Hawaii Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

Introduction to Squatters’ Rights in Hawaii

Squatting, also known as adverse possession, refers to a legal concept that allows a person (or squatter) occupying someone else's property without permission to potentially gain legal ownership of that property after a certain period of continuous occupation. 

Squatters’ rights laws have a long history dating back to English common law. The underlying rationale is that if a property owner fails to assert their ownership rights and allows others to openly occupy their property over an extended period of time, then the squatter gains legal rights of possession.

In Hawaii, adverse possession laws allow a squatter to potentially gain legal ownership of a property after openly occupying it continuously for 20 years. The occupation must be actual, open, notorious, hostile, exclusive, and continuous over the full statutory period. Additionally, the squatter must pay any real property taxes on the land during those 20 years.

If these requirements are fulfilled, the squatter can file a lawsuit to quiet title alleging adverse possession, essentially claiming legal ownership of the property. The original property owner can fight the adverse possession claim in court, but will likely lose if the continuous 20-year occupation is proven.

Adverse possession laws in Hawaii provide an avenue for squatters to gain legal rights to property they do not own. However, the road to ownership is difficult and long, often taking decades of undisrupted occupation.

Requirements for Adverse Possession in Hawaii 

To successfully claim adverse possession in Hawaii, a squatter must meet several requirements. These include:

Time Period Required

  • In Hawaii, a squatter must occupy a property continuously for 5-30 years to establish ownership through adverse possession, depending on if they have color of title. 
  • With color of title, the statutory period is 20 years. Color of title means the squatter has some kind of documentation showing ownership, even if it is invalid.
  • Without color of title, the statutory period increases to 30 years of continuous possession.

Open and Continuous Possession

  • The squatter must possess the property in an open and obvious manner. They cannot try to hide the fact that they are occupying the property.

Exclusive Possession 

  • The squatter must possess the property exclusively, without the permission of the true owner. Shared or sporadic possession is not sufficient.

Hostile Possession

  • The possession must be hostile, meaning it is without the owner's permission. The owner must not have consented to the squatter living on the property.

Good Faith Belief of Ownership

  • The squatter must have a reasonable, good faith belief they are entitled to own the property. They can't take possession when they know it belongs to someone else.

Paying Property Taxes

  • To establish color of title, the squatter must pay property taxes on the land for the full statutory period. If they default on taxes, it can nullify their claim.

Gaining Color of Title Through Adverse Possession

In Hawaii, squatters can gain color of title to a property by paying property taxes on the land for 20 continuous years. Color of title is a way for squatters to reduce the statutory period required for adverse possession from 30 years down to just 20 years. 

To gain color of title in Hawaii, the squatter must:

  • Occupy the land openly, continuously, and exclusively for 20 years
  • Pay all property taxes on the land for 20 consecutive years 
  • Have a written document that appears to give them title to the land, even if it does not actually give lawful title

This written document is considered "color of title" under Hawaii law. It could be a deed, will, property title, or other document that appears to give the squatter the right to possess the land. Even if the document does not actually give lawful title, it can still serve as color of title.

By occupying the land and paying taxes for 20 years with color of title, the squatter can adversely possess the land. After 20 years, they can file a lawsuit to quiet title and become the legal owner. Color of title provides an easier path to ownership, allowing adverse possession 10 years faster than without it.

To successfully claim color of title, the occupancy and tax payments must be uninterrupted for the full 20-year period. The squatter must also meet all other requirements for adverse possession in Hawaii, like hostile, actual, open and notorious possession. With consistent compliance, color of title provides squatters a way to shorten the time frame to claim ownership.

Maintaining a Claim During the Statutory Period 

To successfully claim adverse possession in Hawaii, squatters must maintain continuous possession of the property for the required statutory period. This involves:

Keeping Possession

Squatters must physically occupy the property for the entire statutory period without any extended absences. They must act as true owners would, using the property openly and treating it as their own. Any lapse in possession can disrupt the continuity and lead to a failed claim.

Paying Property Taxes  

For a claim under color of title, squatters must pay property taxes on the land for the full statutory period. As long as taxes are paid annually, a squatter can make a claim after 20 years. Failure to pay taxes can nullify an adverse possession claim.

Making Improvements

Making improvements like building structures, cultivating land, or upgrading systems demonstrates a squatter's ownership and permanent occupation. Courts view improvements as evidence of adverse possession. Squatters should maintain receipts for improvements as proof.

