Although they often get confused, squatting is different than trespassing. Typically trespassing is regarded as a criminal offense, whereas squatting is a civil matter. The main distinction is that squatters may not know they are breaking the law, whereas trespassers have been made aware they are not welcome yet still remain on the property.
Unlike trespassers, squatters are granted certain rights and may even claim ownership of the property through a process called adverse possession after satisfying certain conditions. In Michigan, a squatter can claim adverse possession after 15 years of continuous habitation. So, after 15 years, they may legally occupy the property and retain all the same rights as a property owner who purchased it from the original owner. However, their occupation must also feature the following elements.
- Actual Possession: They must prove they truly occupy the land and made attempts to cultivate and improve the property.
- Visible: The squatter must live on the land openly and can’t conceal their actions or hide from plain sight.
- Open: Similar to visible, the squatter must show that they are openly using the land, and there are signs that a person has recently inhabited the property.
- Notorious: Also, in line with open and visible, the squatter must be occupying the land in such a way that it would be evident to the property owner if they made any attempt to check on the area.
- Exclusive: The squatter must live on the property alone and cannot share the space with a group of other squatters.
- Continuous: The occupation must be uninterrupted for at least 15 years straight. If the squatter decides to leave and come back, the clock resets.
- Hostile: The squatter is living on the land against the property owner’s right without their consent.
If all those conditions are met, the squatter takes full ownership of the property through adverse possession after 15 years.
- Give the Squatters a Trespass Warning
- Contact the Authorities
- File a Legal Action
If you discover a squatter on your Michigan property, it’s crucial that you don’t forcibly evict them on your own. Even though they are occupying your property without permission, they still have certain rights, and you can face legal consequences if you’re too aggressive in handling the situation. Here are the steps you should follow to evict a squatter in Michigan.
1. Give Squatters a Trespass Warning
Before you do anything, have a conversation with the squatter, letting them know that you are the owner of the property and they are not welcome. Try to be as civil as possible and avoid getting too aggressive yet let them know they need to leave, or you will take legal action. You may also post a no trespassing sign to make it even more apparent that they are unwanted.
2. Contact the Authorities
If the squatter still refuses to leave, you should contact the police and let them know that you’re dealing with a squatter. Under Michigan law, trespassers are not considered tenants. You may perform a self-help eviction, meaning you can remove them from the property by changing the locks, turning off utilities, or removing their personal belongings. However, it’s always best to alert the authorities first and see if they can assist or at least create a record of the situation. If the squatters become confrontational during the eviction, you’ll want the authorities to present so they can intervene on your behalf.
3. File a Legal Action
You may also need to take legal action if the squatter claims a legal right to the land, which you have difficulty disputing. But before doing so, you should consult an attorney to find out if taking the case to court makes sense. If so, the squatter will be asked to present evidence to a judge, and if the claim is invalid, law enforcement will be sent to remove them.
Dealing with a squatter can be a hassle, but you must remain calm and handle the situation in the proper way. They also have rights that you must consider, and you could also face the consequences if the situation escalates. But, as long as you follow the proper protocols, you should have them off your property in no time.