Maine Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

Introduction to Squatters’ Rights in Maine

Squatters' rights, also known as adverse possession, allow people to potentially gain ownership of property they do not have title to, after meeting specific requirements over a defined period of time. 

In Maine, adverse possession laws allow squatters to gain legal ownership of property that they have continually occupied and maintained for 20 years or more. For a squatter to make an adverse possession claim in Maine, they must demonstrate that their occupation and use of the property has been actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile and continuous over the statutory period of 20 years.  

The doctrine of adverse possession exists to ensure that properties do not go unused and that the titleholder maintains active ownership and monitoring of their land. If a property appears abandoned or neglected, and someone makes use of the property continuously without objection, they may be able to claim legal rights to the land after many years through adverse possession.

To successfully claim adverse possession, squatters in Maine must meet all the requirements over the entire 20 year period. If the elements are not continually maintained over that time, the clock resets and a new 20 year period begins from the date the elements were not met.

Requirements for Adverse Possession in Maine

To claim adverse possession, squatters in Maine must meet all the requirements for adverse possession. These include:

Actual Possession

  • Squatters must be physically occupying and using the property as an owner would. Simply stopping by the property periodically or storing belongings there does not qualify as actual possession. The squatter must be regularly living on or actively using the entire property.

Open & Notorious Possession  

  • It must be obvious to anyone that the squatter is occupying and laying claim to the property. They cannot hide their possession and activities. Things like making repairs, maintaining the land, adding improvements, posting signage, or telling neighbors can demonstrate open and notorious possession.

Exclusive Possession

  • The squatter must be the only one possessing and occupying the property. Adverse possession claims usually fail if the legal owner also uses or occupies the property during the required time period. The squatter’s possession must be exclusive.

Continuous Possession

  • The squatter must reside on the property for the entire required time without significant gaps. In Maine, 20 years of continuous possession is required. Occasional short-term absences are acceptable, but the squatter cannot abandon the property for long periods. Possession must be continuous for the full 20 years.

Hostile Possession

  • The squatter must occupy the property without permission and against the rights of the legal owner. Their use of the property cannot be with the owner’s consent. The possession must be clearly hostile to the legal owner’s rights.

Time Requirements

  • In order to make an adverse possession claim in Maine, squatters must occupy the property continuously for 20 years. Payment of property taxes is not required to establish adverse possession, which sets Maine apart from some other states.  
  • The 20 years of continuous possession must be actual, open and notorious, exclusive, hostile, and continuous. Any gaps in occupation could disrupt the claim. The squatter must use the property as the average owner would for a continuous 20 year period.
  • Maine does make an exception when it comes to uncultivated land. For this type of property, the squatter must have a color of title to the land and have paid the property taxes for at least 20 years in order to make an adverse possession claim. Simply occupying the uncultivated land for 20 years would not be enough.

Overall, Maine has relatively straightforward time requirements for adverse possession claims. As long as squatters can prove 20 years of continuous occupation and use of the property as their own, they can potentially gain legal ownership through adverse possession. Uncultivated land has more stringent requirements involving color of title and tax payment history.

Filing an Adverse Possession Claim  

In order for squatters to make an official legal claim seeking ownership of the property they have occupied, they must go through the court system in Maine and file an adverse possession lawsuit against the current owner of record. The burden of proof is on the squatter to provide documentation and evidence that they meet all the requirements for adverse possession.

Squatters must be able to prove continuous occupation for at least 20 years. They will need to provide documentation like utility bills, repaired maintenance records, payment of property taxes, or sworn affidavits from neighbors and visitors. Photos, videos, and other records proving consistent occupation can also be submitted as evidence.

The squatter will also need to prove that their possession has been actual, open and notorious, exclusive, hostile, and continuous over the entire 20 year statutory period. Witness testimonies, records of accessing and improving the property, and documented attempts to keep others from entering the premises can help establish proof.

In an adverse possession case, the squatter is the plaintiff and the legal property owner is the defendant. There may be a trial or hearing where both sides call witnesses and present evidence. The court will then make a ruling determining if the squatter has fulfilled all the requirements to claim ownership of the property through adverse possession in Maine. If the court rules in favor of the squatter, they will be able to obtain a new deed registering them as the legal owner.

Removing Squatters in Maine  

Squatters must be evicted through the legal eviction process in Maine. The eviction process begins with providing proper notice to the squatters. In Maine, landlords must provide a 7 Day Notice to Quit for nonpayment of rent or a 30 Day Notice to Quit for other lease violations.

