Squatters Rights in New York

Aug 23rd 2022
In NYC, stories about squatters are relatively common in part because squatters are granted rights after only 30 days of occupying a property. And once that happens, it can be a long and difficult process to evict them.

To their own detriment, many property owners are unaware of how easily squatters can have tenant rights in New York City and State. To add injury to insult, the process to evict those who have illegally taken possession of another’s property can be relatively complicated in New York. This is mainly because, in New York City, it only takes 30 days before an illegal trespasser or squatter is upgraded to a legal tenant. 

This may sound absurd to some property owners who are not well-versed in landlord-tenant law. Can someone really take up possession of my property and then claim it to be their own? Yes, this is precisely what the legal doctrine of adverse possession permits. We will further break down squatters' rights in New York City below.  

hash-markTable of Contents

Who is Considered a Squatter in New York?
How do Squatters' Rights Work in NY?
Squatters vs Trespassing
Do Squatters Have Rights in NYC?
How to Evict a Squatter in New York State
Can You Turn Off Utilities on a Squatter in New York?
Why Do Squatters Have Rights?

hash-markWho is Considered a Squatter in New York?

Squatting can happen in several ways, both deliberately and accidentally. However, in general, a squatter is someone who moved into a property and begins living there without the owner’s permission or knowledge. Here are a few ways that a squatter situation can happen: 

  • A person can enter into a property legally with the occupant’s consent and stay after the license has ended. 
  • A squatter can fail to move out of an apartment when their lease expires and refuse to pay rent moving forward. This type of squatter is commonly referred to as a holdover tenant in New York City. 
  • A squatter can break into an abandoned building and begin living there. 
  • A person can erect a fence or some other barrier around a portion of a property because they mistakenly believe that portion of the property belongs to them.  

hash-markHow do Squatters’ Rights Work in NY?

In the United States, there are five legal conditions for squatters seeking to claim adverse possession. These specific conditions are also required to claim adverse possession in New York State. They are as follows:

1. Actual 

Actual possession is just as it sounds, and it means that the squatter has possession and control over the property. 

2. Open and Notorious 

Open and notorious means that the squatter must occupy a property in a manner that is open and obvious. They cannot make any efforts to live there undetected. 

3. Hostile 

In the context of adverse possession, hostile means that the occupancy infringes on the interests and rights of the owner. It is not hostile possession if you have been given permission to use the property. In New York, the hostility provision is even stricter, requiring the squatter to have a reasonable belief that they have title to the property.  

4. Exclusive 

Exclusive possession means that the squatter is not sharing the property with anyone. It must be occupied exclusively by the adverse possessor as if they had exclusive ownership rights over the property.  

5. Continuous

In New York, the squatter must be in continuous possession of the property for a 10-year period to claim adverse possession. 

hash-markSquatters vs. Trespassing

For the most part, squatting and trespassing are two different things. Notably, squatting is a civil matter, whereas trespassing is a criminal matter. Keep in mind that squatting can become a criminal matter if the owner has taken the proper step to establish that the squatter is no longer welcomed on the property. 

hash-markDo Squatters Have Rights in NYC?

The short answer is yes, squatters enjoy various rights and protections in NYC and NY State. In New York, if a person lives on a property openly and adversely without the owner’s permission for at least 10 uninterrupted years, that person can make an adverse possession claim, provided that they have paid the taxes throughout the teen years.

However, in New York City, things get a little bit more complicated. Specifically, the city has its own set of adverse possession law as it relates to apartments. When a squatter takes possession of an apartment unit in New York City, they obtain what is called “squatter’s rights.” In NYC, squatters are granted rights after just 30 days. Yes, you read that correctly, ONLY 30 DAYS. It is sometimes financially easier for mom-and-pop landlords and smaller landlords to pay off the squatter to leave instead of paying hefty legal bills, which frequently become protracted and takes months to complete. 

Since New York City landlords have only 30 days before a tenant is upgraded to a tenant, landlords must start an eviction proceeding immediately once a squatter has been discovered. 

hash-markHow to Evict a Squatter in New York State

New York City evictions are notoriously lengthy and complicated. As such, the first thing you should do, if you feel like you’re in over your head or have little experience with the matter, is to seek the services of an experienced real estate attorney or property manager.  

Next, you must notify any squatters as soon as you discover that they are occupying your property. The notice must be in writing. Remember that if 30 days have already passed. The squatter is now considered a tenant and must be evicted by judicial intervention.

If the squatter has already become a legal tenant, you can serve them with one of the following notices:

1. 14-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit

This is the standard notice associated with a nonpayment summary eviction proceeding. This written informs the tenant that they must pay the full amount of rent they owe or move out in 14 days. This type of eviction works if the squatter is a former tenant whose lease expired. In this case, you can demand rent at the rate that was effective before the lease’s expired. After the 14-day notice period expires, the landowner can file a summary eviction proceeding in the county where the property is located.

2. 10 Day Notice to Quit

You will serve this type of notice on a squatter who has been residing at the premises for less than 30 days and is not yet considered a tenant according to New York City law. The notice must tell the squatter that they have 10 days to move out, and you must give a reason for requiring them to do so. The reason is typically that the person is a licensee or a squatter. After the 10 days’ notice expires, if the tenant hasn’t moved out of the apartment, the landlord can file a summary eviction proceeding in the county where the property is located

3. 30 Day Notice of Termination

This is the standard notice served in a summary holdover eviction proceeding. You will use this notice if the squatter has lived at the premises for longer than 30 days. When you serve 30 days’ notice of termination, the tenant then has 30 days to move out. After the 30-day notice expires, if the tenant hasn’t moved out of the apartment, the landlord can file a summary eviction proceeding in the county where the property is located. Keep in mind that the termination notice may be longer than 30 days. If the squatter/tenant has resided in the apartment for one year or longer, according to the Housing Stability and Tenant Act of 2019, the squatter/tenant must be given at least 60 days’ notice. 

Remember that a tenant can always fight eviction proceedings to stay in the property longer. Even if they know in the end, they will be evicted. Since in New York, all squatters are considered tenants after 30 days, some squatters choose to take their chances that an eviction proceeding will end up in their favor. In general, the landlord must ensure that it follows New York City and New York State eviction law precisely to avoid having their case dismissed on a technicality or dragging the case out longer than necessary. 

Once the landlord prevails in the eviction proceeding, the Sheriff will remove the squatter from the property. 

hash-markCan You Turn Off Utilities on a Squatter in New York?

According to New York City and state law, it is illegal to remove a squatter without judicial interference. That just means that you can’t lock a squatter out of the apartment. This is true even after you successfully evicted the squatter and won your case in court. In other words, property owners are not allowed to personally remove squatters and must rely upon the court and the Sheriff’s office to evict a tenant. Since most squatters are considered tenants, landlords can’t arbitrarily cut off the utilities in an attempt to get the squatter to leave or make them uncomfortable. 

hash-markWhy Do Squatters Have Rights?

Squatters have rights to protect them from unscrupulous property owners who may want to take the law into their own hands. If property owners were allowed to deliver vigilante justice and threaten violence to remove illegal squatters, the situation could become dangerous, so the main reason squatters rights laws exist is to ensure there are proper legal avenues to handle such situations.