First, you should know the difference between squatting and trespassing. Although often used interchangeably, there is a key distinction between squatters and trespassers which makes the former a civil matter, while the latter is typically considered a criminal offense.
A trespasser has been made aware that their presence is unwelcome, whereas a squatter may be oblivious that their encroaching on someone else's property rights. For instance, if a vagrant comes across an abandoned lot and takes up residence, they would be considered a squatter unless they bypassed a large 'no trespassing' sign while accessing the property.
- Wait for the Required Amount of Time
- Meet the Necessary Requirements
- Claim Under 160 acres of Land
1. Wait for the Required Amount of Time
While most states require the squatter to occupy the property for at least one to two decades before claiming ownership, in Arizona, squatters may claim adverse possession after only two years of living on an otherwise neglected property. However, if the property is not neglected, but the squatter still occupies and cultivates the land, they may claim adverse possession after ten years.
If the squatter has color of title, they can claim adverse possession after three years. Color of title means they have partial documentation of ownership but not enough to be considered legally valid. The squatter must occupy the property for at least five years before claiming adverse possession of a lot located in a city.
2. Meet the Necessary Requirements
The squatter must also be able to prove the possession was:
- Hostile: The occupation was against the wishes of the owner.
- Actual: The squatter must demonstrate management of the property.
- Exclusive: The squatter must live alone and not in a group.
- Open and Notorious: The squatter must be living in such a way that anyone who visited the property would be able to tell it was occupied.
- Continuous: The squatter's occupation must be uninterrupted, and they cannot leave and come back.
3. Claim Under 160 Acres of Land
Another requirement for claiming adverse possession in Arizona is that the land must be small than 160 acres. Squatters cannot claim land parcels exceeding 160 acres in the state.
If you discover a squatter on your property and want them removed, you must follow the necessary protocols set by the state. Even though they are taking up residence on your property against your wishes, they still have certain rights you must obey. Here's what to do to evict a squatter in Arizona.
1. File a Quiet Title Lawsuit
One of the simplest ways you can get rid of a squatter is to file what is known as a quiet title lawsuit. This is a legal action that requests that the court verify the true owner of a property. If you can prove that you are the legal owner of the land, it will make it much harder for the squatter to claim adverse possession and help you prove your case to the authorities.
2. Call the Sheriff and Evoke the "Guest Removal Law"
Once you have proof that you are the property's true owner, you can call the police and see if they can help you remove the squatter peacefully. Arizona has what is known as a "guest removal law," which means police can legally remove an unwanted guest who is on the premises without the landlord's permission. Call the police and tell them what's going on, and they may be able to escort the squatter off the premises for you.
3. Serve the Squatter with a Five-Day Notice
If the squatter has been occupying the property for an extended amount of time or has already begun an adverse possession claim, you may be required to start the formal eviction process to remove them. In Arizona, that process starts by serving the squatter with a 5-Day notice to pay rent or vacate. You can schedule a court hearing if they fail to leave or make payment within five days.
4. Bring the Case to Court
Finally, if the squatter refuses to leave, you can present the evidence to a judge to determine whether they have any claim to the property. If you have proof of title and have already contacted the authorities about the situation, chances are very high that the judge will rule in your favor. However, regardless of the outcome, it's important not to forcibly remove the squatter yourself. Self-help evictions are illegal in Arizona, which means you cannot forcibly remove the person by taking their belongings, changing the locks, or shutting off the utilities.
Even though a squatter may be occupying a property against the wishes of the rightful owner, they are still granted certain rights under the law. So, if you discover a squatter on your property, you must take the necessary legal steps to have them removed and trust the authorities to make sure the unwanted guest leaves peacefully.