Arkansas Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

Overview of Squatters' Rights in Arkansas

Squatters' rights, also known as "adverse possession" in legal terms, allow people who occupy an abandoned or unoccupied property without the owner's consent to potentially gain legal ownership of that property.

In Arkansas, there are specific laws that govern squatters' rights and adverse possession claims. These laws outline requirements related to the length of time the squatter must live on the property, whether they pay property taxes, and whether they maintain and improve the property.

Property owners in Arkansas face some risks when it comes to squatters. If a squatter can prove they meet the legal requirements for continuous possession of the property, they may be able to legally gain ownership or possession rights.

Some common issues that arise between property owners and squatters in Arkansas include:

  • Squatters moving into vacant investment properties, vacant homes, or summer homes that are unoccupied for periods of time.
  • Squatters refusing to leave rental properties after being evicted, leading to lengthy legal battles. 
  • Property owners returning after an extended absence to find squatters living on the land and claiming ownership.
  • Squatters making improvements or additions to the home (like adding locks), which can strengthen their adverse possession claims.

To avoid losing their properties, owners need to promptly remove squatters and be familiar with squatters' rights laws in Arkansas. Acting quickly against unauthorized occupants can help preserve the legal rights of property owners.

Requirements for Adverse Possession in Arkansas

In order for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim in Arkansas, they must meet several requirements. The key requirements are:

  • Continuous Possession - The squatter must reside on the property for the entire statutory period without any extended absences. In Arkansas, this period is 7 years. The squatter must use the property as if it were their own home or land consistently for the full 7 years. Even short absences can disrupt the continuity requirement.
  • Exclusive Possession - The squatter must exclude all others from use or possession of the property. They cannot share possession with the owner, other squatters, or tenants during the statutory period. The squatter must be the sole occupant and user.
  • Open and Notorious Possession - The squatter must make their possession of the property known to the public and community. They cannot try to hide the fact they are residing there. The owner must have reasonable opportunities to notice the squatter's presence if they visit or inspect the property. Things like putting up fences, making improvements, posting signs, or telling neighbors can serve as open and notorious possession.

By meeting all the requirements and residing on the property for the full statutory period of 7 years in Arkansas, a squatter may be able to make an adverse possession claim and gain legal ownership of the property. However, adverse possession cases can be complex, and squatters should not assume claims will be valid and recognized automatically. Consulting a legal professional is advisable.

Using Adverse Possession to Gain Ownership

Adverse possession is a legal principle that allows a person to gain ownership of a property they do not own through continuous occupation over an extended period of time. In Arkansas, a person must occupy a property for 7 years or more to make an adverse possession claim. 

To successfully claim adverse possession in Arkansas, you must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Continuous Possession - You must occupy the property for the full required timeframe without any extended absences. This means using the property as your primary residence or conducting regular maintenance.
  • Open & Notorious Use - Your possession of the property must be obvious and unambiguous. You need to demonstrate that you are occupying the land as an owner would.
  • Exclusive Use - You must be the only one possessing the property. Use that overlaps with the owner or others will not qualify.
  • Hostile Possession - Your occupancy must be against the rights of the true owner and without permission or consent. 
  • Paying Property Taxes - You must pay all taxes on the property during the statutory period to qualify for adverse possession.

The timeframe and requirements can vary slightly for different situations, like if you have color of title to the property. It's highly recommended to consult with a local real estate attorney before pursuing an adverse possession claim. They can evaluate if you meet the legal standards and guide you through the process.

Staking an adverse possession claim requires extensive documentation and strict adherence to Arkansas laws. Even if successful, you may still have to compensate the owner for the property's fair market value. Going through the courts provides the best protection for your rights as an adverse possessor.

Removing Squatters from a Property

There are a few options available for removing squatters from a property in Arkansas:

The proper legal process for removing squatters in Arkansas is to go through a formal eviction proceeding. This involves providing proper written notice to vacate, then filing for an eviction with the courts if they refuse to leave. Arkansas law requires a 10-day notice to vacate before filing for eviction.

After filing, a court hearing will be scheduled and a judge will order the squatters to leave if the eviction is approved. The sheriff's department will then enforce the eviction order and remove the squatters if necessary. This legal process can take 2-3 weeks or longer.

Calling the Police  

In some cases, the police may be willing to remove squatters from a property, but usually only if the squatters have recently moved in. The police are more likely to assist if there are signs of breaking and entering or criminal activity. 

However, police generally don't want to get involved in landlord-tenant disputes or civil matters. They may advise the owner to go through proper eviction proceedings through the courts instead.

