Virginia Squatter Laws

Under Virginia law, squatters are allowed to make an adverse possession claim if they live on and maintain an unoccupied property for 15 continuous years.
Written by Lindsey Hoover
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
If you own property in
, staying informed on squatter laws could protect you from receiving an adverse possession claim. In Virginia, a squatter can file a claim if they live on the property for 15 continuous years while maintaining it. 
Owning a piece of property is a great investment, but doing so comes with a well of responsibilities. From property taxes to state-specific laws, the amount of information you need to know can be overwhelming. One type of law that is often overlooked is squatter laws.
Not sure what your state’s squatter laws are?
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Who’s considered a squatter in Virginia?

In Virginia, a squatter is a person who resides in an unoccupied, abandoned, or foreclosed building or land without permission from the property’s owner.

Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants

The difference between squatting, trespassing, and holdover tenants is subtle, but it's information you’ll want to know. We’ll take a deeper dive into the definition of each below, but the main difference lies in whether an individual takes occupancy in an uninhabited or inhabited residency and whether or not the property owner has communicated to the individual that they’re unwelcome.
A squatter is an individual who takes up residency in a vacant piece of property without the permission of the property owner. On the other hand, a trespasser is someone who enters your land or property without permission. 
Wondering how you can let others know they are unwelcome on your property? Try posting “no trespassing” signs—doing so could help you in court, should it come to that. 
What is a holdover tenant? A holdover tenant is a renter who has decided to remain on a property after their lease has expired. The tenant can legally occupy the property if the landlord continues to accept rent payments. If this happens, the individual becomes a “tenant at will,” and can be evicted at any time—the individual is now legally on the property at your will.
However, if the tenant decides to opt-out of paying, you have the right to serve a notice. Once you serve notice, the individual is no longer considered a holdover tenant but a criminal trespasser

Adverse possession laws in Virginia  

In Virginia, an adverse possession claim allows squatters to legally possess a property. However, Virginia law states a squatter must reside on the property continuously for at least 15 years and meet five legal requirements. During the claim process, a squatter is no longer considered a criminal trespasser and can legally remain on the property. 
Below you’ll find the five legal requirements necessary for a squatter to make a claim.

Hostile possession

While hostile sounds malicious, when it comes to adverse possession laws, the term doesn’t involve ill intent. Essentially, “hostile” means that the individual claiming possession of a piece of land believes that they are the true owner of the land, not the property owner. Under Virginia  law, hostile has three definitions: 
  • Simple Occupation refers to when a squatter doesn’t know the land belongs to someone. 
  • Awareness of Trespassing is when a squatter or person is aware they are trespassing and unwelcome on the property. 
  • Good Faith Mistake refers to when a squatter is unaware of the property’s status. 

Actual possession

Actual possession laws were enacted in the Homestead Act of 1862. They state that an individual may come into possession of a piece of property if they’ve lived on the property for a certain amount of time. The required length of time will vary from state to state, but all states require that the individual must make improvements to the property during their occupancy. 

Open and notorious possession

Open and Notorious is a shorthand way of saying that a squatter must make it known that they live on a piece of property. This is essential for filing an adverse possession claim. If the squatter attempts to hide their presence, they won’t be able to establish a lawful claim. 

Exclusive possession

Under Virginia law, a squatter isn’t permitted to share the property in question with anyone else, including strangers, tenants, or even the landowner. Doing so will prevent the squatter from being able to file an adverse possession claim. 

Continuous possession

A squatter has to remain on a property continuously for 15 years to file an adverse claim. If a squatter leaves at any point during their occupation, they lose the right to file a claim. 
One thing to note: If you are legally considered a disabled person (under the age of 18, imprisoned, or legally incompetent), an adverse possession claim can’t be brought against your property. However, a claim can only be put off for 25 years
Key Takeaway Virginia law won’t allow an individual to establish an adverse possession claim if they have not continuously lived on the property for 15 years and did not attempt to improve it. 

Does Virginia honor color of title claims?

In Virginia, a squatter must have a “color of title” when making an adverse possession claim. 
A color of title means the owner of the property is missing at least one legal document, memorial, or registration. Without the correct paperwork, it makes it easier for a squatter to lay claim. 

How to protect yourself from squatters

Protecting your property from squatters could save you from a lengthy legal battle down the road. Below we’ve listed some tips on how to keep unwanted visitors on your land:
  • Post “no trespassing” or “private property” signs around your property.
  • Visit often to catch evidence of squatters as soon as possible.
  • Install a security system to ensure there are no trespassers on your property. 
  • Ask neighbors to keep an eye on your property.
  • Serve a written eviction notice if someone is residing on your property without permission. 
  • Contact the sheriff to have the squatter removed. 
  • Get legal help from an attorney if any of the above doesn’t work. 
Refer to the
Virginia limitation laws
for more information on how to prevent someone from making an adverse possession claim on your land or home. 
If you’re seeking to remove a squatter from your property, you’ll need to begin the process of an eviction. Virginia has several eviction notices property owners can serve to a squatter, the most common being a 5-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. This means the squatter must pay the amount outlined by you (within five days) to remain on the property. If they fail to do so, you can file an eviction with the county court.
Other common eviction notices include: a 7-Day Notice to Quit (for week-to-week tenancies) or a 30-Day Notice to Quit (for month-to-month tenancies). Both are used for when a tenant stays on your property after their lease has ended.
Should a squatter remain on the property, both the property owner and squatter are required to attend a hearing.

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Legally, there is no set time limit a squatter could reside on a property in Virginia. However, a squatter can’t make an adverse possession claim until they’ve lived on the property continuously for 15 years. After 15 years, the squatter is no longer considered a criminal trespasser under Virginia law.
No. A squatter isn’t required to pay property taxes if they intend to make an adverse possession claim.
The answer is complicated and depends on the property in question. In the United States, trespassing on someone else’s property is a criminal offense, while squatting is deemed ‘civil in nature.’ However, squatting is considered criminal behavior when a property owner or landowner can prove the squatter is unwelcome.
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