According to Ohio law, there is a clear distinction between squatters and trespassers. Just because someone occupies a property that does not belong to them doesn't automatically make them a trespasser.
They only become a trespasser once the property owner has clarified that they are not welcome. Although the difference may seem minor, it impacts how the legal system views the occupant, as trespassing is a criminal offense, whereas squatting is typically regarded as a civil matter.
So, if you have an unwanted guest who is living on your property, they are not technically breaking the law until you make it clear they are unwelcome. They may even have a right to the property after a certain amount of time through a legal concept called adverse possession.
Adverse possession is a legal concept allowing a squatter to gain a legal right to the property they occupy after an extended period if they meet certain conditions. In Ohio, squatters must continuously occupy the property for at least 21 years to claim adverse possession and meet all of the following conditions.
They must be the sole occupant of the property; those living with others cannot claim adverse possession.
The squatter must demonstrate how they came to occupy the space and prove that they were unaware their conduct was unlawful.
They must prove they've continuously inhabited the premises for 21 years; the clock resets if they leave for an extended period and return.
Open and Notorious Possession
Their presence on the property must be apparent as if they were the rightful owner, and they cannot attempt to hide or conceal their occupancy.
The squatter must use the property as if they intended to eventually gain ownership.
If all of these conditions are met, the squatter may gain a legal right to the property and all the privileges that come with it without ever purchasing it or contacting the owner.
If you discover a squatter on your property, you should be careful about handling the situation because they do have rights, and you may face legal consequences if you attempt to forcibly evict them. Here are the steps you should take to evict a squatter.
1. Contact the Sheriff's Office
First, you should contact the local sheriff's office and let them know you have a squatter that you're trying to evict. They may be able to help you find an immediate solution, or if not, it creates a clear record for the court that you contacted the proper authorities first.
2. File a 3-Day Notice to Leave
If you discover illegal drug use on the property or find out the squatter is a convicted sex offender, you can serve them with a 3-Day notice to leave, which gives them 72 hours to vacate the premises.
3. File a 30-Day Notice to Leave
If the squatter is not engaging in criminal activity but is breaking safety, building, or housing codes, then you can serve them with a 30-day notice to leave and then begin the eviction proceedings if they still refuse to leave.
4. Notify the Court and File for Eviction
If the squatter has not broken any laws or building codes, you can still have the evicted for failure to pay rent. But you must go through the same court proceedings required for the eviction of any other tenant. You can serve the squatter with a 3-day notice to pay a certain amount of back rent or vacate the premises. If they refuse, you can serve an eviction notice, which makes them aware they are no longer welcome on the property and voids their right to adverse possession. But you must follow the proper legal procedure and let the courts handle the situation. Forcible evictions are illegal in Ohio, and you can face legal consequences if you do not adhere to the proper protocols.
Even though squatters do not have a legal right to a property, they still have rights under Ohio law. Therefore, if you discover a squatter on your property, you must respect those rights and be careful with how you approach the situation. As long as you follow the proper protocol, you should be able to evict the squatter without many issues, but you will likely face repercussions if you attempt to throw them out on your own.