Responding to Challenges 

If a property owner discovers a squatter and tries to remove them before the statutory period expires, the squatter must assert legal possession and defend their right to be on the property. Passively giving up possession due to a challenge can defeat a future claim. Squatters should consult an attorney if faced with removal.

Maintaining continuous possession with objective acts of ownership is key to gaining adverse possession rights in Hawaii. Squatters must fulfill all legal requirements throughout the statutory period without interruption to have a valid claim.

Special Considerations for Adverse Possession

Adverse possession claims for vacant land versus inhabited properties have some key differences under Hawaii law. 

For vacant land, the statutory period is 20 years of continuous hostile possession. The adverse possessor must occupy the land in an open, visible, and notorious manner for the entire 20-year period. Things like clearing land, farming, fencing off the property, or building structures can help demonstrate hostile possession.

For inhabited properties like houses or apartments, the statutory period is only 5 years of continuous hostile possession. The shorter time period accounts for the fact that the owner has better notice of the adverse possession when someone is visibly inhabiting their property.

Boundary disputes between neighbors are common situations for adverse possession claims. If a neighbor expands their use of property beyond the deeded boundary line, they may be able to claim ownership of the additional land after 20 years of hostile possession. Things like building fences, garages, or sheds over the property line can lead to adverse possession.

Co-tenants or joint owners cannot claim adverse possession against each other while their relationship exists. However, if the relationship ends and one co-tenant exclusively possesses the property, they may be able to start the clock for a future adverse possession claim against the other co-tenant.  

There are some exceptions to the 20-year rule that can shorten or extend the statutory period for adverse possession. For example, if the owner is considered legally disabled, the statutory period does not begin until the disability is removed. Minors also cannot claim adverse possession until reaching the age of majority.

How Squatters Can Claim Ownership in Hawaii

To claim ownership of a property through adverse possession in Hawaii, squatters must take certain steps once the statutory period has elapsed. 

Filing a Quiet Title Action

After occupying the property for the required timeframe, the squatter can file a lawsuit known as a "quiet title action" to obtain legal title. This asks the court to recognize their ownership interest in the land. The squatter must serve notice to the legal owner, who can contest the claim in court. Evidence such as tax records, receipts for improvements, and witness statements will be considered.

Having the Claim Verified

If the court verifies the squatter meets all requirements, it will issue a judicial decree awarding them title to the property. The decree confirms the squatter as the legal owner going forward. 

Defending Possession

If the original owner challenges the squatter's possession during the statutory period, the squatter must be prepared to defend their continuous, open and exclusive use of the property in court. They will need solid evidence like photos, improvement records and affidavits. Abandoning the property can nullify an adverse possession claim.

Recording the New Deed 

Once the squatter obtains the legal title from the court, they must record a new deed reflecting ownership. This makes the transfer of title official in the public record. The squatter is now the rightful owner and can occupy or sell the property as desired.

How Property Owners Can Remove Squatters 

If you discover someone living on your Hawaii property without permission, you will need to take action to remove the squatter and reclaim possession. Here are the steps for legally evicting squatters in Hawaii:

Issue a Written Trespass Notice

The first step is to provide written notice demanding the squatter vacate the premises immediately. This puts them on formal notice that they do not have permission to be there. Send the notice via certified mail and post a copy visibly on the property. The notice should identify the property, demand the squatter leave within a certain time frame, and state that legal action will be taken if they fail to comply.

File an Eviction Lawsuit 

If the squatter does not vacate after proper notice, you will need to file a lawsuit to have them evicted. This involves submitting documents to the court and scheduling a hearing. You can choose to hire an attorney to handle this or represent yourself. Gather evidence proving your ownership and their lack of permission to be there. State law requires a minimum of 5 days' notice before the court date.

Get a Court Order for Eviction

During the court hearing, present your case for eviction to the judge. If the ruling is in your favor, the court will issue an order for the squatter to vacate, usually within 5 days. The court will deliver the order to the local sheriff's department for enforcement.

Enforce the Court Order 

If the squatter ignores the court-ordered eviction, the sheriff will visit the property and physically remove them. The sheriff will oversee the process to ensure it is carried out in accordance with the law. Once removed, the sheriff can arrest the person if they return and continue to trespass.

