Hawaii Squatter Laws

Hawaii squatter laws allow an individual to make an adverse possession claim if they live on, maintain, and pay taxes on an unoccupied property for 20 years.
Written by Kara Vanderbeek
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
, squatting is considered illegal, unless an individual has taken residence on an unoccupied property and paid taxes for such property for twenty years.
Despite the common perception that squatting is akin to breaking and entering, squatters are not always criminally charged. In fact, squatters in the Aloha State have the right to claim possession of unoccupied properties in certain circumstances. 
To give you a detailed breakdown of what’s considered illegal residency,
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super app
has created a guide to squatter laws in Hawaii. We’ll discuss the difference between squatting and trespassing, the requirements for an adverse possession claim, and run through some helpful tips for protecting yourself from squatters. 
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Who’s considered a squatter in Hawaii?

In Hawaii, a squatter is anyone who occupies an abandoned, unoccupied, or foreclosed property without lawful permission. Squatters don’t own the property within which they’ve chosen to reside, and consequently, they do not have the obligation of rent payments. Despite this, squatting is not necessarily illegal.

Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants

Although the two are very similar, trespassing is a criminal offense, whereas squatting is usually handled as a civil matter. In essence, if a property owner has made it known that trespassers are unwelcome and no proof of occupation is produced, squatters will be criminally charged
Although squatting in Hawaii is illegal, if a property is unoccupied and the squatter has no reason to assume they’re unwelcome, they’re not necessarily squatting. To hold a squatter criminally responsible, property owners must indicate that trespassers are unwelcome on their property.
In cases of holdover tenancy, tenants refuse to vacate the property upon the termination of their lease. Consequently, tenants will be considered trespassers. Keep in mind, however, that if their landlord continues to accept rent payments, they’ll be considered tenants at will.

Adverse possession laws in Hawaii

Adverse possession laws were first implemented to encourage property owners to make beneficial use of their land and continue to maintain and inspect their properties. 
Under these “squatters' rights laws”, trespassers can gain the title to the property if they have resided at and maintained the property for an extended period. 
In Hawaii, squatters must publicly reside on the property for at least 20 uninterrupted years and pay property taxes. To claim land under the adverse possession law, the occupation must meet the requirements outlined below.

Hostile possession

To claim adverse possession, a squatter must be aware that they’re illegally trespassing, occupying the land, or making a good-faith mistake that their property ownership documents are invalid. 

Active possession

Squatters must maintain active possession of the property. The squatter must treat the property as their own, and perform landscaping, property improvements, maintenance, and repairs to the property as needed. 

Open and notorious possession

Squatters cannot meet the claim requirements unless they have made their presence at the property known and obvious to others. In other words, the act of trespassing cannot be a secret. 

Exclusive possession

In some cases, squatters congregate and share property. However, to qualify for an adverse possession claim, squatters must be the sole occupant of the property and cannot have used the property while other people—including the actual owner—have occupied it.

Continuous possession

Most importantly, Hawaii will only recognize an adverse possession claim if the squatter has been in continuous possession of the property for twenty years. Even if the individual only left the property for a few weeks over the twenty-year period, the claim will be invalidated.
Key takeaway An adverse possession claim in Hawaii requires twenty years of continuous residence, use, or improvement, along with twenty years of property taxes. 

Does Hawaii honor color of title claims?

Ownership under ‘color of title’ refers to such instances when the legal documents required to demonstrate property title are defective. Squatters can be granted “color of title” in Hawaii in two instances: 
  • The successful completion of an adverse possession claim
  • A good-faith mistake in occupying the property (i.e., the occupant was unaware that they had an invalid deed)

How to protect yourself from squatters

Squatters can be a headache for property owners. Luckily, getting rid of squatters in Hawaii isn’t as challenging as in other states, as the law always recognizes it as illegal trespassing if there is no valid lease.
Nevertheless, squatters can produce false documentation to law enforcement, in which case, you may have to deal with a legal eviction process.
To protect yourself from the potential legal challenges that squatters may bring, use the following tips:
  • Regularly visit your property and check for squatters
  • Secure your property with steel fittings, alarm systems, and durable locks
  • Post a ‘No trespassing. All trespassers will be prosecuted’ sign on your property
  • Have neighbors check on your property when you’re out of town and maintain a physical presence on the property as much as possible
  • Pay property taxes on time to prevent others from laying claim to your property

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After a property owner has provided notice to the squatters that they must evict the property, the squatter must move out after the expiry of the notice period. If the squatter has not moved out, the matter should be taken to court.
Squatters must pay property taxes for twenty years to gain legal ownership of a property in Hawaii.
In most cases, squatting is considered a criminal offense. However, if a squatter takes residence in an abandoned, unoccupied, or foreclosed property and the owner has not established that squatters are unwelcome, trespassing is technically legal.
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