Missouri Squatter Laws

Under Missouri law, a squatter is able to make an adverse possession claim as long as they have lived on and improved a vacant property over the course of ten years.
Written by Andrew Biro
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Updated on Sep 27, 2022
Anyone who owns property in Missouri should become familiar with the state’s laws regarding the legality of squatting. According to Missouri law, squatters are allowed to make an adverse possession claim on property they do not own as long as they have occupied and improved it over an unbroken ten-year period.
Though the practice is looked down on by many, squatting is actually legal in most states and squatters even have their own rights—as long as the proper protocol is followed. While this is good news for people without stable housing, it can spell trouble for folks that own foreclosed and vacant property.
Knowing how to protect your property from squatters is an invaluable skill to have—as is knowing your rights as a squatter—which is why
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Who’s considered a squatter in Missouri?

In Missouri, an individual is considered a squatter if they live on or occupy abandoned, foreclosed, or otherwise vacant property without having legal permission from the person who actually owns it. 
Basically, this means that squatters are anyone who intentionally or unintentionally occupies land or buildings without having the title or lease to them.
This does not, however, mean squatters are entirely illegal or without rights—as far back as the mid-1800s, the United States government has passed laws outlining the rights of squatters, drawing a clear distinction between legal squatting and illegal trespassing.

Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants

Of course, you may be asking yourself what the difference between squatting and trespassing actually is—after all, they sort of seem like the same thing, don’t they? Ultimately, however, the distinction comes down to whether the property is unoccupied and if the original owner has made it clear that squatters are not welcome.
Should a person start living in your home or on your land without your permission, at the same time you are also living there, they will without a doubt be considered a trespasser.
Similarly, if you put up “no trespassing” signs and make it generally known that the property is not a welcome place for squatters, but someone still decides to occupy the land without your permission, they can be charged with illegal trespassing. 
If the property is abandoned, however, and an individual squatting there has no legitimate reason to believe they’re unwelcome, it may not be considered trespassing. 
Holdover tenants, however, occupy more of a legal grey area. Renters who continue to live in an apartment or rental property after the lease has expired can, in some cases, be considered trespassers and charged as such—but if they continue to pay rent and the landlord keeps accepting it, they become tenants at will.

Adverse possession laws in Missouri

While Missouri’s adverse possession laws aren’t very extensive, it is generally recognized that squatters do have the ability to lay claim to a property counter to that of the original owner.  To do so, however, they must openly live on and improve the parcel of vacant property they wish to own for an uninterrupted period of ten years, or else their claim will not be valid.
Further requirements—five in total—are outlined below:

Hostile possession

Though it sounds negative, hostile possession simply means that, despite not having legal permission to live on the property, an individual makes it clear they wish to challenge the original owner’s right to it by making a claim. 
This includes both intentional and unintentional or “good faith” occupations in which the individual is not aware their occupation is illegal.

Active possession

To meet the requirement of active possession, an individual must demonstrate that they have lived on and utilized the property as though they were the owner for a period of at least ten consecutive years. In general, this includes such actions as gardening and landscaping, building a fence, performing maintenance, and making improvements or repairs.

Open and notorious possession

In order to make a successful adverse possession claim, a squatter must live on the property openly and obviously, so that it is apparent to anyone who visits—including the legal owner—that someone is living there. 
A squatter who actively hides their presence will not be able to make a valid claim to the property.

Exclusive possession

If more than one person is squatting on the property, an individual will not be able to make a valid claim as they do not display exclusive possession of the property they wish to own. This also applies to whether or not the property has been used in any capacity by the original title owner during that 10-year period.

Continuous possession

Finally, a squatter must continuously occupy the property they wish to claim for an uninterrupted period of at least ten years—an adverse possession claim will not be valid if the individual’s occupation of the land was broken up into separate periods or chunks of time.

Does Missouri honor Color of Title claims?

Though some states do, Missouri does not require an individual making an adverse possession claim to possess an invalid title or any other document that would give them a reason to believe that they are the legal possessor of the property. 
That said, Missouri will honor Color of Title claims if they are made—they just aren’t necessary.

How to protect yourself from squatters

While squatting is a legal practice in Missouri, there are many ways for property owners to protect their properties—follow these tips to help deter squatters:
  • Install locks and alarms: if you don’t actively live on the property, it is recommended you install set up an alarm system and put locks on all doors and windows to prevent unwanted entry
  • Put up “no trespassing” signs: while they may not seem all that effective, visible signs indicating that squatters aren’t welcome can help prevent a lawful adverse possession claim
  • Visit often: if you rarely ever visit your property and make your presence known, it makes it that much easier for squatters to move in and take possession
If you take these measures to deter squatters and still end up with one, the best course of action will always be to serve them a written notice informing them of your legal ownership and politely request that they vacate the premises
Should this not work and they refuse to leave, you can offer to rent the property out to them or, if all else fails, file an unlawful detainer suit to have them removed from the property.
You should never, however, resort to threatening squatters or shutting off utilities—doing so can seriously jeopardize your case and may even land you in legal trouble.

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