Iowa Squatter Laws

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Andrew Biro
Updated on Jun 27, 2022 · 7 min read
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Any person owning property in Iowa should understand and be familiar with the state’s laws regarding squatting. Under Iowa law, squatters may make an adverse possession or title of color claim on a property after ten years of continuous and active use.
While many hold it in contempt, squatting is a perfectly legal practice in many states, as long as it is done correctly—good news for those without a stable housing situation, but bad news for folks who own vacant and unoccupied property.
Knowing how to protect your property from squatters—and, conversely, knowing your rights as a squatter—can be challenging, which is why licensed home and auto insurance super app Jerry has put together this guide on navigating squatter laws in Iowa.
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Who’s considered a squatter in Iowa?

In Iowa and across the nation, someone is considered a squatter if they occupy a foreclosed, abandoned, or otherwise unoccupied property without express permission from the person who owns it. Essentially, squatters are people who occupy buildings or land without a lease or title to them.
Squatters are not, however, without their rights—ever since the mid-1800s, the U.S. government has passed laws defining the rights of squatters, making a clear distinction between illegal trespassing and legal squatting.

Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants

Now, you may be wondering what exactly the difference between trespassing and squatting is—after all, they sound fairly similar, right? Ultimately, however, the difference between the two comes down to whether the property is occupied and if the owner has clearly expressed that squatters are unwelcome.
If a person starts living in your home without your permission, while you are also living there, that is clear-cut trespassing.
In the same vein, putting up clearly defined signs against trespassing and making it known that people are not welcome to stay on your property will usually land a trespassing charge against anyone who continues to squat on your land. If the property is abandoned, however, and an individual living there have no reason to believe they’re not welcome, it may not be considered trespassing.
Holdover tenants, on the other hand, are more of a grey area. If a tenant continues to occupy an apartment or rental property after their lease has expired, it can be considered trespassing—but if they keep paying rent and the landlord continues to accept it, they become tenants at will.

Adverse possession laws in Iowa

Under Iowa state laws regarding adverse possession, squatters are allowed to lay legal claim to a property counter to the original owner’s. To qualify for adverse possession, however, the individual must be able to prove at least ten years of maintenance, improvement, and continuous use, while also paying property taxes and meeting the five requirements outlined below.

Hostile possession

Though it sounds a bit extreme, hostile possession essentially just means that the individual doesn’t have legal permission to live on the property, but is still set on making a claim against the original owner’s right to it. This includes cases of both willful, intentioned squatters as well as “good faith” occupations in which the individual is not aware their occupation is unlawful.

Active possession

For an individual to make a successful adverse possession claim, they must be able to demonstrate active possession over the property, meaning that they live on it and utilize it as an owner would. This generally includes such actions as landscaping, maintenance, and making improvements or repairs.

Open and notorious possession

A squatter cannot, however, make a valid adverse possession claim if they have been actively hiding their presence on the property. If they have been living there openly, on the other hand, they have some basis for a successful claim.

Exclusive possession

In some cases, several squatters—such as a group of homeless or unhoused individuals—may occupy unused property together. Iowa courts, however, do not recognize these circumstances as valid when making an adverse possession claim—possession of the property must be exclusive to an individual over the course of ten years.

Continuous possession

Finally, an individual must be in continuous possession of the property for an uninterrupted period of at least ten years, during which time they must have been paying any taxes—be they state, municipal, or county—levied against the property.
Key Takeaway To make a valid adverse possession claim, an individual must be able to prove they have been openly living on, using, improving, and paying taxes on an unoccupied property.

Does Iowa honor Color of Title claims?

While not all states do, Iowa does honor Color of Title claims or claims that do not necessarily require squatters to provide all the paperwork associated with an adverse possession claim.
The following are examples of ways in which a person may be deemed to have a valid Color of Title claim:
  • Purchaser (in good faith) at judicial or tax sale, regardless of whether the seller had the authority to make the sale 
  • Uninterrupted occupancy for five years
  • Occupancy and improvements, of which the original owner had knowledge of (no five-year requirement)
  • Occupancy and payment of taxes, without an offer of repayment by the rightful owner (no five-year requirement)
  • Occupancy under state or federal law or contract for at least three years

How to protect yourself from squatters

Though squatting is legal in Iowa, property owners are perfectly capable of protecting themselves and their property from squatters by following these simple tips:
  • Install locks and alarms: For properties you don’t permanently live in, it is recommended you install locks on all doors and windows or set up a decent security system to prevent unwanted entry
  • Put up “no trespassing” signs: Though it may seem a passive measure, visible signs indicating squatters are unwelcome can help prevent a lawful adverse possession or color of title claim
  • Visit often: The longer you’re away from your property, the easier it is for squatters to move in and take possession
  • Pay property taxes promptly: Given their role in making a lawful color of title claim, it is essential to pay your property taxes on time to help prevent others from establishing a claim to your property
In the event that you still end up with squatters attempting to take possession of your property, the best course of action is to inform them via written notice of your legal ownership and respectfully ask them to leave. If they persist, you can offer to rent out the property or, if all else fails, file an unlawful detainer suit to remove them from your property.
You should never, however, resort to such drastic measures as threatening squatters or turning off utilities—both actions can land you in hot water legally.

How to find affordable home and auto insurance in Iowa

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