Colorado Squatter Laws

Colorado allows squatters to claim possession in 7-18 years depending on whether they have a color of title and have been paying property taxes.
Written by Kathryn Mae Kurlychek
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
, a squatter can make an adverse possession after 18 years of continuous occupancy, or after 7 years if they have a color of title and are paying property taxes. Property owners should know their state’s squatter laws to help protect their property from adverse possession claims.
  • Colorado law allows adverse possession claims after 18 years of continuous occupancy, or after 7 years if the squatter has a color of title and is paying property taxes.
  • Adverse possession claims require squatters to meet certain criteria, including continuous, exclusive, and actual possession.
  • To protect property and your property rights from squatters, property owners should visit often, keep it secure, post no trespassing signs, and pay property taxes on time.

Colorado squatters: What you should know

In the State of Colorado, squatting refers to the occupation of an unused, abandoned, or foreclosed property without legal consent from the rightful owner. The unlawful tenant is known as a squatter, and under certain conditions, squatters can claim legal ownership of the property.
Since the 1850s, the US government has passed laws to define squatter’s rights. These laws make a clear distinction between legal squatting and illegal acts, like criminal trespass. 

Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenancy

The difference between squatting and trespassing lies in whether the property is occupied and whether the owner has told squatters they’re unwelcome. 
  • Squatting is a civil matter: If a person stumbles across an empty property with no express indication they’re unwelcome—such as no trespassing signage—they have a legal right to occupy the property. 
  • Trespassing is a criminal offense: If someone knowingly enters or occupies a person’s property without consent, they then can be treated as a trespasser. 
  • Holdover tenants who do not pay rent are technically trespassing: If an unauthorized tenant remains on a rental property after their lease has expired, it’s technically trespassing. However, if they continue paying rent and the landlord accepts it, they become a tenant at will. 

Adverse possession laws in Colorado

Adverse possession refers to the legal acquisition of someone else’s property, usually through squatting. The legal process for obtaining a property requires squatters to prove their possession of the property is and has been:
  • Continuous
  • Exclusive
  • Actual
  • Hostile
  • Open and notorious
What does all this mean? Let’s break it down: 

Continuous possession

In Colorado, a squatter must reside on a property for at least 18 years before they can make an adverse possession claim. If the squatter has been paying taxes and has a color of title (which we’ll discuss below), this period is reduced to only 7 years. 
Without proof of continuous occupation of the property, a squatter cannot make an adverse possession claim.

Exclusive possession

Exclusive possession means that the squatter must not share possession of the property with any other:
  • Tenants
  • Owners
  • Squatters 
If you have, say, a group of squatters all living and occupying the property together, they could not claim adverse possession.

Actual possession

Actual possession (also known as active possession in some states) refers to the squatter’s physical presence on the property. 
To claim adverse possession, an individual must be able to prove they have been present at and occupying the property like the actual owner would for the legally required amount of time. 
Proof of actual possession can be provided with documentation of:
  • Property maintenance
  • Home improvement projects
  • Other measures of exercising control over the property 

Hostile possession

While the term “hostile possession” may seem violent, in the case of adverse possession claims a hostile claim simply refers to the fact that the squatter is occupying the property without express permission from the rightful owner. 
While it could include cases where the trespasser is aware that the property belongs to someone else, it also covers cases of “simple” or “good faith” occupation, where the individual doesn’t realize their occupation isn’t lawful. 

Open and notorious possession

Open and notorious possession—also known in some states as “visible possession”—simply refers to the visibility of the squatter’s presence on the property. 
To acquire property through adverse possession, the squatter cannot hide their occupancy. It must be obvious to others, including those who attempt to make reasonable investigations of the property, that the squatter is living there. 
Adverse possession certainly applies to residential real estate, but it can also sometimes apply to commercial buildings—though such instances are rare.
Key Takeaway An adverse possession claim requires squatters to meet certain conditions, including residence on a property for at least 18 years and proof of their occupancy. 

Colorado color of title claims

“Color of title” is an especially important term in Colorado’s squatter laws, as having it means the time period in which a squatter must occupy a property before making an adverse possession claim is significantly lower.
In Colorado, color of title must be a written document that expresses the squatter has a good faith belief in their claim to the property. With color of title (and all property taxes paid), squatters can make an adverse possession claim after just 7 years. 

How to protect yourself from squatters

Although squatters enjoy certain legal protections in Colorado, you can protect yourself and your property from squatters if you
  • Visit often: If you have to be away from the property for an extended period of time due to events like extended vacations or military deployment, have a property manager or someone else check on the property in your absence.
  • Secure the property: Lock doors and windows and seal any other entrances to your property. 
  • Post signage: Having “no trespassing” signs on the property helps let squatters know they’re unwelcome and protect you from adverse possession claims.
  • Pay property taxes on time: Paying your property taxes promptly can help establish your rightful ownership and make sure squatters can’t claim your property after 7 years.

How to remove squatters from your property

If you come to find that your property has been occupied by squatters, homeowners have a couple of options for how to proceed with the eviction process:
  • Serve a written notice as soon as you realize they are present, letting the squatter(s) know they are unwelcome on your property and they must vacate within a specified period. 
  • You may also choose to offer to rent your property to the squatter(s) instead. As with the notice to vacate, you might give the squatter a 10-day notice to pay.
If neither of these approaches works, you can contact law enforcement for assistance removing the squatters from your property. Whatever you choose to do, be sure to follow the proper legal channels in addressing and removing squatters from your property. 
Keep in mind: Some actions—like turning off utilities or threatening squatters personally—can land you in legal trouble.
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To make an adverse possession claim, squatters must remain continuously on a property for 18 years. However, if they’re paying property taxes and possess a color of title, squatters can make a claim after just 7 years.
No. Paying property taxes is not a requirement for squatters in Colorado. However, doing so can help reduce the amount of time required for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim.
Squatting is technically illegal, despite the legal protections afforded to individual squatters. Most squatting cases are handled in civil court, however, and are not considered a criminal offense.
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