Michigan Squatter Laws

In Michigan, squatters can make adverse possession claims after 15 years of occupancy, regardless of color of title or whether they pay property taxes.
Written by Kathryn Mae Kurlychek
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Property owners should know their state’s squatter laws to help protect their property from adverse possession claims. In
Michigan
, an individual can claim property through adverse possession after 15 years.
When we hear the term “squatter,” many of us might make negative associations. That’s because squatting has an unfavorable reputation in the United States—but you may be surprised to learn that it’s legal in many cases! 
Squatter laws are regulated by individual states, so they tend to vary from place to place. As a result, it can be confusing to understand adverse possession laws in your area, and what you need to do to protect your property from these sorts of claims. 
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Who’s considered a squatter in Michigan?

The term squatting refers to the occupation of an unused, abandoned, or foreclosed property without legal consent from the rightful property owner. 
Since the 1850s, the US government has passed laws to define squatter’s rights. These statutes make a clear distinction between lawful squatting and illicit actions, like criminal trespassing. 

Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants

The difference between squatting and trespassing depends on whether the property is occupied and whether the squatter(s) know that they’re unwelcome. 
For example, if a squatter takes up residence on your property despite you having “no trespassing” signage posted, then they would be considered a trespasser. But, if you don’t have signs posted, the person might not know the unoccupied land is held by someone else—in which case they are granted squatter’s rights.
While trespassing is a criminal offense, squatters hold particular legal rights that make most squatting cases civil matters. An individual will only be considered a trespasser after the owner of the property has made it clear that they are unwelcome. 
A holdover tenant, meanwhile, is a little different than a squatter or trespasser because they’ve likely already entered into a lease agreement with the property owner. If a tenant continues to live on a property after the lease has expired, it’s technically trespassing—unless the landlord continues to accept rent payments, in which case they become a tenant at will

Adverse possession laws in Michigan

Squatters can gain legal ownership of a property without paying for the land through adverse possession. Adverse possession is the legal principle that directs lawful acquisitions of another person’s property. Each state has its own laws surrounding adverse possession claims, which generally set forth criteria an individual must meet to make a valid suit. 
To be awarded land via adverse possession in Michigan, an individual must prove continuous, exclusive, actual, hostile, and open and notorious possession of a property for at least 15 years.
Exactly what does all that mean? Let’s break it down: 

Continuous possession

Most squatter laws require an individual to possess a property for a certain, uninterrupted amount of time before making an adverse possession claim. This period is known as continuous possession, and in Michigan, it requires that an individual inhabits the property as their primary residence for at least 15 years

Exclusive possession

Sometimes, groups of squatters take up residence on a property together. However, to make an adverse possession claim, an individual must prove exclusive possession of the property, meaning it can’t be shared. 

Actual possession

To prove actual possession, a squatter must show that their presence on the property is active and unhidden from the property owner. For example, a squatter can have records of property maintenance to demonstrate actual possession. 

Hostile possession

While it may sound aggressive, in the context of adverse possession claims the term “hostile” merely refers to land use that goes against the rights of the property owner and occurs without the express permission of the property owner. 
While hostile possession could include circumstances where a trespasser is knowingly occupying a property belonging to someone else, it also encompasses claims of “simple” or “good faith” occupation, wherein the individual doesn’t realize their presence on the property is unlawful.

Open and notorious possession

To gain land via adverse possession claims, an individual must publicly occupy the property in such a way that their presence is easily discerned or knowable. In other words, if someone is intentionally hiding their occupancy of a property, they can’t hope to claim it through adverse possession. 
Key Takeaway In Michigan, adverse possession claims can be made after 15 years, regardless of whether or not a squatter has improved or paid taxes on the property

Does Michigan honor color of title claims?

Color of title is something—usually a written document, but not always—that gives an individual cause to believe they have the right to possess a property when in actuality, it’s not legally valid. An example of color of title is inheriting a property deed or title that’s defective or a family document that incorrectly demarcates property lines. 
In Michigan, color of title does not factor into adverse possession claims. Regardless of whether you possess a color of title, a claim can only be made after 15 years of continuous possession.  

How to protect yourself from squatters

Understanding adverse possession law can be tricky, which is why we’ve included these tips on how to protect your property from squatters: 
  • Visit often: The longer you’re away from your property, the easier it is for others to take up residence. Visit your property often to ensure it’s well-maintained and empty, or have someone you trust stop by and check on the property for you.
  • Secure the property: Lock all doors and windows and seal any other entrances or gates to your property. 
  • Post signage: Posting “no trespassing” signs lets squatters know they’re unwelcome on a property, protecting you from adverse possession claims
  • Pay property taxes on time: Although squatters don’t have to pay property taxes to make an adverse possession claim, paying your property taxes promptly can help establish your rightful ownership of the property
If you do find that your property is being occupied by squatters, you have a couple of options:
You’ll want to serve a written notice as soon as you realize that squatters are present, to let them know they’re unwelcome. Another option is to offer to rent the property to the squatter(s) instead. 
If neither of these solutions does the trick, then you should contact your local sheriff for help vacating the squatter(s) from your property. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to follow the proper legal channels in handling squatters on your property. Making threats or turning off utilities can violate squatter rights and wind up costing you legal trouble. 

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FAQs

In Michigan, a squatter must occupy a property for 15 consecutive years before they can make an adverse possession claim.
No. Squatters in Michigan do not have to pay property taxes to gain lawful ownership of a property via adverse possession.
While squatting is technically illegal, squatters are afforded certain legal protections under Michigan state law, and most squatter cases are treated as civil matters, not criminal ones.
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