West Virginia Squatter Laws

Under certain circumstances, a squatter who lives on a West Virginia property for 10 continuous years could claim ownership of it. Learn more here.
Written by Melanie Mergen
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
If a squatter has lived on a property continuously for 10 years in West Virginia, there’s a chance they could claim the property as their own. Understanding squatting laws in your state can help reduce the odds that you’ll have to deal with an adverse possession claim.
This might sound far-fetched if you’ve never heard of adverse possession, but it’s actually true: after a certain period of time, which can vary by state, there’s a chance that a squatter could claim ownership of the property they’ve been living on. 
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Continue reading to find out what a squatter is, what factors impact an adverse property claim, and how you may lessen your chances of dealing with an uncomfortable squatting situation on your property in
West Virginia
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Who’s considered a squatter in West Virginia?

A squatter is someone who lives on an abandoned, foreclosed or otherwise unoccupied property without permission from the property’s rightful owner.
This may come as a surprise to some, but under the right circumstances, if a person has squatted on a property long enough, they could actually claim ownership of the property for themselves by making an adverse possession claim. In West Virginia, a squatter could make an adverse possession claim after living on a property continuously for 10 years
West Virginia’s adverse possession laws are outlined in chapter 55 of West Virginia’s state code.
Because state laws are subject to change, It's always a good idea to brush up on West Virginia squatting regulations and, if necessary, speak with a legal professional.

Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants

The line between squatting and trespassing can often be difficult to discern. Generally, though, there are a few key differences: whether the property is inhabited, whether the property owner has warned the squatter that they are not wanted on the property, and the length of time the squatter has occupied the property.
If a property owner informed someone they weren’t welcome on their property, or they had “no trespassing” signs posted, these could more clearly make for a trespassing situation. 
However, if a person managed to squat on an unoccupied property without the property owner’s knowledge and a significant amount of time passed, this could constitute squatting
Situations with holdover tenants can be complicated as well. Holdover tenants are tenants who don’t leave a property after their lease has ended. Once they’ve been informed that they’re no longer welcome on the property, they could be considered trespassers. However, if they were to continue making rent payments that the landowner accepted, they’d be considered at-will tenants

Adverse possession laws in West Virginia

Before a squatter can make an adverse property claim in West Virginia, they must live on the property continuously for at least 10 years. 
There’s an exception to that, though: under certain circumstances, like if a West Virginia is under 18 years old, or has been imprisoned, they could have an additional 5 years to defend their property from a claim.
Some states will additionally require that a person has paid taxes for the property during that time, as well as a color of title, but West Virginia isn’t one of them.
When an adverse property claim is evaluated, these are the general criteria for possession that have to be met:

Hostile possession

In this context, hostile possession means that a person has occupied property without the owner’s permission. 
This doesn’t necessarily have to mean they’re doing so maliciously. Hostile possession includes a range of circumstances, whether that means intentionally trying to make an adverse possession claim, or a person has made a good-faith mistake and believed they had rightful possession of the property. 

Actual possession

Actual possession means that a squatter has been living on a property and doing things a typical property owner would—like making
or improvements. 

Open and notorious possession

Open and notorious possession means that a squatter can’t simply hide on the property—they have to live on it openly in a way that would be obvious to neighbors and passersby. 

Exclusive possession

Exclusive possession requires that a squatter must occupy a property exclusively within the time period claimed, rather than sharing it among a group. 

Continuous possession

Finally, a squatter must be able to claim continuous possession, in which they’ve lived on the property uninterrupted for a certain period of time, which varies by state. You couldn’t make an adverse property claim if you were occupying a property every summer, but lived elsewhere the rest of the year. 
In West Virginia, a person must live on a property continuously for 10 years to make an adverse property claim.
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Does West Virginia honor color of title claims?

A "color of title," also known as an "apparent title," is a title to real property that looks to be valid but is not. This could happen if a buyer purchased a property and the deed had an error that was missed, technically making it invalid.
Certain states will require a color of title to make an adverse property claim.
While color of title claims aren’t necessarily required to make an adverse property claim in West Virginia, having one could still potentially help a squatter’s case.

How to protect yourself from squatters in West Virginia

Adverse claims often occur with absentee property owners, so generally, the most important factor to protect your property from a squatting situation is to ensure it’s adequately taken care of and regularly checked in on. 
If you’re a property owner in West Virginia, here’s a list of precautions you can take to help reduce your odds of encountering an adverse property claim: 
  • Check-in on the property often: Paying regular visits to a property you own is a simple step that can help lower the chances that someone starts squatting there, making it more likely you’ll pick up on signs early on that someone has begun living on your property. 
  • Put up “no trespassing” signs: Posting “no trespassing signs” at your property’s entrances can make it clearer that unwanted visitors aren’t welcome on your property, and they could also give you more legal standing if you do end up experiencing a squatting situation.
  • Install a security system: Locks and a
    security system
    can help protect your property from unwanted visitors and alert you if someone’s broken into your property. Security cameras can help you watch the property while you’re not there, as well as give you evidence of trespassing if needed.
If you learn that someone has started squatting on your property, there are some actions you can take to reclaim it:
  • Give written notice: Give someone who has been squatting on your property a written notice informing them that you own the property and that they do not have permission to remain there, and requesting that they leave.
  • Offer to rent out your property to them: This could seem counterintuitive, but if your intention is to rent your property out to a paying tenant, a squatter who then becomes a tenant would then have a different relationship with the property and wouldn’t be able to make an adverse possession claim.
  • Follow West Virginia eviction proceedings: If a squatter refuses to leave your property after you’ve informed them they’re not welcome, you’ll likely want to go through West Virginia’s legal eviction process to remove them. 
As you try to remove a squatter from your property, there are certain actions you should definitely avoid. Don’t try to take matters into your own hands by issuing threats or shutting off utilities, which could give you certain legal repercussions that would be even more of a legal headache.
The best way to solve a squatting problem will depend on the specific circumstances surrounding your situation, so it’s always a good idea to seek out legal counsel before taking definitive action.

How to find affordable home and car insurance in West Virginia

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To make an adverse possession claim in West Virginia, a squatter would typically need to live on a property continuously for at least 10 years. Under certain circumstances, like if a property owner is underage or imprisoned, they may have 5 additional years to protect their property against an adverse possession claim.
While some states require that taxes must have been paid during a certain period by a person making an adverse possession claim, West Virginia does not.
Whether it’s illegal to squat in a home can depend on local laws and the situation’s circumstances. Generally, though, once a squatter has been informed they’re not welcome on a property and have been asked to leave, this will usually be considered trespassing.
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