Can a Tenant Claim Squatter’s Rights? Explained in Detail

Learn about the legal concept of squatter’s rights and whether a tenant can claim them. Understand the requirements and rights of both landlords and tenants in such situations. Get free advice on protecting yourself and your property.


Squatters’ rights are a legal concept that gives someone who has occupied property without permission the right to remain in possession of that property. The term “squatter” can refer either to the person who illegally occupies real estate or more generally, any person who occupies land without legal title.

The concept of squatter’s rights dates back centuries and was first codified by common law courts in England during the 17th century. In the United States, squatters have been able to acquire ownership of properties through adverse possession–which occurs when someone openly inhabits another person’s land for an extended period (typically five years).

Can a Tenant Claim Squatter’s Rights?

If you’re a tenant and your landlord has abandoned the property, you may be able to claim squatter’s rights. However, there are certain legal requirements that must be met before doing so.
To claim squatter’s rights as a tenant:

  • You must have been living in the property for at least 2 years prior to abandonment by your landlord; or
  • You must have paid rent for at least 1 year prior to abandonment by your landlord; or
  • You must have paid at least 3 months’ worth of rent since moving into the property (if no rent was paid before moving in).

Understanding the Law Around Squatter’s Rights

The legal concept of “squatter’s rights” refers to the right of a person who has occupied land without permission, but who has done so in good faith, to gain legal title to that land.

The term “squatter” is often used interchangeably with “tenant,” but it’s important to understand that there is a difference between squatters and tenants: Squatters occupy property without having been given permission by the owner or landlord; tenants are given permission by their landlords or owners (or other authorized parties) for them to live on their property.

When someone occupies land without permission from its owner, they’re trespassing–but if this happens for long enough (and especially if they make improvements), then they may be able to claim adverse possession over the property under state law. Adverse possession laws vary from state-to-state; some states require only five years’ occupancy before adverse possession will be granted while others require up 20 years’ occupancy before granting title through adverse possession.[1]

Rights of the Landlord

As a landlord, you have several rights under the law:

  • The right to evict a tenant who claims squatter’s rights. If a tenant tries to claim squatter’s rights, you can file an eviction lawsuit against him or her. If successful, this will result in an order from the court that forces your former tenant off of your property and onto the street (or wherever he/she chooses).
  • The right to collect damages from tenants who claim squatter’s rights. If someone falsely claims squatters’ rights over your property and causes damage while living there, then they may be liable for those damages as well as any other costs associated with removing them from your home or business space after they’ve been evicted by court order.

Rights of the Tenant

As a tenant, you have certain rights that may be helpful in your situation. These include:

  • The right to stay in the property
  • The right to negotiate with the landlord
  • The right to seek legal representation

Common Misconceptions About Squatter’s Rights

You may have heard that squatters can claim ownership of a property, but this is not true. Squatters cannot automatically become owners of a property just because they have been living there for some time.
Squatters can only claim squatter’s rights if they are able to show that:

  • They occupied the property without permission before January 1, 1977 (the date when California law changed).
  • They did so in good faith; meaning, they did not know or should not have known that their occupancy was illegal.
  • They paid all taxes on the property during their occupancy and continue paying them after moving in (even if those taxes are low).

The Best Way to Protect Yourself

If you’re a landlord, the best way to protect yourself is by reviewing your state’s laws around squatters’ rights. If there are any loopholes in the law that could allow someone who isn’t a tenant to claim squatter’s rights, then it’s important that you know about them and take steps accordingly.

If you’re a tenant and think that someone may be trying to claim squatters’ rights on your property, contact an experienced attorney immediately so they can review all options available under local law. In addition:

  • Review all written agreements between yourself and any other parties involved in this situation (landlord(s), mortgage holder(s), etc.).
  • Negotiate with these parties regarding how they will handle this issue if it arises again in the future–and get everything in writing!


Squatter’s rights are a legal doctrine that allows a person to claim ownership of real property if they have been in continuous possession of it for a certain period of time. Squatter’s rights can be claimed by tenants and landlords alike, but only after the proper notice has been given to the actual owner.

For tenants: If you are renting an apartment or house from someone else, then your landlord owns that property and has every right to evict you if they want (unless there is some kind of lease agreement).

However, if you have been living on the premises for over three years–or one year if there was no lease agreement–and have paid all rent due during that time period then your landlord may not be able to evict you without going through legal channels first. This means that even though technically speaking squatting isn’t legal per se; if it happens within these parameters then it might just work out in your favor!

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