Delaware Squatter Laws

Squatter laws in Delaware allow an individual to make an adverse possession claim if they live on and maintain an unoccupied property for 20 years.
Written by Nicole Salvia
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
squatter laws allow individuals to make an adverse possession claim and gain ownership of an unoccupied property in the state if they live on and maintain it for at least 20 years.
Squatting, otherwise known as adverse possession, is similar to trespassing, but you can actually gain ownership of the property if you meet certain requirements. This can be concerning to property owners, especially if they own property that isn’t their main residence or one they visit too often. 
How does adverse possession work, and how is it governed? Below you’ll find a summary on squatter laws in Delaware and how they might affect you, courtesy of
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Squatting versus trespassing in Delaware

In Delaware, squatting is the act of living on any unoccupied (or presumably unoccupied) property without notifying the owner or legally obtaining ownership of the property. 
In the 19th century, the US government passed federal laws defining squatter’s rights. They were designed to encourage landowners to take continuous care of their property. The laws differentiate between legal squatting and illegal trespassing.

Squatting, trespassing, and holdover tenants

Whether someone is squatting or trespassing depends on whether they’re openly inhabiting and improving the property.
Trespassing occurs when someone takes up residence in your home while you are physically living there and you have not given them permission or you have made it clear that they need to leave.
If there are clear, posted signs prohibiting trespassing or if the property owner has stated to individuals that they’re not welcome to live on the property, any uninvited guests could be hit with a criminal trespassing charge. 
On the other hand, if the property is abandoned and a person living there has not been made aware that they are not welcome, they cannot receive a trespassing charge and qualify as squatters instead.
A third category of people living on a property not officially their own is holdover tenants, or people who continue living in a rental property after their lease has expired. Whether this is considered trespassing depends on the attitude of the landlord.
If holdover tenants continue to pay rent and the landlord accepts the arrangement, they can become tenants at will, or until the landlord makes it clear they must leave. 

Adverse possession requirements in Delaware 

Squatter laws in Delaware allow an individual to make an adverse possession ownership claim on the property in which they have been squatting if they can prove
20 years of continuous use, maintenance, and improvement
to the property. 
To qualify, the possession must be hostile, active, open and notorious, and exclusive and continuous. Let’s break down each of these terms in more detail: 

Hostile possession

Despite how it seems, “hostile possession” doesn’t mean an unfriendly or malicious act. It just means that the possession of the property infringes on the rights of the real property owner
Hostile possession is necessary to make an adverse possession claim. The squatter must occupy the property and act as if they own it.
If the real owner permits the squatter to inhabit the property, then possession is not hostile and the squatter will not be able to make an adverse possession claim. 

Active possession

To fulfill the requirements of an adverse possession claim, the squatter must also demonstrate active control over the property. They need to be living on it and using it as the real property owner would. 
Maintenance, repairs, improvements, and landscaping qualify as active control over the property. 

Open and notorious possession

If the squatter has been secretive about their presence on the property, then they cannot make a claim for adverse possession. 
Instead, they must publicly and honestly (or “openly and notoriously”) make a claim to the property if they want to start an adverse possession claim. 

Exclusive and continuous possession

Finally, Delaware will not recognize an adverse possession claim for a group of people squatting on a property—in other words, you must be the only (or “exclusive”) squatter. You cannot be sharing the property with the original owner, either. 
For your possession to be “continuous,” you must live there for at least 20 years uninterrupted
Key Takeaway An adverse possession claim requires you to prove that you’ve exclusively and openly inhabited the property for 20 years. 

Does Delaware honor “color of title” claims?

Some states honor a “color of title” claim, which does not require squatters to provide paperwork for an adverse possession claim.
Delaware squatter laws do not recognize color of title claims, meaning you’ll have to provide paperwork when making your claim.

How to protect yourself from squatters

Even though there are some legal protections for squatters in Delaware, you still have a right to keep uninvited guests away from your property should you so decide. Here are some basic prevention tips: 
  • Visit often: Don’t leave your property abandoned for long periods. 
  • Install locks, alarms, or security cameras: If you do not occupy your property on a full-time basis, a good security system can protect you from both squatters and vandalism. 
  • Post “no trespassing” signs: Establishing visual proof that squatters are not welcome can prevent an adverse possession claim from occurring. 
  • Pay all property taxes promptly: Pay your property taxes on time to prevent others from doing so in an effort to lay claim to the property. 
If you find yourself in an unwanted situation with squatters, you can do a few things to rectify the situation. First, let them know you own the property they are squatting on with a written notice and ask them to vacate the property. 
If they refuse, you could offer to enter into a rental agreement with them. If the situation gets out of hand, contact your local sheriff’s office or file a lawsuit to evict them from the property. 
Never turn off utilities orthreaten individuals personally. Follow the proper legal channels to have unwanted guests safely removed from your property. 

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Squatters could stay on an unoccupied property in Delaware indefinitely, but if they plan to make an adverse possession claim through Delaware squatter laws, they must live on the property for 20 years and improve the property while there.
Not always. Trespassing is a criminal offense in the United States, but squatting can be legal under certain circumstances if the property is abandoned, unoccupied, or foreclosed and the owner has not established that squatters are unwelcome.
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