New Mexico property owner, it’s important that you understand squatter laws and how they could affect you. Squatters in New Mexico are able to make a legal claim to a property after living on it for ten continuous years and paying property taxes on it.
Squatting on an abandoned, foreclosed, or simply uninhabited property or piece of land for a significant amount of time sounds like it should be illegal—but federal law has made this act legal since the late 1850s.
The legal avenues for squatters to obtain ownership are called adverse possession laws, and this article from insurance
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Who’s considered a squatter in New Mexico?
New Mexico identifies a squatter as someone who inhabits a building or parcel of land without the knowledge and lawful permission of the legal owner. Squatters are defined differently than trespassers and are not held to the same legal standards.
Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants
The differences between squatters, trespassers, and even holdover tenants can be subtle, so let’s go over what defines each of them.
Squatters take up a permanent residence in an abandoned or otherwise vacant building or property without the permission of the lawful owner.
This sounds like it could be trespassing, but what makes squatters different is that they may not have explicitly known that they were not welcome. If there is nothing telling them that someone else lives in or owns that property, they can’t know for sure.
Entering another person’s property becomes trespassing when there are signs of ownership, such as “no trespassing” signs or the household members visibly inhabiting the space.
Holdover tenants are rental tenants that have refused to move out of their unit after their lease expires. If they keep paying rent, their landlord may allow them to stay, in which case they’re tenants at will (i.e., at the landlord’s will) and can be evicted at any time without notice.
If they don’t pay rent or the landlord doesn’t accept their rent, the holdover tenants could then be considered trespassers.
Adverse possession laws in New Mexico
In New Mexico, squatters have legal avenues to claim title to a property that was originally owned by someone else. These adverse possession laws allow for the transfer of ownership as long as the squatters meet certain criteria.
New Mexico squatter laws state that someone must be continuously living on the property for ten years while paying property taxes the entire time before they can be considered for any type of adverse possession.
Here are the characteristics of the possession that would entitle a person to make an adverse possession claim. All characteristics must be met.
Hostile possession, though it sounds aggressive, simply means that someone is occupying the property with or without the legal permission of the original owner.
This can apply to someone who is aware that someone else owns the property or someone who thinks they are the lawful owner of the property due to a forged deed or fake rent agreement.
Squatters can claim active possession if they physically inhabit the property and treat it as if it is their own home, including making repairs or improving the building or land.
Open and notorious possession
Open and notorious possession applies to squatters that do not try to hide their residence and instead live on the property in an obvious way. Neighbors and passersby must be able to tell that someone is living there.
This one is pretty easy: the squatter must be the sole person inhabiting the property. The squatter cannot be sharing the property with another group of squatters or with the original owner.
Continuous possession can be invoked if the squatter and/or their descendants have been continuously living on the property for a certain amount of time.
Continuous possession in New Mexico requires that squatters taking up residence of a property do so for ten continuous years, during which time they must also pay property taxes.
Key Takeaway Adverse possession laws in New Mexico require squatters to have been inhabiting the property and paying property taxes for ten years.
Does New Mexico honor color of title claims?
A color of title claim is a claim to a property without one or more of the necessary documents of ownership.
New Mexico honors and even requires you to make a color of title claim when declaring legal ownership through adverse possession.
How to protect yourself from squatters
Property owners can find themselves in a legal bind if their property gets taken over by squatters, leaving them at risk of losing their ownership.
While limited squatters’ rights exist in New Mexico, it’s not difficult to make sure your property stays yours. Make sure to:
Visit often: Spotting early signs of squatting will make it easier to deal with the issue. If you’re geographically close to your property, stop by regularly to check the place out. If you’re not close, ask a neighbor to keep an eye out for you.
Install added security: Window locks, alarm systems, reinforced door frames—these are all extra security measures you can take to stop squatters from entering the building in the first place.
Post “no trespassing” signs: If there is obvious signage or signals that someone else owns this property, like “no trespassing signs”, squatters that make it onto your property can then be considered and dealt with as trespassers.
If squatters make it onto your property before you can do anything to stop them, there are some steps you can take before it gets far enough along that they can claim legal ownership.
A good first step would be to hand them an official notice that states your ownership and requests that they leave. You could also offer to rent the place out to them or get the police involved if you’re having further trouble.
If they refuse to leave and are able to make a claim of possession on the property, you will have to navigate the appropriate legal channels during their claim.
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