A squatter is someone who lives on a property without the permission of the owner. In some cases, the squatter can claim ownership of the property.
To put this into perspective, picture this: the one relative that has always overstayed sleepovers actually claims your house and makes it theirs, for good. Legally, however, this is not possible because it is done with the owner's permission. But do you understand the situation here?
However much an owner wants to retaliate against the invader, there are laws that legally state a course of action.
It is important to understand squatter rights in Colorado to know how they work in their favor. This will help you protect or reclaim your property.
Why are they entitled?
Squatter rights began with the 1862 Homestead Act. The act allows possession of a given property with a few rules:
- The ones claiming the land must have lived here for a period of time. The length of time varies from state to state.
- They should have stayed there and made it known to the public.
- They should have made improvements to the property.
- They should have paid the necessary property fees and taxes.
The government also wants its land to be productive and its citizens settled. It, therefore, encourages settlement in abandoned homes and properties. This way, the necessary maintenance, utility fees, and taxes are paid.
This law came under the name “adverse possession.”
Understanding adverse possession
Adverse Possession is the law's way of allowing a trespasser, whether a stranger or neighbor, to gain title to ownership of the owner’s property.
This law in Colorado is governed by the Colorado Rev. Stat. 38-41-101 as well as the state's courts.
Most of the time, the concept of adverse possession applies to neighbors who share a border or strangers who come into your home.
Squatter Rights in Colorado
A squatter is protected by the law, as long as they can prove that they are not trespassing- as this is illegal.
Trespassing is the act of knowingly entering someone’s property without their permission. Squatting, on the other hand, is entering someone’s property with the intention of claiming it.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that squatting is legal, as more often than not, squatters are found to be trespassing on someone’s property.
A squatter can gain possession of the land through a legal process, but there are requirements that have to be met.
The squatter must be actively occupying the property.
The squatter has to be physically present and treat the property like their own.
This calls for maintenance like landscaping and paying the necessary taxes. The proof of payment can be used to claim ownership of the piece of property.
The squatter’s stay should be obvious.
The squatter should live on the property and be open to everyone. The landowner or neighbors should be aware of their presence even if the owner has opened an investigation.
The squatter’s presence must be exclusive.
The property should not be shared with other squatters who might also claim ownership. This would present a conflict. The squatter can also not claim ownership if the owner is already on the property.
Otherwise, anyone would walk onto your property and start a legal claim.
The presence must be hostile.
The state of Colorado legally explains hostile not necessarily as a violent step but in three ways:
- Through simple occupation, where the trespasser doesn’t know if the property has an owner,
- as awareness of trespassing where the trespasser understands that they are legally trespassing.
- in good faith where the trespasser is innocently trespassing. This could be for a number of reasons, including an invalid deed.
Possession should be continuous.
The squatter should be continuously living on the property for a stated period of time. The state of Colorado allows an adverse possession claim after a period of 18 years.
After this period of time, the property is considered abandoned and the squatter can take legal rights to the place.
In a court of law, however, the squatter is expected to present proof of residence. They have to claim that they have a deed to the property and that they have paid taxes for the given amount of time.
The minimum time stated for tax payment is independent and different in various states.
Possession under the color of title
In the state of Colorado, the minimum amount of time required for a squatter to claim adverse possession is 18 years.
If the possessor has a color of title, which is essentially a document stating that they are the owner of the property, the person only needs 7 years of occupation. This is on the condition that they have paid taxes.
Where don’t the squatter rights apply?
As much as the adverse possession law favors squatters, there are times when the laws do not apply.
A holdover tenant is a tenant that refuses to leave the property once the lease is over. This is relatable to property owners.
As a property owner, you can either accept rent payment on existing terms or go to court to have the occupant evicted. This happens if you don’t want the tenant to stay there anymore and decide to not extend their lease.
In court, you will file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. This is basically the legal way to evict a tenant if the lease is over or if the rent is not paid.
Permitted access to the property
If you are worried about your neighbor, who basically uses your backyard all the time, don’t worry. You won’t lose it. This is on the condition that you allow them on your property.
Some squatting cases involve relatives and neighbors. A relative of the owner is not allowed to file an adverse possession claim as it is always assumed they are there with the owner’s permission.
There may also be a dispute when it comes to land boundary disputes between neighbors.
