Under New Mexico law, squatters can claim adverse possession after 10 years of continuous use, maintenance and improvements. They must also pay any property taxes levied for the duration.
You might be surprised to know that squatting is legal in the United States, and that squatters have some legal rights to entitle them to ownership of the land.
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Who is a squatter according to New Mexico law?
A squatter is someone who occupies a property that has been left unoccupied, abandoned or foreclosed without the expressed consent of the owner.
The US government has outlined laws that differentiate squatters from trespassers, and policy exists that allows squatters to make a legal claim to ownership of the property.
Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants
Squatting is legal in all 50 states, trespassing is not. The main distinction between the two is that squatters have not been informed that they are unwelcome on the property. The other main requirement for squatting to be considered legal is that squatters can only squat on property that is unoccupied.
Informing a potential squatter that they are unwelcome can be done verbally, through signage, or through a written notice.
If someone ignores your no trespassing signs while you are away and moves onto your property, that is considered trespassing. If someone tries to occupy a portion of your land without your permission while you are present on that land, then that is also trespassing.
However, if you leave your property, don’t have any signs posted, and haven’t told the person that they are unwelcome, then they can legally move onto your land or even into your house. If you don’t return to your property, then eventually the squatter can make a claim for ownership.
If a tenant refuses to move out of a rental property after their lease expires, they become a holdover tenant. Landlords in this case have two options: file an eviction notice to start the process of having them removed, or continuing to accept rent, thus returning them to being tenants at will.
Adverse possession laws in New Mexico
If someone starts legally squatting on a property, they can claim ownership through an adverse possession claim, even if the original owner still has legal deeds for the property.
The US government has outlined a handful of requirements that must be met to qualify for adverse possession. Each state has some slight differences and additions to that policy.
In New Mexico, in addition to the federal policy outlined in more detail below, squatters must occupy a property for 10 years continuously, and pay property taxes for the duration of their occupation if they want to make an adverse possession claim.
Squatters cannot claim adverse possession of any land owned by the federal or state government.
Hostile possession means that the squatter doesn’t have permission from the owner to be on the property. There are three situations that are defined under hostile possession:
- Simple occupation covers any situation where the squatter didn’t know who the owner of the property was.
- Awareness of trespassing is the opposite of simple occupation. This covers situations where the squatter knows who owned the property but wasn’t expressly unwelcome.
- Good faith mistakes are a common means of hostile possession and occur when a property owner wants to claim adverse possession of an adjacent property that they honestly thought was a part of their land all along.
This just means that the squatter must be living on the property as an owner of the property would. This is usually interpreted as living on the property and making improvements to it, cultivating it or repairing, maintaining, and renovating it as necessary.
Open and notorious possession
Open possession means that it should be obvious to anyone that someone is living on the property. If, say, the owner investigates their property the squatter must not hide their presence.
Adverse possession claims can only be filed by an individual. The property cannot be split between a group of people, and the individual must meet all of these requirements themselves.
Squatters must have been present on the property continuously for the required time outlined by the state where the property resides. In New Mexico, as mentioned above, 10 years of continuous possession is required.
What is a color of title claim?
Color of title claims are basically claims to land ownership that are missing proper documentation. In other words, they are claims to ownership by irregular means. Color of title can be obtained through adverse possession of land.
How to protect yourself from squatters
If you are going to be vacating your home for a while and are worried about squatters, there are a few precautions you can take to help protect your property:
- If you are planning to leave your property unoccupied for a long period of time, be sure to check it occasionally either yourself, or by asking/hiring someone else
- Installing locks and alarms on any houses or other structures on your property can help to keep squatters out.
- Make it obvious that squatters are unwelcome by posting obvious no trespassing signs around your property.
- Pay property taxes on time. Since paying taxes is a requirement for squatters to claim adverse possession in New Mexico, if you stay on top of your payments, they won’t have a chance to make a claim.
If you do find squatters on your property, the burden of removing them is on the property owner. Start by asking them to leave, and if they refuse you can either offer them tenancy or call the police. Often the police will say it’s a civil matter which means you will have to contact the local sheriff and file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to evict them.
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How long can squatters stay in New Mexico?
If squatters qualify for adverse possession, they can stay on the property indefinitely.
Do squatters have to pay property taxes in New Mexico?
Yes, in order to qualify for adverse possession, squatters have to pay property taxes for the entirety of the time they are claiming continuous possession.