While squatting and trespassing are similar, it’s crucial to understand the distinction between a squatter and a trespasser, as the police can remove a squatter immediately. In contrast, a squatter needs to be removed via a specific legal process.
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, there is a crucial difference that affects how the courts treat each offense. A squatter is someone who occupies a property that they do not own and may or may not be aware they are breaking any laws. A trespasser is someone who gains entry to someone else’s property and knowingly infringes on the owners’ rights. The major difference is that squatting is generally regarded as a civil matter, while trespassing is treated as a criminal offense.
Even though they have no existing claim to the title, squatters can eventually take ownership of the property they are inhabiting through a process known as adverse possession. Through adverse possession, squatters can claim a legal right to the property after a certain period of time as long as they meet a few other conditions. Alabama has some of the strictest laws in the United States regarding squatters and adverse possession.
To claim a right to the property, the squatter must:
- Occupy the property for at least 20 years
- Pay the property taxes for at least ten years.
The habitation must be continuous, meaning they cannot leave and come back. It must also be open and notorious, meaning it’s obvious someone is living on the property, and it must be hostile, indicating there is no existing lease or rental agreement. The squatter must also prove they actually lived on the property and resided alone and not in a larger group. If all of these conditions are met, the squatter may claim a right to the property they’re occupying.
When trying to get rid of a squatter, you must follow the appropriate legal process, or you may also face consequences. In Alabama, you’ll need to file for eviction to legally remove a squatter. Here are the steps you should follow:
1. Contact the Authorities
If you have a squatter on your property, the first thing you should do is to contact the local sheriff’s office or other law enforcement agency and alert them of the situation. If the squatter is engaged in any illegal activity or presents a danger to you or anyone else, they may be able to escort them off the property immediately. If they are not a serious threat, then you’ll still need to go through the full eviction process to have them removed. But calling the sheriff first creates a clear record of the situation and may help to speed up the process.
2. Serve the Squatter a 7-Day Notice
Alabama law requires landlords to serve any tenants they wish to evict a 7-day notice to pay the back rent or vacate the premises. The same applies to squatters, which will force them to either negotiate a payment or leave the property.
3. File a Complaint
After serving the squatter with a 7-day notice, you can begin the formal eviction process if they still have not left. To start the process, you will need to file an eviction complaint against the squatter with the Alabama Circuit or District Court.
4. Take the Squatter to Court
Once the court receives your complaint, they will serve the squatter with a summons to appear at a hearing to state their case. During the hearing, you will have a chance to present any evidence to prove you are the rightful owner of the property and the squatter is knowingly infringing on your rights.
5. Let the Sheriff Remove the Squatter from Your Property
Once you’re able to prove ownership of the property to a judge, they will issue a writ of restitution, which requires the squatter to leave the property or be forcibly removed by the sheriff. If they still refuse to vacate, let the sheriff come in and escort them off the premises because only they can legally use force when dealing with squatters.
Finding a squatter on your property in Alabama can be a major headache. But it’s important to follow the appropriate steps to avoid facing any legal repercussions. Even though they are technically breaking the law by occupying your property without your consent, squatters still have certain rights that you must respect when having them removed.