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By Bee Davis
Updated on Apr 8, 2022
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff, Staff Editor.
Under Arizona law, squatters can file for legal possession of a property they’ve occupied for at least 2 years—but they have to show proof of maintenance and have paid property taxes for that whole time.
While living somewhere without permission may sound like straight-up trespassing, there are actually laws in place in Arizona that protect an unhoused person’s right to squat on an unoccupied property.
But it can be a headache for property owners, which is why it’s important to understand squatters' rights if you own land in Arizona.
Lucky for you, the car and home insurance super app Jerry is here to help! In this article, we’ll cover the definition of squatting, when it becomes illegal, and how a squatter might take legal possession of your property after years of residence.
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Who’s considered a squatter in Arizona?
In Arizona, a squatter is anyone who occupies an abandoned, foreclosed or unoccupied building without the owner’s permission. They basically live there rent-free, without a security deposit or documentation.
The federal government has passed squatters laws since the 1850s. These laws not only protect the rights of unhoused people seeking shelter but also draw a clear distinction between legal squatting and illegal acts like trespassing.
Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants
So what is the difference between squatting and trespassing? Basically, it comes down to whether or not the property is occupied and the owner of the property has given explicit permission for people to live there undocumented.
Obviously, if someone moves into your home while you’re still living there, that is trespassing.
It’s also considered trespassing if you’ve explicitly informed potential squatters that they are unwelcome. If you’ve posted signs against trespassing or communicated with squatters directly that they aren’t allowed on the property, anyone who chooses to squat there can be hit with a criminal charge.
However, if the property is unoccupied and the person taking up residence there has no reason to believe they aren’t welcome, it’s not considered trespassing.
What about holdover tenants? Well, if a tenant stays longer than their lease, it could be considered trespassing, unless the owner has given them permission and they continue to pay rent. In that case, they become tenants at will, and it’s up to the owner to decide their next move.
Key Takeaway Squatting becomes illegal once you’ve informed squatters that they’re unwelcome, either through signage or direct communication.
Adverse possession laws in Arizona
What is adverse possession? Adverse possession laws allow squatters to make a legal claim to property that belongs to someone else and potentially transfer that property to themselves.
Basically, if you’ve been living on property you don’t own without permission, taking care of it, and using it the way the owner would for the required amount of time, you can make a claim to the land’s title and have it transferred to your name.
Here are the requirements to make an adverse possession claim in Arizona:
While it sounds ominous, hostile possession just refers to the fact that the individual has been living there without permission from the owner.
This could mean the trespasser doesn't know the land isn’t theirs, but it also covers cases called “simple” or “good faith” occupation, in which the individual isn’t aware that their presence is unlawful.
In order to file an adverse possession claim, the person filing must prove that they have had active control over the property. That means they’ve been maintaining or using the property in the same way the owner would.
This includes landscaping, building maintenance, and routine repairs. Squatters are also required to pay property taxes for a minimum of 2 years in order to have a valid claim.
Open and notorious possession
The squatter has to have been living on the property openly in a way that’s made the owner aware of their presence. If they’ve been hiding on the property, they can’t make an adverse possession claim to the land.
Often, squatting can be a group activity, in which multiple people occupy an abandoned building without permission from the owner.
In order to file an adverse possession claim, the filer must be the only person occupying the space.
Continuous possession refers to the required amount of time someone must be squatting in order to file a claim. The minimum requirement for continuous possession in Arizona is 2 years, far less than other states that can require as much as 20 years of possession to make a claim.
An adverse possession claim is mostly used by landowners to reach a fair conclusion about a forgotten piece of property. For example, if Farmer Bill has been working an acre of Farmer Sam’s land for 15 years thinking it was his, it’s fair of him to want that land transferred to his name.
But adverse possession claims can also be used by squatters who have had continuous possession of a piece of property and taken care of it while they’ve been there.
Key Takeaway Squatters can file to have your property transferred to them if they’ve paid property taxes for at least 2 years.
Does Arizona honor color of title claims?
Some states allow squatters to gain possession of land through “color of title”, meaning without paperwork.
In Arizona, squatters can claim possession through color of title after 3 years of residence.
How to protect yourself from squatters
Although Arizona protects the rights of unhoused citizens to squat in unoccupied residences, there are still legal complications to housing squatters on your property. Here’s how you can avoid the legal headache and keep squatters away.
- Visit often: If you’re away from your property for long periods of time, you may become a target for squatters.
- Install locks and alarms: If you’re not living in your property full-time, a decent security system and locks on all windows and doors can prevent unwanted entry.
- Post “no trespassing” signs: Keep in mind that squatting is only lawful if you’ve not posted your lack of permission explicitly. If you have signs that revoke permission, squatters become trespassers on your property.
- Pay property taxes promptly: Since property taxes are essential to making an adverse possession claim, paying your taxes on time prevents others from moving in on your claim to the property.
If you have squatters on your property, you still have options. You can post a written notice telling them to leave, at which point, their occupation becomes unlawful. You might also offer to rent the property to them. If they refuse to leave or become confrontational, you may have to involve law enforcement.
Another warning—turning off utilities and threatening squatters personally can put you in legal danger. Be sure you’re following the legal channels to keep you and your property safe.
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How long can squatters stay in Arizona?
Technically squatters in Arizona can stay on an unoccupied property until they are explicitly asked to leave. After a residence of 2 years, squatters can make a claim to transfer the property to themselves if they’ve paid taxes and maintained the place.
Do squatters have to pay property taxes in Arizona?
If they want to file an adverse possession claim, yes. Squatters are required to pay property taxes for a minimum of 2 years in order to get the property transferred to themselves.
Is it illegal to squat in a home?
If that home is occupied by lawful residents, yes, it is illegal for squatters to move in. But if the property is empty and they have no reason to believe they’re unwelcome, they are protected under squatter laws.