In Connecticut, an individual can claim property through adverse possession after 15 years of continuous occupancy.
When we think of “squatting,” we tend to picture criminals and trespassers co-opting another person’s property—but you may be surprised to learn that squatting is legal in many cases in the U.S.
Squatting is residing in an abandoned or foreclosed property without the owner's permission. Like landlord-tenant laws, each state determines its own laws and regulations for handling squatters.
If you own property, you should know your state's squatter laws to protect it from adverse possession claims. That’s why car and home insurance super app
Jerry has created a guide to squatter laws in
Connecticut—continue reading to learn more.
Who’s considered a squatter in Connecticut?
In Connecticut, squatting refers to living in an unused, abandoned, or foreclosed property without legal consent from the rightful property owner. The unlawful tenant—or squatter—can eventually obtain rights to a property after using and maintaining it for a certain amount of time. In Connecticut, this time period is 15 years.
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
What makes squatting different from trespassing, anyways? The main difference between squatting and trespassing lies in whether or not the property is occupied, and whether or not an individual knows they are unwelcome by the property owner.
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? A holdover tenant is different than a trespasser or a squatter since they have entered into a lease agreement with the property owner. If a tenant remains on a property after their lease has expired, it can be considered trespassing—unless they continue paying rent and the landlord accepts it, in which case they become a tenant at will.
Adverse possession laws in Connecticut
Adverse possession refers to the legal concept of acquiring someone else’s property. In Connecticut, a squatter can make an adverse possession claim of a property they have occupied for at least 15 years, so long as they can prove continuous, open, exclusive, and actual possession of the property.
But what do all those terms mean, and how can they be proven? Let’s break it down:
To claim adverse possession of a property, an individual must live on and maintain the property for a continuous amount of time. This exact timeframe varies by state—in Connecticut, it's 15 years.
Under certain circumstances—
such as a landowner with a legal disability—this timeframe can be 20 years or longer. In Connecticut, there are a number of privately- and publicly-owned lands which can never be acquired through adverse possession, regardless of how long an individual has lived there, including railroads, railways, and non-profit-owned land.
Exclusive possession means that an individual must be the sole possessor of the property. Sometimes, squatting can be a group activity, wherein several people take up occupancy of a property together.
In these cases, the property cannot be acquired through adverse possession—an individual must prove they possess the land exclusively.
Actual possession refers to an individual’s physical presence on the property. In other words, a squatter must live on and maintain the property for at least 15 years in order to be granted adverse possession.
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.
The concept of open possession refers to the visibility of an individual on the property. It must be clear and visible (if not obvious) to outsiders that the property is being maintained—in other words, the squatter can’t intentionally hide their presence on the property.
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 “simple” or “good faith” occupation, wherein the individual doesn’t realize their occupation isn’t lawful.
Key takeaway An adverse possession claim requires squatters to meet certain criteria, including providing evidence of continuous, open, actual, and exclusive possession of the property
Does Connecticut honor color of title claims?
A “color of title” refers to a document that purports some claim of ownership over particular land or property—even if it’s not entirely valid. Commonly, color of title claims may involve a title or deed that appears legitimate but is actually (for one reason or another) defective.
In cases of adverse possession, a color of title claim can be filed only after the successful completion of an adverse possession claim. Without color of title, a squatter may only gain legal rights to limited swaths of the property they’re occupying.
How to protect yourself from squatters
Although squatters enjoy certain legal protections in Connecticut, 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, it’s easier for squatters to take possession, so visit as often as possible. 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 to make it harder for squatters to gain access.
Post signage: Putting up “no trespassing” signs on and around your property helps let squatters know they’re unwelcome and protects you from adverse possession claims
Pay property taxes on time: While squatters in Connecticut don’t need to pay property taxes to claim adverse possession, paying your property taxes can help establish your rightful ownership of the property
If you find your property has become occupied by squatters, you have a couple of options. It’s important to serve a written notice as soon as you realize squatters are present, letting the squatter(s) know they are unwelcome on your property. This notice prevents squatters from making adverse possession claims now or in the future 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 your 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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