Montana Squatter Laws

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Matthew Lynaugh
Updated on May 2, 2022 · 6 min read
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If you own property in Montana, understanding squatter laws may be more important than you think. According to Montana's adverse possession law, squatters can make a legitimate claim on your property after five years of continuous occupancy, maintenance, and property tax payment.
You might not immediately think about squatting as a legal practice, but surprisingly this is not the case. This can either be seen as good news for those with unstable housing, or a legal nightmare for those who own unoccupied property.
Thankfully, Jerry, the top-rated car and renters insurance app, is here to break down the squatter laws in Montana. We’ll cover the basics of the legality of squatting, the requirements to make an adverse possession claim, and how to protect yourself and your property from squatters in the Treasure State.
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Who’s considered a squatter in Montana

In Montana, a squatter is an individual who occupies a foreclosed, abandoned, or unoccupied property without lawful permission. 
The US government has been passing laws to define squatter’s rights since the 1850s. These laws were designed to create clear guidelines between legal squatting and illegal trespassing.

Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants

The difference between squatting and trespassing all boils down to whether the land is unoccupied and whether the owner has clearly expressed that squatters are not welcome. 
Trespassing is when a person or group takes residence in an occupied property without permission and a claim to the property, but there are signs clearly prohibiting any entering. Any individual that still enters the property can be charged with criminal trespassing.
If the property is unoccupied, however, and the individual living there has not expressly shared in any way that others are unwelcomed, it may be considered squatting—and a trespassing charge won’t stick.
Holdover tenants, on the other hand, are tenants who refuse to leave a property after their lease has ended. If the landlord continues to allow the tenant to make rent payments, they become a tenant at will. However, if the landlord tells the tenant to leave, they will not be able to make an adverse possession claim, and will instead be considered a criminal trespasser. 

Adverse possession laws in Montana

Montana’s adverse possession law allows an individual to make a legal claim on an owner’s property if they meet certain requirements.
To qualify, the individual must occupy the neglected property for five years, pay property taxes on it, and continually maintain and improve it in a transparent and public manner. The purpose of these laws is to combat properties from becoming idle and dilapidated. They also have to meet the following requirements: 

Hostile possession

Contrary to what the name suggests, hostile possession does mean the property was taken forcefully. Instead, it is when a property is overtaken without the owner’s knowledge and permission. This also covers cases of what the law refers to as “simple” or “good faith” occupation—in which the individual doesn’t realize their occupation isn’t lawful. 

Actual possession

A squatter must have active control over a property to make an adverse possession claim. This means they would have to live and use the property as an owner would, including performing general maintenance and routine upkeep.

Open and notorious possession

The squatter must occupy the property in a transparent and obvious way—enough so that onlookers could determine that the property was being occupied. If the individual is attempting to hide their possession of the property, an adverse possession claim will not be granted.

Exclusive possession

Montana will not recognize an adverse possession claim if the occupancy of the land is shared amongst multiple individuals. The adverse possessor must claim exclusive possession of the property and occupy it continuously for five years to make a legitimate claim. The squatter may also not share the property with its lawful owner.

Continuous possession

The squatter must be in continuous—not intermittent—occupancy of the property for five years. During those five years, they must routinely maintain the land and pay any taxes levied against it.
Many states require continuous occupancy for 20 years—so squatter’s rights in Montana are stronger than in most other parts of the country
Key Takeaway A permissible adverse possession claim has numerous requirements such as five years of continuous residence, improvement, and property tax payment.

Does Montana honor color of title claims?

Color of title means that the owner of the property is missing some of the documentation required for ownership. Some states require color of title for an adverse possession claim, but it is not required in Montana. Color of title claims also will not decrease the necessary continuous occupancy timeline—five years is required.

How to protect yourself from squatters

Although squatters are granted some legal rights in Montana, you can protect yourself and your property from squatters’ legal disputes by using these simple tips: 
  • Visit often: The more frequently you are at the property, the less likely it can be occupied by someone else. 
  • Install locks and alarms: If you’re not living on your property full-time, consider investing in a security system and locks to deter individuals from squatting. 
  • Post “No Trespassing” signs: If squatters occupy your property with clear signage present, they can be charged with criminal trespassing. 
  • Pay property taxes promptly: If you pay your property taxes, that means squatters can’t—and if squatters can’t pay your property taxes, they can’t make an adverse possession claim. 
In Montana, there are not any specific provisions in place to remove squatters from your property—instead, you must legally evict them. Squatters can dispute an eviction, but history shows that most of these cases favor the landowner. 
After the eviction is granted by the court, the sheriff will deliver a Writ of Possession, which acts as the squatter’s final notice to vacate the premises. It is important to note that the sheriff is the only person who can forcibly remove a squatter. Any eviction matters taken into the hands of the property owner can result in a lawsuit.

How to find affordable home and car insurance in Montana 

Now that you have a better understanding of squatter law in Montana, it’s time to understand just how much you can save on insurance with Jerry.
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FAQs

Montana law states that an individual must continually occupy a property for five years to make an adverse possession claim. Regular upkeep and payment of property taxes are also required.
Squatting is when a claim to the land is made on unoccupied property with the intention of owning it after a certain amount of time. Trespassing is when residency is taken on land that is occupied, or on a property where it is clearly stated that outsiders are not welcome.

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