There is an important distinction to make between squatters and trespassers. Although they are very similar, a squatter is anyone who has taken up residence on a property they have no right to occupy without the consent of the owner. A trespasser knowingly enters or occupies someone else's property despite being warned against doing so. The primary distinction is that a trespasser knows they are violating someone else's property rights, whereas a squatter may or may not. As a result, trespassing is treated as a criminal offense, while squatting is typically a civil matter.
Even though the squatter has no legal claim to the property, they may eventually take ownership of it through a process called adverse possession once enough time has passed. In the state of Missouri, a squatter must occupy a property for a minimum of 10 years before they can claim adverse possession. The occupation must also be:
- Continuous: If the squatter leaves and comes back, the clock resets
- Hostile: Their habitation conflicts with the rights of the true owner
- Open and Notorious: The squatter must be living in a way that is obvious to anyone who goes to check on the property.
- Exclusive: The squatter must live alone and cannot cohabitate with a group
- Actual: The squatter must show they have control over the property and have made noticeable improvements.
As long as the occupation meets each of those conditions, the squatter may claim a right to the title after ten years of uninterrupted occupation, making them the new rightful owner of the property without having to purchase it from the previous owner.
Although a squatter may be occupying your property illegally, they are still entitled to certain rights under Missouri law. So, you must be careful with how you handle the situation if you discover a squatter living on your property and want to have them removed. Here are the steps you should take to evict a squatter in Missouri.
1. Contact the Local Sheriff's Office
The first step to evicting a squatter in Missouri is to contact the local Sheriff's office and alert them to what's happening. If the squatter is actually a trespasser or engaging in some kind of illegal or dangerous activity, they may be able to remove them immediately. Otherwise, they can help walk you through the eviction process.
2. Send Them a Demand for Rent Notice
Missouri has no formal process that is specific for evicting a squatter, so you will follow the same procedure with any other tenant. First, you should send them a Demand for Rent, which requires them to pay all the back rent owed or leave the property immediately. You can also serve them with a 10-day notice to quit if they've engaged in prohibited behavior, like having too many people living with them or causing significant damage to the property.
3. Move Forward with the Eviction
If they fail to pay back rent or vacate the premises, you can file for eviction and begin having them formally removed. The squatter will have the chance to contest the eviction and state their case. But as long as you have proof that you are the property's true owner and the squatter is occupying the land without your consent, the judge should rule in your favor.
4. Let the Sheriff Remove the Squatter
If you win the case, the court will grant you a writ of possession, which will notify the squatter that the Sheriff will be called if they don't vacate the premises. The Sheriff will then escort them off the property if they still refuse to leave. But remember that only law enforcement is permitted to remove a squatter by force, so don't attempt to do it yourself, even after the judge rules in your favor.
Even though squatters can be a major inconvenience for property owners, it's important to follow the necessary protocols when having them removed. While they may be breaking the law, they are still given certain rights that you must respect, even while going through the eviction process. A failure to acknowledge their rights can result in legal consequences and make the eviction process much slower and more challenging.