With the proper steps, Hawaii property owners can take legal action to remove unwanted squatters from their land. Consulting with a real estate attorney can help ensure the process goes smoothly. Acting quickly when a squatter situation arises is key to reclaiming possession.

Preventing Squatting on Hawaii Properties

Vacant properties in Hawaii can be prime targets for squatters looking to claim ownership through adverse possession. Fortunately, there are several steps property owners can take to deter and prevent squatting:

Register the Property

Make sure the property is properly registered with the county and all property taxes are paid and up-to-date. Paying property taxes can help demonstrate ownership and make an adverse possession claim more difficult for squatters.

Check on the Property Frequently 

If the property will be vacant for an extended period, consider hiring a property manager or asking a friend or neighbor to regularly check on it. Frequent visits and inspections make it harder for squatters to move in and establish continuous possession.

Post No Trespassing Signs

Clearly post no trespassing signs around the property. While this may not prevent determined squatters, it establishes clear notice that any entry is illegal and not permitted by the actual property owner.

Secure Entrances and Access Points

Make sure all doors, windows, fences, gates and other entryways are properly secured. Board up or block any areas that look vulnerable to entry. This will make it harder for squatters to get in and start residing there.

Taking preventative measures can help Hawaii property owners avoid dealing with the complicated process of removing squatters. By registering, inspecting, posting signs and securing access, owners can protect vacant land and discourage squatters from attempting adverse possession.

Other Remedies for Property Owners

Property owners in Hawaii have additional legal remedies besides eviction to deal with squatters. Here are some options:

Criminal Trespass

If a squatter refuses to leave after receiving proper notice, they may be criminally trespassing. Property owners can contact local law enforcement and have them removed for trespassing. Squatters may face misdemeanor charges, fines, and even jail time.

Property Damage Claims  

If squatters have damaged the property, owners may take legal action to recover costs for repairs and losses. This can include damage to the building, theft of utilities, or harm to landscaping. Property owners should document evidence and consult an attorney.

Law Enforcement Assistance

Beyond pressing criminal charges, property owners can seek assistance from law enforcement to remove unwanted squatters. Police can force squatters to leave the premises immediately upon request from the owner. This is quicker than civil court eviction.

Key Takeaways

Adverse possession laws in Hawaii allow squatters to potentially gain legal ownership of property after occupying it continuously for 5-30 years. However, gaining adverse possession is complex and requires meeting specific requirements over decades. 

Property owners should regularly monitor their vacant properties in Hawaii to check for trespassers. Posting no trespassing signs, securing entry points, and having a property manager periodically inspect the property can help deter squatters.

If you discover squatters on your Hawaii property, consult with a real estate attorney immediately to understand your rights. The attorney can guide you through proper procedures for removing the squatters, such as issuing a notice to vacate and filing an eviction lawsuit if they refuse to leave.

Gaining adverse possession is extremely difficult and many squatter attempts fail. With proper precautions, Hawaii property owners can prevent squatters from occupying their vacant properties and avoid losing ownership through adverse possession laws. Being aware of the requirements, diligently monitoring properties, and working with a knowledgeable real estate attorney can help property owners protect their land rights in Hawaii.

Frequently Asked Questions

Squatting itself is not "legal" in the sense that it's not a right to occupy someone else's property without permission. However, Hawaii, like other states, has adverse possession laws that may allow squatters to claim legal ownership of a property under certain conditions after a prolonged period of time.

What is the adverse possession law in Hawaii?

In Hawaii, the adverse possession law requires a person to occupy a property openly, continuously, and exclusively for a period of 20 years under a claim of right or color of title. The squatter must also pay property taxes during this period to potentially gain legal ownership.

Can I kick someone out of my house in Hawaii?

Yes, if someone is in your house without permission in Hawaii, you can ask them to leave. If they refuse, you may need to pursue a formal eviction process, even if they are not a tenant under a lease agreement. This involves serving them with a notice to vacate and possibly filing an eviction lawsuit.

Can you evict someone without a lease in Hawaii?

Yes, in Hawaii, you can evict someone without a lease. Individuals staying in a property without a formal lease agreement are considered "at-will" tenants, and you must provide them with a 45-day notice to vacate if it's a residential property. If they fail to leave after the notice period, you can file for eviction in court.

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