If the owner actively owns and manages the property, the squatter’s presence is immediately considered trespassing.
You can’t wake up one day to someone at your front door claiming to own your property. This may be if you have been squatting on their land and they have actually come to claim their property.
The right way to evict a squatter
As much as it might be overwhelming to try to prove to someone that you own your property, there are laws that guide you through the eviction process.
After Bill SB 18-015 was passed in 2018, the removal process for a squatter became much easier in Colorado. This was to favor owners with long vacations and military deployments.
After learning about squatter rights, it is critical to understand where and when they apply. This is to avoid lawsuits and even lose your property.
In the case of holdover tenants, late or no rent payment, and lease termination, eviction is straightforward as they are there with a signed agreement. This also applies to roommates.
As simple as it sounds, evicting a tenant isn’t easy due to the lease agreement. There has to be a valid reason for eviction.
This also goes for roommates. You cannot try to evict your roommate as your names are both signed on a lease agreement.
If both names are on the lease, you are co-tenants. The landlord expects rent to be delivered no matter how much each of you contributes.
Rent disagreements and house policies might lead to small court complaints. The landlord has the authority to evict the roommate only when the lease has ended or if they go against the lease agreement.
If you have issues with structures on your land and boundary encroachment, you could bring an action to quiet title.
This is a legal way to determine who owns the land. The Colorado state court judge declares that you, and not the squatter, are the actual owner of the land.
The first step is to ask them to remove any structures or items on your property. If they do not comply, it's time to get a lawyer!
You have found someone living on your property, and they claim to own it. Do not start a fight or throw them out. There is a legal process to be followed to avoid lawsuits.
The state of Colorado acknowledges squatter rights and you are therefore required to handle the situation through the law.
The eviction process
Non-profit organizations are known to use squatter rights to their advantage. This is to give homeless people a legal way to own a house.
The first course of action is to inform the police. For both your safety and documentation, do not approach the intruders.
Be safe! The intruders might be on the wrong side of the law and might be conducting illegal activities or laying low on your property.
Sign a document under penalty of perjury. The police will determine whether they are trespassers or are actually legally claiming your land. A police report will also prove to the court that you took the right course of action.
Most of the time, the squatters tell the authorities that they were given the property by the previous owners. By Colorado law, they are allowed to prove this claim.
If they do not vacate the property after that, the owner should give them a 3-day notice to leave.
File for a forcible entry and detainer
Failure to comply with your eviction notice forces you to go to court. The owner can ask a judge to give an eviction notice to the squatter.
This is an order from the court that permits the sheriff to remove the squatter from the property. This process usually takes longer.
Both the owner and the squatter are required to provide proof of residence or ownership. Most of the time, the owners win the court case as they have all the required documents such as tax payments and bills to the house address.
If neither the owner nor the squatter does not appear for the hearing, the party present wins the court case.
Once the judge allows the eviction, do not go and remove the squatter yourself. It is also important not to go anywhere near your property or touch their belongings for the whole eviction process.
You are required to go to your local sheriff with your approved eviction notice from the court. The sheriff will then take action against them.
The sheriff posts a 14–21-day notice to vacate the property. If they do not leave, the sheriff will then remove them.
If some belongings are still left on the property, the owner has a legal obligation to make them available in the front yard for an amount of time not defined by the Squatter Rights in Colorado state law.
How to avoid squatters on your property
To avoid Colorado’s lengthy legal process to evict a squatter, it is better to keep them out all the same.
Secure all entrances by having reinforced locks and deadbolts. You can reinforce your perimeter fence and also add CCTV surveillance.
You can have someone keep an eye on your property when you leave, and they will report any suspicious incidents. You can also invite someone like a friend or relative to stay in your house for a period of time.
Enlist your property with a property management firm
Enlisting your property with a property management firm is especially important if you will be gone for extended periods of time on multiple occasions. The firm will make regular visits to your house and also do the necessary landscaping and maintenance as per the contract you signed with them. Property management firms can help to reduce problems arising around squatter rights in Colorado, as they will handle any squatting issues, making your work easier.
Capping off utilities makes it harder for squatters to live comfortably in your house. These include water, electricity, and gas supply.
If it is property to be renovated or demolished, you could cut off the supplies all the same.
Even if you are not living on your property, it's important to pay your taxes, and if you do encounter a squatter you can prove to the courts you continued to make your payments.