All squatters are trespassers, but not all trespassers are squatters. The difference between the two is time and intent. Trespassers are temporary; they only remain on a property for a limited time and have no intention of taking legal possession of said property. On the other hand, Squatters intend to garner possession of a vacant property by continuously living there. To be considered a squatter, a person needs to stay on the property for a continuous and uninterrupted period of time.
Like most states, Colorado has a set of specific legal requirements that a squatter must follow in order to successfully claim adverse possession. These requirements include the following:
The person seeking adverse possession must have actual, physical possession of the property. This means they need to physically occupy and use the land as if they were the true owner.
Open and Notorious Possession
The squatter's possession of the property must be open and obvious; there can be no attempts to hide their possession from the actual owner. In other words, the possession should be performed in a way that a reasonable property owner would notice someone else using their land.
The squatter's possession must be exclusive, meaning they are the sole occupant of the property (excluding the legal owner and the general public). Two squatters cannot share the same property; if they do, then adverse possession cannot take place.
The squatter's possession must be continuous and uninterrupted for a specific period of time. This means that the squatter must occupy the land without significant absences. In Colorado, this time frame is usually eighteen years but can be as little as seven years, given certain circumstances.
The possession must be hostile. In this case, the word "hostile" indicates that the squatter is occupying the land without the owner's permission.
Claim of Right
The squatter seeking adverse possession must demonstrate that they have a legitimate claim to the property. This could be based on a mistaken belief about property boundaries, a legal document, or some other reasonable justification.
Payment of Property Taxes
In some cases, the squatter may be required to pay property taxes on the land they occupy. This requirement varies by jurisdiction.
Evicting a squatter in Colorado requires following the legal process outlined by the state's laws. A landlord cannot forcibly remove a squatter; in fact, any attempt to do so may hinder the landlord's ability to legally evict the squatter. The steps to properly evict a squatter typically involve the following:
1. Determine Ownership
The first step in evicting a squatter in Colorado is to ensure you can prove you are the property's rightful owner. This might involve providing documents like property deeds or titles.
2. Communicate With the Squatter
Next, you will need to let the squatter know they are trespassing. Make a clear attempt to communicate with the squatter and inform them they are occupying the property without permission.
3. Serve a Notice to Quit
Serve the squatter with a "Notice to Quit" or "Demand for Possession" letter. This notice informs the squatter that they must leave the property within a specified time frame (typically 3 to 5 days).
4. File an Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit
If the squatter doesn't leave after the notice period, you can file an unlawful detainer lawsuit in the appropriate court. This is a legal action to regain possession of the property.
5. Attend Court Proceedings
Attend the court hearing and provide evidence of your ownership and the squatter's unauthorized occupancy. If the court rules in your favor, they will issue a Writ of Restitution, which allows law enforcement to remove the squatter from the property.
6. Wait for the Sherrif to Enforce the Eviction
The final step in evicting a squatter is for local law enforcement officers to carry out the eviction by physically removing the squatter from the property.
Squatters' rights play a unique role in property ownership. In Colorado, these laws balance the interests of landowners with the goal of encouraging productive land use. To avoid a squatter situation, a landlord should take all necessary steps to properly maintain their property, such as hiring a property management company to look after the property while it is vacant. As society continues to evolve, so too will the application and interpretation of squatter laws.