Alabama Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What are Squatters' Rights in Alabama?

Squatters' rights, also known as adverse possession, allow a person occupying someone else's property without permission to potentially gain legal ownership of that property after a certain time period. 

In Alabama, for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim on a property, they must occupy the land continuously for 20 years. The possession must also be actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, and under claim of right. This means the squatter must physically live on or make regular use of the property, in an obvious and public way, preventing the owner or others from using it themselves. The squatter's use should clearly indicate they are claiming ownership and not trying to hide their occupation.

If the squatter meets all the requirements of adverse possession for 20 years, they can gain legal title to the property, even without the original owner's permission. At that point, the squatter becomes the rightful owner in the eyes of Alabama law.

Adverse possession claims reward squatters who maintain and improve properties that have been abandoned or neglected by owners. However, a squatter cannot make an adverse possession claim if the owner is actively using their land or trying to evict the squatter during the 20 year period.

How Does Adverse Possession Work in Alabama?

In Alabama, squatters can gain legal ownership of a property through a legal concept called adverse possession. To successfully claim adverse possession, the squatter must occupy the property continuously for 20 years in a manner that is "actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, and under claim of right." 

This means the squatter must meet all of the following requirements:

Actual Possession

The squatter must physically enter the land and make actual use of it. Merely walking across the land periodically or making isolated uses of it does not qualify. The squatter must exert control and act like an owner.

Open & Notorious Possession

It must be obvious to anyone that the squatter is occupying and using the land. They cannot try to hide their presence. 

Exclusive Possession

The squatter cannot share possession with the true owner or others. Their use of the property must exclude the rights of the true owner.

Hostile Possession

The squatter's possession must be against the rights of the true owner, without permission or consent. Passive or accidental occupation does not qualify. 

Continuous Possession

The squatter must reside on the property for the entire 20-year statutory period without any significant lapses. Periodic or occasional use does not count.

If the squatter meets these requirements for 20 full years, they can gain legal ownership of the property through adverse possession in Alabama. The title transfers automatically by operation of law.

Does Paying Taxes Affect Squatters' Rights in Alabama?

In Alabama, paying property taxes can help demonstrate ownership of a property, but not paying taxes does not preclude a squatter from making an adverse possession claim. 

The payment of taxes shows the owner is actively asserting their property rights. However, a squatter who occupies a property continuously for the statutory period and meets all other requirements can still potentially claim ownership through adverse possession in Alabama even if they have not paid any taxes on the property. 

The failure to pay taxes by a squatter will not prevent their adverse possession claim on its own. As long as the squatter satisfies the "open, notorious, hostile, and continuous" occupation requirements, they can still possibly gain legal ownership after 20 years despite non-payment of taxes.

So while payment of property taxes helps strengthen an ownership claim in Alabama, it is not an absolute requirement for a squatter to successfully claim adverse possession. The key elements are continuous occupation and use of the property for the statutory time period. Provided those conditions are met, not paying taxes does not invalidate an adverse possession claim. The squatter still has the potential to gain legal rights after 20 years.

Can Squatters Make Improvements or Profit from the Property?

In Alabama, squatters do have the right to make improvements or changes to the property they are occupying. This includes things like repairing structures, landscaping, adding on to existing buildings, etc. 

However, squatters have no rights to any proceeds or value from the property until they successfully claim adverse possession and legal ownership after meeting the 20 year continuous occupation requirement. Any investments or money put into improving the property are done at the squatter's own risk.

If the squatter fails to gain legal ownership through adverse possession, they have no right to recoup the costs of any improvements made or to profit from their occupancy. The rightful property owner can reclaim the land and take possession of any changes or additions made by the squatter.

Essentially, until the 20 year threshold is met, the squatter is taking a gamble by making any monetary investments in the property. If they are evicted or leave the premises before establishing ownership through adverse possession, they surrender any claims to be reimbursed or compensated for improvements.

The bottom line is that squatters can make changes to the property while they reside there, but have no rights to profit from those improvements unless and until they complete the 20 years of continuous adverse possession necessary to claim legal ownership.

How to Prevent Squatters in Alabama

To prevent squatters from occupying your property in Alabama, it's important to take proactive measures. Here are some tips:

Regularly visit the property

If you own a vacant home or undeveloped land, make sure to visit it frequently to check for any signs of trespassing or squatting. Dropping by once a month is a good rule of thumb. This shows the property is under active ownership.

Post no trespassing signs

Placing visible "No Trespassing" signs around the perimeter of your land demonstrates that you do not give permission for others to be there. Make sure the signs comply with Alabama trespassing laws and are placed at all access points.

Start the eviction process promptly

If you find anyone occupying your property without your consent, take immediate steps to have them removed through a formal eviction proceeding. Serving them a legal notice to quit gives them an opportunity to leave voluntarily. If they do not vacate after proper notice, file a lawsuit to evict them through the court system before they can establish squatter's rights.

Taking preventative measures allows you to promptly remove potential squatters and avoid lengthy adverse possession claims. Consult with a local real estate attorney to ensure you follow all legal requirements in Alabama when dealing with squatters. Acting quickly when unauthorized occupancy is discovered protects your property rights.

Removing Squatters in Alabama 

If you find squatters occupying your property in Alabama, you will need to go through the legal eviction process to remove them. Here are the steps:

Serve Them With a Notice to Quit

The first step is to serve the squatters with a written notice demanding they vacate the premises. This notice gives them a specified number of days to leave voluntarily (typically 7-30 days). It should name all the occupants and state the address.

File an Eviction Lawsuit

If the squatters don't leave by the deadline, you can file an eviction lawsuit against them in civil court. This involves submitting a complaint and paying a fee. You must provide evidence you are the legal property owner.

