate their Virginia Adverse Possession claim.
The Squatter Must Have Lived on the Property for At Least 15 Years
In the state of Virginia, it takes 15 years of continuous possession for a squatter to claim a property adversely, which is considerably longer than in some other states.
During this statutory period, the squatter must not have left the property for extended periods of time. Even leaving for a couple of weeks could render their claim null and void.
The Claim Must be Hostile
In legal sense, hostile takes on three different definitions.
Simple Occupation: Most states abide by this definition. It defines hostile as a mere land occupation. The person trespassing does not have to know who that land belongs to.
Awareness of Trespassing: This is the opposite of Simple Occupation. Here, the trespasser must be aware of that they are trespassing on someone else’s property.
Good Faith Mistake: Here, the trespasser is assumed to have made an innocent good faith mistake in occupying the property.
How do you Prevent Squatters from Occupying your Hampton Roads Property?
It's certainly easier to take steps towards discouraging potential squatters from occupying your property than it is to remove them once they've settled in.
The best way to prevent a squatter problem is by placing obstacles in the way of unwanted occupancy in your properties. The following are ways to do just that.
Install a security system: This doesn’t have to cost you an arm and a leg. Nowadays, there are inexpensive systems that can send alerts to your phone whenever someone tries to enter your home.
Block all entrances: Block every window and door. You will also want to make sure that all entrances, including storm doors, garages, or doors are padlocked closed.
Keep tabs on your vacant property: Are you planning to be away for an extended period of time? If so, make sure you hire someone to look after your property. Ideally, hire a local property management company.
Find tenants: Consider renting out your property to prospective tenants. Not only will their presence discourage squatters, but your property will also be generating passive rental income for you. A good property management company can also help you in this regard.
How do you get rid of squatters in Virginia?
Virginia doesn’t have special laws in regards to how one should go about removing squatters. Instead, as a landlord facing a squatting problem, you must follow the judicial eviction process when evicting a tenant.
Here are the steps you must take to ensure your eviction is legal.
Step 1: Eviction Notice
There are three types of eviction notices in the state of Virginia.
- 5-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit
- 30-Day Notice to Cure or Quit
- 30-Day Unconditional Quit Notice
With that in mind, the most relevant eviction notice is the 5-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. In the notice, you must state the amount the squatter must pay in order to stay on the property.
If the squatter doesn’t pay all due rent after 5 days, you can move to court and seek their removal.
Step #2: Court Hearing
After moving to court, a hearing will be scheduled. Both you and the squatter will be provided an opportunity to present your cases. In some cases, the squatter may choose to fight the eviction.
However, in most cases, a squatter won’t have much legal defense to sustain a case and the judge will rule in the favor of the landowner.
Step #3: Removal of the Tenant
Even after a successful court hearing, you must not try to evict the squatter on your own. It’s illegal and the squatter may even sue you.
The only person mandated by law to carry out an eviction is a sheriff or a constable. If the squatter doesn’t leave on their own volition after the ruling, the sheriff or constable will move in and evict them on your behalf.
Do you need help with an eviction? If so, Rent Easy can help. We provide rental management services in Hampton Roads and the surrounding areas with exceptional results.