Precautions when Confronting Squatters

Property owners should use caution when trying to remove squatters themselves. Confronting squatters can potentially lead to volatile situations or physical violence. 

It's best not to enter a property while squatters are present. Document their presence from outside first. Then take legal action through eviction proceedings or request police standby for removal instead of trying self-help evictions.

Landlord Issues with Squatters 

Landlords need to be aware of squatters' rights laws in Arkansas and take steps to prevent and remove squatters from rental properties. Squatters can become a costly liability if not addressed promptly.

Protecting Rentals from Squatters

There are several precautions landlords can take to secure vacant units and deter squatters:

  • Change the locks immediately when a tenant moves out
  • Install security alarms and surveillance cameras 
  • Frequently check on vacant units 
  • Hire a property management company to monitor vacancies
  • Put up window coverings so squatters can't see inside
  • Post no trespassing signs around the property
  • Make sure doors, windows, and fences are in good repair

It's critical to take action at the first sign of a squatter before they can establish occupancy. Documenting any unauthorized access helps build a case for removal.

Removing Squatters from Rentals 

If squatters are discovered in a rental unit, Arkansas landlords must follow the formal eviction process to remove them. This involves:

  • Serving a written notice to vacate 
  • Filing for eviction with the courts if they don't leave 
  • Scheduling a court hearing for the judge to issue an eviction order
  • Hiring the sheriff's department to forcibly remove squatters if needed

Landlords should consult a local attorney to ensure proper procedures are followed. Self-help evictions through threats, shutting off utilities, or force are unlawful.

Liability Concerns with Squatters

Squatters can expose landlords to substantial liability risks:

  • Injuries or crimes if unauthorized people live on the premises
  • Property damage from neglect, unreported problems
  • Loss of rental income from units occupied by squatters 
  • Legal fees and fines for improper evictions
  • Delayed access to units until squatters are removed

Landlords should take every precaution to keep squatters off their properties. Promptly addressing any squatter issues is key to reducing liability.

Avoiding Squatters

Securing your vacant property is crucial to avoiding squatter situations. Make sure all entrances are locked and secured. Board up any broken windows or doors. Install alarms and motion-sensor lights if possible. Consider hiring a property management company to regularly check on the property if it will be vacant for an extended time. 

Thoroughly screen all prospective tenants before allowing them to move in. Run background and credit checks, call previous landlord references, and verify employment. Make sure new tenants sign a detailed lease agreement clearly defining their rights and responsibilities. Conduct regular inspections even after tenants move in to check for signs of unauthorized occupants.

If you suspect squatting is starting, take action right away. Document any signs like suspicious noises, unfamiliar vehicles, or damage to the property. Speak directly to the squatters and ask them to leave, if it is safe to do so. Post no trespassing signs. Call the police if squatters refuse to leave or return after being removed once. The faster you respond, the easier it will be to avoid a drawn-out squatter situation.

Consult with a local landlord/tenant attorney if you need help crafting an eviction notice or lawsuit. Take photos and keep records of all interactions and observations related to potential squatters. The more evidence you have of trespassing and unauthorized occupation, the stronger your case will be if you have to take legal action.

Property Taxes and Squatters 

In Arkansas, the payment of property taxes plays an important role in establishing and defending a claim of adverse possession. Generally, squatters do not pay property taxes on properties they occupy. However, in some cases, a squatter may choose to pay taxes in order to strengthen their claim of ownership through adverse possession.

If a squatter does not pay property taxes, this can often weaken their claim, as payment of taxes helps demonstrate open and notorious use of the property. The actual property owner's payment of taxes also helps preserve their ownership interests against an adverse possession claim.  

In Arkansas, a squatter attempting to make an adverse possession claim is not legally required to pay the property taxes. However, payment of taxes for the statutory period can help satisfy the requirements of hostile, open and notorious possession.

Conversely, if the actual property owner pays the taxes and the squatter does not, the owner has a stronger case to defend against any potential adverse possession claims. The payment of taxes by the owner demonstrates continued ownership and interest in the property.

In some cases, questions can arise as to who is responsible for the taxes or whether double taxation applies. But generally, the actual property owner retains the legal tax obligation, while the squatter's payment or non-payment of taxes will influence their adverse possession claim.

Consulting with a local real estate attorney is advisable for guidance on the specific role of property tax payments in an adverse possession claim. But paying close attention to who pays the taxes on a disputed property can provide key evidence in establishing ownership.