Sheriff Removes if Judge Rules in Your Favor

After you win the eviction lawsuit, the court will issue an order for the squatters to vacate. If they still refuse, the sheriff can come remove them. Their belongings may also be removed and put into storage.

Get Law Enforcement Involved if Needed

If the squatters pose a threat or engage in illegal activity, you can contact the police to have them immediately removed. But filing an eviction lawsuit is still required to keep them off the property.

The full eviction process can take 2-6 weeks. It's important to follow all procedures properly. If done correctly, the authorities can forcibly remove stubborn squatters from the premises.

Special Considerations for Alabama

Alabama does have some unique laws when it comes to adverse possession cases. One important consideration is the concept of "color of title" claims. If the squatter has some kind of legal document showing ownership or title to the property, even if it is invalid or defective, the time period required for an adverse possession claim can be shortened from 20 years down to just 10 years. The document does not have to be recorded or legally valid, it just has to give the appearance of title being granted to the squatter.

Another special factor is that in Alabama, adverse possession claims can be made on any type of property, whether it is residential, agricultural, commercial, or vacant land. There is no limitation on the kinds of real estate that can potentially be claimed through squatter's rights. Even a squatter occupying someone's backyard could claim that portion of land. However, Alabama law does specify that a squatter cannot gain rights to a "wild" region that has never been cultivated or enclosed. Overall, it is one of the most permissive states when it comes to the types of properties that squatters can potentially gain rights to through adverse possession.

What if the Property is Sold?

The sale of a property with squatters does not invalidate any adverse possession claims. Squatter's rights attach to the property itself, not the owner. 

This means that if an owner sells a property that has been occupied by squatters for 15 years, the new owner inherits the squatter situation. The time the squatters have already resided on the property transfers to the new owner.

For example, if a squatter has lived on a property for 15 years before it was sold, they only need to complete 5 more years of continuous possession before they can make an adverse possession claim. The sale does not reset the clock or remove their accrued time. 

The new owner must go through the formal eviction process to remove the squatters. They cannot simply force them to leave because ownership changed hands. The squatters retain their rights to eventually take ownership unless evicted.

This highlights the importance of being aware of any squatter issues before purchasing a property in Alabama. Prudent buyers should inspect the property and make inquiries to the seller to uncover any potential adverse possession claims that could cloud the title.

Liability Issues with Squatters

Property owners need to be aware of potential liability issues when squatters occupy their land. Specifically when it comes to injuries or damages related to the squatters.

Owner Liability for Injuries

If a squatter is injured on the property, the owner may be held responsible in some cases. The owner has a duty to inspect, maintain, and repair the premises to an extent. If the owner was negligent in some way that led to the injury, they could face liability. However, if the squatter was trespassing in an unsafe area or engaged in reckless behavior, the owner's liability is more limited. The specifics depend on the circumstances of the injury.

Squatter Liability for Damages

A squatter can also be held liable for any damages they cause to the property while occupying it. If they vandalize, destroy property, or degrade the land, the owner can pursue legal action to recover compensation. However, it may be difficult to collect if the squatter has limited assets and resources. The owner may have no choice but to make repairs themselves or wait until they regain full possession of the property. Having insurance coverage for property damage can help offset some of these costs.

The complex legal issues surrounding squatters underscore the importance of taking prompt action to remove them. Allowing adverse possession to proceed puts the owner in a difficult position regarding liability exposures. Consulting with an attorney to understand all the implications is highly recommended. With the right steps, owners can mitigate risks and exercise their rights to reclaim possession.

Key Takeaways

  • In Alabama, as in many states, squatters' rights, also known as adverse possession, can allow individuals occupying land without the owner's permission to potentially claim legal ownership if specific conditions are met over an extended period.
  • For adverse possession claims in Alabama, the occupant must possess the property continuously for a period of 10 years. This possession must be exclusive, open, notorious, and without the consent of the property owner.
  • Claimants must treat the property as their own, which can include paying property taxes and making improvements. The possession must be open and notorious, meaning it is visible and obvious to anyone, including the rightful owner.
  • Property owners can protect against adverse possession claims by regularly inspecting their property, posting "No Trespassing" signs, fencing the property, or taking legal action against trespassers promptly.
  • If squatters occupy a property, the legal owner must act quickly to evict them. This usually requires serving an eviction notice followed by legal action, if necessary, to reclaim the property.
  • Adverse possession laws are designed to encourage the productive use of land that might otherwise remain neglected. However, they also raise ethical questions about the rights of property owners versus the rights of those who have effectively utilized the land.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to occupy land to claim squatters' rights in Alabama?

In Alabama, you must occupy a property continuously for 20 years to claim squatters' rights through adverse possession. This occupation must be actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, and under claim of right. 

Can squatters claim rights to a property they do not pay taxes on in Alabama?

Yes, in Alabama squatters can claim adverse possession without paying property taxes. Payment of taxes is not required, just continuous occupation for the statutory period.

What happens if squatters damage or make improvements to a property they are occupying in Alabama? 

Any improvements or changes made by squatters belong to the original property owner if the owner successfully removes the squatters. Squatters have no rights to compensation for any improvements. However, the property owner has no recourse for damage caused by squatters.

Do squatters have any rights to the value or proceeds from a property they claim through adverse possession in Alabama?

No, squatters have no rights to the value or proceeds from a property they adversely possess in Alabama, only the right to occupy the property. Once they gain legal ownership through adverse possession, they can then sell or profit from the property.

What options do property owners have for removing squatters from their land in Alabama?

Property owners can remove squatters through the eviction process, by first serving them a notice to quit, then filing an eviction lawsuit if they do not leave. The sheriff will remove the squatters if the court rules in the owner's favor.

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