Colorado Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What are Squatters’ Rights in Colorado?

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 Colorado, a squatter can make an adverse possession claim on a property if they occupy the land continuously for 18 years. The occupation must be actual, visible, hostile, open and notorious. This means the squatter must possess the land exclusively, in a manner that is conspicuous and obviously against the rights of the true owner. 

Simply living on the property is not necessarily enough to meet these requirements. The squatter must also maintain the land and make improvements as if they were the actual property owner. They must occupy the property without permission and continue to do so despite objections from the legal owner.

If a squatter meets all the requirements for an adverse possession claim after 18 years, they may be able to legally gain ownership of the property. At that point, the original owner loses all rights to the land. This highlights the importance for property owners of being vigilant about monitoring their property and taking legal action promptly to remove squatters.

Requirements for Adverse Possession in Colorado

In order for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim in Colorado, they must meet all of the following requirements:

Occupying the property for 18 years

The squatter must maintain actual, exclusive, hostile and continuous possession of the property for 18 years before they can claim a right via adverse possession. Mere occasional use or temporary presence does not qualify.

Maintaining/improving the property

The squatter must make good faith efforts to maintain the property during those 18 years, such as making repairs or improvements. Simply occupying the land is not enough.

Using the property exclusively

The owner cannot be making any use of the property during this time. The squatter's use must be exclusive.

Occupying the property continuously

The 18-year period cannot be interrupted. The squatter must reside on the property without any gaps of abandonment. 

Occupying the property openly

The squatter cannot try to hide their occupation from the legal owner. It must be obvious to any reasonable person.

Do Squatters Need Color of Title in Colorado?

Color of title refers to a deed or other legal document that appears to give the holder a valid claim to the property, even if there is a defect making it invalid. It does not give legal ownership, but can help support an adverse possession claim.

Colorado is considered a "color of title" state when it comes to adverse possession claims. This means that in most cases, a squatter needs to have some kind of written instrument, like a deed or will, to claim legal ownership through adverse possession. Simply occupying a property for the statutory period is not enough.

However, there are some exceptions to the color of title requirement in Colorado:

  • If a squatter has paid property taxes on the land for at least 7 years, they do not need color of title. Paying taxes helps demonstrate a claim of right to the property.
  • Adverse possession claims through inheritance do not require color of title. If a relative of the previous owner has occupied the land after their death, they can make a claim without a deed.
  • Minor defects in the written instrument do not negate a color of title claim, as long as the document appears valid on its face. Small errors like misspellings of names do not make the document invalid.

So in summary, while most squatters do need color of title to succeed with an adverse possession claim in Colorado, there are some exceptions if taxes have been paid or the claim is through a relative of the previous owner. But having some type of written document showing apparent title is required in most cases.

Must Squatters Pay Taxes in Colorado?

Paying property taxes is not an explicit requirement for an adverse possession claim in Colorado. However, paying taxes on the property for the statutory period can help prove continuous possession and control of the land. 

Importantly, not paying property taxes does not necessarily prevent a squatter from making an adverse possession claim. As long as the squatter meets the other requirements, such as maintaining the property and residing there without permission for the statutory period, failure to pay taxes will not necessarily defeat the claim.

The rationale is that a squatter may reside on the property for years without the owner's knowledge. Because property records still list the legal owner, the squatter has no way to pay the taxes. However, if the squatter can prove through other means they exclusively possessed and controlled the property for 18 years, not paying taxes alone will not defeat their adverse possession claim.

So in summary, paying taxes is not required but can be helpful evidence. And not paying taxes does not prevent an adverse possession claim if the squatter can prove the other elements like actual, continuous, hostile, open and notorious possession for the statutory period. The court will look at the totality of evidence to determine if the squatter acquired a valid claim.

Removing Squatters in Colorado

If you find squatters occupying your Denver property, you will need to take legal action to remove them. Here are the steps for properly evicting squatters in Colorado:

Serve Proper Eviction Notice

The first step is to provide written notice demanding the squatters leave the premises. The eviction notice should name all individual squatters, if known. You must give them a reasonable timeframe to vacate–usually 3 days. Serve notice by posting it on the property and sending via certified mail.

