Colorado Squatter Laws

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Kathryn Mae Kurlychek
Updated on Jul 8, 2022 · 6 min read
Property owners should know their state’s squatter laws to help protect their property from adverse possession claims. In
Colorado
, 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. 
Squatting has a negative reputation in the United States—but you might be surprised to know that it’s legal in many cases. 
Squatter laws vary by state, just as landlord-tenant laws. Squatters are legally protected but must meet certain criteria to gain lawful ownership of a property through adverse possession. If you own property, you should know your state's squatter laws to defend your land against lawful squatters.
Understanding the specifics can get confusing, which is why car and home insurance super app
Jerry
has created a guide to squatter laws in Colorado. In this article, we’ll cover the basics of squatter laws, including what to do and how to protect your property from squatters. 
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Who’s considered a squatter in Colorado?

In 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 gain ownership of such properties. 
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 tenants

So what is the difference between squatting and trespassing? Simply put, the difference lies in whether or not the property is occupied and whether or not the owner has told squatters they’re unwelcome
If a person stumbles across an empty property with no express indication they’re unwelcome there—such as no trespassing signage—then their choice to occupy the property becomes legally sanctioned. 
While trespassing is a criminal offense, squatters maintain certain legal rights that make most squatting cases civil matters. Only after the property owner has made the squatter expressly aware that they’re unwelcome can they then can be treated as a trespasser. 
And what about holdover tenants? In these situations, things are a little different. If a tenant remains on a property after their lease has expired, it’s technically trespassing—unless they continue paying rent and the landlord accepts it, in which case 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. To obtain a property, however, squatters must be able to prove continuous, exclusive, actual, hostile, and open and notorious possession of the property. 
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, however, 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 occupancy 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, or 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 for the legally required amount of time. 
Proof of actual possession can be provided in the documentation of property maintenance, home improvement projects, or other measures of exercising control over the property. 

Hostile possession

While the term “hostile possession” may connote violence or force, in the case of adverse possession claims it 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. 
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. 

Does Colorado honor color of title claims?

“Color of title” is a particularly 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 by following these simple tips: 
  • Visit often: If you’re away from your property for extended periods of time, it’s easier for squatters to take possession. If you have to be away from the property due to events like vacations or military deployment, have 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
If you come to find that your property has been occupied by squatters, you have a couple of options for how to proceed. It’s important to serve a writtennotice as soon as you realize they are present, letting the squatter(s) know they are unwelcome on your property. Conversely, you may choose to offer to rent your property to the squatter(s) instead. 
If neither of these approaches works, you can contact the local sheriff (not the police) 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. 
Some actions—like turning off utilities or threatening squatters personally—can land you in legal trouble.

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FAQs

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 significantly 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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