Using Color of Title

Color of title refers to a written instrument that appears to give the holder a valid claim of title to a property, even though there may be some defect making the title invalid or void. While color of title is not necessary for an adverse possession claim in Arkansas, it can be used to expand the area of land that can be claimed through adverse possession.

The legal doctrine of color of title basically allows an adverse possessor to claim ownership over land that goes beyond their actual physical possession and improvements. For example, if a squatter occupies a 1-acre section of a 5-acre property, but has a written deed describing the full 5-acre property, they may be able to successfully claim adverse possession over the entire area through color of title. 

In Arkansas, the written instrument providing color of title does not have to be recorded. It could be an unrecorded deed, a contract of sale, or other documents that appear to give the squatter the right to possess the property. However, the instrument cannot be forged or fraudulent.

The key benefit of color of title for an adverse possessor is that it allows them to claim possession of contiguous land described in the instrument, without actually occupying the entire area. So even partial physical control over a property can lead to full ownership if color of title extends the claimed boundaries.

However, it's important to note that color of title by itself does not constitute or complete ownership of a property. There still has to be actual continuous possession of the land in question, whether physically occupied by the squatter or under their control through enclosures or improvements. But color of title may make it easier for a squatter to establish the "hostile" and "claim of right" components for adverse possession in Arkansas.

Commercial Property and Squatters 

Squatters' rights laws do apply to commercial properties in Arkansas. While squatting is most common in residential settings, it does sometimes occur in commercial buildings as well. The laws regarding adverse possession make no distinction between residential and commercial properties.

If squatters illegally occupy a commercial property, the owner still has to go through the formal eviction process to remove them. The process for evicting squatters from a commercial building is the same as for a residential eviction. However, commercial evictions can be somewhat more complicated if there are any current tenants with valid leases still occupying the building.

To remove squatters from a commercial property in Arkansas, the owner will need to:

  • Provide proper written notice to vacate - This is usually a 5-10 day notice posted conspicuously on the property. For adverse possession cases, a 60 day written notice is required.
  • File an eviction lawsuit if squatters do not leave - The owner can file the lawsuit in circuit court after the notice period expires. This begins the formal eviction proceedings.
  • Receive a court ordered eviction - If the judge rules in the owner's favor, the sheriff will be ordered to remove the squatters from the premises.
  • Use law enforcement to physically remove squatters - If squatters still refuse to leave after the court ordered eviction, the county sheriff can forcibly remove them as trespassers.

Property owners should act quickly when illegal occupation is detected, before squatters can claim any rights. Seeking legal counsel is also advisable when evicting squatters from commercial real estate in Arkansas. Overall the laws do apply equally, but evicting squatters from a business property can end up being more costly and time consuming for the owner.

Exceptions to Squatters' Rights

There are a few scenarios where squatters' rights laws in Arkansas do not apply. The most notable exception is for active duty members of the military. If a property owner is away from their home in Arkansas due to military service, squatters cannot make an adverse possession claim on their property during that time. 

Arkansas law protects active duty military members from losing their property this way while deployed. Even if squatters meet all the normal requirements for adverse possession, they cannot gain legal ownership of a property that belongs to someone on active military duty. This exception will remain in place until the owner returns from service.

Another potential exception is if the original property owner did not legally own the land according to property records, such as if there was an issue with the deed transfer. In that case, squatters may be able to claim ownership even if the owner tries to evict them. There are also some scenarios around co-ownership and inherited properties where squatters' rights can become more complex.

Overall the exceptions to squatters' rights laws in Arkansas are fairly limited. Active military personnel receive protection against claims by squatters. But for most property owners, the normal adverse possession laws will apply if squatters meet the requirements. Understanding squatters' rights in Arkansas can help owners take action to remove squatters promptly and avoid losing their property.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you remove a squatter in Arkansas?

To remove a squatter in Arkansas, the property owner must file an unlawful detainer lawsuit, following the state’s legal process for eviction, which typically starts with giving the squatter a notice to vacate.

What are the 5 requirements for adverse possession in Arkansas?

In Arkansas, the five requirements for adverse possession include that the possession must be hostile, actual, exclusive, open and notorious, and continuous for a period of at least seven years under a claim of title or color of title.

What is the 7 year fence law in Arkansas?

The 7 year fence law in Arkansas refers to a specific provision within the state's adverse possession laws, where a person may acquire legal ownership of land enclosed by a distinct and maintained fence if they have possessed it openly and notoriously for at least seven years.

Can you claim land in Arkansas?

Yes, you can claim land in Arkansas through adverse possession, provided you meet the legal requirements, including openly, continuously, and notoriously using the land for at least seven years under a claim of title or color of title.

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