File an Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit

If the squatters fail to leave after proper notice, you can file an unlawful detainer lawsuit with the court. This asks the court to order the squatters removed and issue a writ of restitution. Provide documentation showing ownership of the property and proof of eviction notice delivery. 

Enlist Law Enforcement

If you win the unlawful detainer but squatters still refuse to leave, law enforcement can physically remove them from the premises. The sheriff will post a copy of the writ on the property and then return up to 24 hours later to enforce the court order and evict the squatters. The sheriff can arrest squatters who refuse to vacate.

Act promptly when evicting squatters to prevent them from making an adverse possession claim. With the proper legal procedures, you can remove unwanted squatters and reclaim possession of your Denver property.

Protecting Your Property from Squatters  

Property owners should take proactive measures to protect their land from squatters trying to make an adverse possession claim. Here are some tips:

Regularly monitor and maintain your property

Conduct frequent inspections of your property. Look for any signs of trespassing or unauthorized persons staying on the land. Routinely care for the land by cleaning up debris, mowing the lawn, trimming bushes, etc. Your presence deters squatters.

Post “No Trespassing” signs

Clearly mark your property boundaries with no trespassing signs. Post signs on all sides of the land and at any access points. Also post signs on structures and buildings if applicable. The signs serve as legal notice that any entry is prohibited. 

Secure all access points

Eliminate any easy access that would allow squatters to enter the premises. Lock gates, repair fences, board up windows/doors, etc. By securing all entrances, it makes it much harder for squatters to occupy your property.

Taking preventative measures can stop squatters from ever gaining a foothold on your land. Consistent care and monitoring shows you have not abandoned the property. Following these tips will help ensure squatters cannot try to take possession of land that is rightfully yours.

Squatters vs. Holdover Tenants in Colorado 

A key distinction in Colorado property law is understanding the difference between squatters and holdover tenants. While both illegally occupy a property, there are important differences:


Have no prior legal right to be on the property. They move in without the owner's knowledge or permission.

Holdover tenants

Originally had the right to be on the property under a valid rental agreement or lease. However, they failed to vacate the property after their lease or right of occupancy ended.  

Holdover tenants present less of a claim to legal rights, since their original occupancy was lawful for a set period which has expired. Under Colorado law, holdover tenants can be evicted much more rapidly than squatters claiming adverse possession.

Evicting Holdover Tenants vs. Squatters

To remove a holdover tenant, the property owner can give a formal demand for possession notice. If the tenant does not vacate after this notice, the landlord can file for eviction. The entire legal eviction process for a holdover tenant in Colorado typically takes 3-4 weeks.

Squatters, in contrast, require the full legal process for adverse possession to claim rights or be evicted. This takes significantly longer - a minimum of 18 continuous years of occupancy. Until they meet the time requirement, squatters have no legal grounds for remaining on the property and can be removed.

Reclaiming Property from Holdover Tenants 

For residential properties, once a holdover tenant's lease term is up, the landlord only needs to give written notice of non-renewal and 3 days for the tenant to vacate. After this, eviction proceedings can begin immediately.

With commercial properties, landlords must provide written notice equal to the original lease term length - i.e. 30 days notice for a monthly lease. If the tenant stays past the notice period, the owner can file for eviction without any additional notice requirements.

By taking prompt legal action, property owners can quickly reclaim possession from holdover tenants in Colorado and avoid claims of adverse possession.

Partial Adverse Possession Claims in Colorado

In Colorado, it is possible for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim on only part of a property, rather than the entire parcel. This is known as a partial adverse possession claim. 

For a partial claim, the squatter must still meet all the requirements for adverse possession, but only for the specific portion of land they are claiming. They must occupy and use that area exclusively, openly, continuously, and in a hostile manner for the statutory period of 18 years.  

Property owners can take steps to prevent partial claims by squatters:

  • Clearly demarcate property boundaries: Install fencing, signage, or other markers to delineate the edges of your land. Don't allow any areas to appear ambiguous or unused.
  • Patrol and monitor all areas of your property: Don't neglect sections that may seem unused. Check for any signs of access, occupation, or improvements.  
  • Cut off any unauthorized access points: Secure gates, cap stairs, and obstruct unofficial trails that may allow access to remote areas on your land.
  • Landscape or make improvements along property edges: Installing landscaping or other improvements up to the very edge of your property line can help deter squatters from encroaching.
  • Document with photos or video: Keep dated records showing the condition of your entire property, especially remote areas. This can counter claims.
  • Seek legal removal at first signs: If you suspect a partial adverse possession attempt, take legal action right away to have the squatter removed. 

By actively monitoring and protecting the perimeter and unused portions of your land, property owners can defend against partial adverse possession claims by squatters in Colorado.

Abandonment of Adverse Possession in Colorado

Once a squatter has established adverse possession rights in Colorado, they gain legal ownership of the property. However, what happens if the squatter then abandons the property?

Importantly, the rights gained through adverse possession can be lost again through abandonment in Colorado. If a squatter vacates the property and clearly demonstrates intent to abandon the land, the ownership rights gained through adverse possession may be extinguished. 

Signs of abandonment include:

  • The squatter stops occupying the property for a prolonged period.
  • The squatter stops maintaining or making improvements to the property.
  • The squatter indicates they no longer want to possess the property.
  • The squatter doesn't try to prevent others from using the land.

If a property appears clearly abandoned by the adverse possessor, the original owner may be able to reclaim ownership by occupying the land again themselves. However, the original owner should consult a real estate attorney first to ensure the abandonment is genuine and they can legally reclaim the property.

If an abandoned property becomes occupied by a new squatter, the new squatter cannot just inherit the rights of the previous adverse possessor. The new squatter would have to independently fulfill all the requirements for their own adverse possession claim. They do not get credit for any time the previous squatter may have occupied the property before abandoning it.

Key Takeaways

  • In Colorado, squatters can claim legal ownership of property through adverse possession after continuously occupying the land for 18 years, provided they meet specific legal criteria.
  • Squatters must occupy the property in a way that is actual, visible, hostile, open, and notorious. This means their possession must be exclusive, conspicuous, and clearly against the true owner's rights.
  • Simply living on the property is insufficient; squatters must actively maintain and improve the property, demonstrating care and investment akin to that of a true owner.
  • Colorado typically requires squatters to have color of title—some form of documentation like a deed—to strengthen their adverse possession claim. Additionally, paying property taxes for at least 7 years can support their claim, even without color of title.
  • After meeting the requirements for 18 years, squatters must file a quiet title action in court to legally gain ownership, necessitating the services of a real estate attorney to navigate the process.
  • Property owners should regularly inspect their property, post "No Trespassing" signs, and take prompt legal action to remove squatters to prevent adverse possession claims.
  • Understanding the difference between squatters (who occupy without any initial permission) and holdover tenants (who stay beyond their lease terms) is crucial, as the legal procedures to address each situation differ.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long are squatters’ rights in Colorado?

Squatters can claim rights in Colorado through adverse possession after occupying a property for 18 continuous years, provided they meet the legal requirements of actual, open, notorious, exclusive, and hostile possession.

Can you turn off utilities on a squatter in Colorado?

Intentionally turning off utilities to force a squatter out may lead to legal complications. It's advisable to handle squatter situations through legal channels and consult with an attorney before taking any action that could be construed as self-help eviction.

How do I report a squatter in Colorado?

To report a squatter, you can contact local law enforcement to determine if the situation involves criminal trespass. However, if the squatter claims a right to be on the property, you may need to pursue eviction through the civil court system.

How do you remove a squatter in Colorado?

To remove a squatter in Colorado, you must serve them with a notice to vacate and then file an unlawful detainer lawsuit if they do not leave the property voluntarily. This process may require the assistance of a lawyer to navigate the legal requirements and court proceedings.

Is squatting illegal in Colorado?

Squatting is illegal in Colorado when it involves trespassing on someone else's property without permission. However, squatters may attempt to claim legal ownership through adverse possession after fulfilling certain conditions over an extended period.

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