Once proper notice has expired, the landlord can file an eviction complaint with the courts. This starts a court procedure where the squatter has the opportunity to attend a court hearing and defend themselves. 

If the court rules in favor of the landlord, a writ of possession will be issued. This authorizes the removal of the squatters from the property. Importantly, only a sheriff can forcibly remove squatters from a property once a writ of possession is obtained. 

Police do not have the authority to remove squatters in Maine, even if they are trespassing. Only a sheriff can physically evict squatters after going through the formal legal eviction process and obtaining a court order.

Landlords cannot use force to remove squatters. Doing so would be illegal and could open the landlord up to civil liability or even criminal charges. Landlords must follow proper procedures and obtain an eviction order before lawfully removing squatters from a property.

Preventing Squatters

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

Inspect the property regularly

  • Frequent inspections allow you to catch any squatters early before they can establish residence. Try to inspect at least every couple of weeks.

Make the property appear occupied

  • Give the impression that someone is living on the premises. Have mail and newspaper delivery, keep lights on timers, make sure the lawn is maintained.

Install security systems and lighting

  • Motion-sensor lights and cameras can deter potential squatters. Make sure entrances are well-lit.

Post "No Trespassing" signs

  • Clear signage indicates that any entry is illegal. Place signs on the house as well as at property borders.

Ask neighbors to report suspicious activity

  • Coordinate with adjacent neighbors to keep an eye out. Provide them with your contact info.

Hire a property manager

  • A property manager routinely checks on the home and maintains the yard. Their regular presence helps deter squatters.

Taking preventative measures makes it much less likely squatters will try to reside on your property. But if they do, early detection gives you the best chance of removing them easily. Be vigilant about safeguarding your home.

Local Laws and Penalties

In addition to Maine state laws regarding squatting and adverse possession, some cities and towns in Maine may have additional local ordinances pertaining to squatting that squatters should be aware of. For example, the city of Portland has several ordinances that allow the police to remove squatters from public areas like parks and sidewalks if they pose a public safety risk or are obstructing use of public spaces.

Squatters occupying private residential or commercial property without the owner's permission may face additional penalties and fines under local municipal codes for trespassing, unlawful occupancy, or nuisance violations. Fines for squatting violations can range anywhere from $50 to $500 in different cities and towns across Maine. Repeat offenders may also face the possibility of jail time in certain municipalities, especially if they have been removed and warned previously. Checking your local city or town's municipal codes can help squatters understand the potential legal consequences they may face.

Overall, squatting on private property without the owner's consent is illegal in Maine. While squatting itself may not always carry criminal penalties, squatters can be arrested and charged with trespassing, burglary, or other offenses depending on the circumstances. Consulting with a local criminal defense lawyer is advisable for squatters who have been cited or arrested. The penalties squatters may incur depends on the specific laws and ordinances in the city, town, or county where the property is located.

Landlord-Tenant Relationship

Squatters do not have a legal landlord-tenant relationship with the property owner. Because squatters occupy the property without the owner's consent, standard landlord-tenant laws, lease agreements, and responsibilities do not apply. 

Landlords and tenants have a contractual relationship governed by rental agreements and landlord-tenant laws. Tenants pay rent and agree to certain responsibilities in exchange for the legal right to live on the property. 

Squatters have no such agreement with the property owner. They take up residence without permission and therefore do not pay rent or have any legal rights or responsibilities as a tenant would. The owner receives no compensation or benefits from the squatter.

Since squatters lack lawful permission to live on the property, they are considered trespassers rather than legal tenants. As such, squatters cannot claim standard tenant protections against eviction. Police also have much broader power to remove trespassers from private property compared to tenants who can only be evicted through the court process.

Property owners should be aware that any informal rental agreements made with squatters could potentially transform their legal status to tenants. To avoid this scenario, owners should work through the formal eviction process rather than attempt to remove the squatters directly or accept any rent payments from them.

Police Authority

The police cannot remove squatters from private property in Maine. While squatters are trespassing, squatting itself is a civil matter, not criminal. Only sheriffs have the legal authority to remove squatters after a legal eviction process has been completed and a writ of possession is granted by the courts.

A writ of possession is a judge's order directing the sheriff to remove occupants from a property. To obtain a writ, the property owner must first provide proper notice to squatters, file an eviction complaint with the court, and attend a court hearing. If the judge rules in favor of the property owner, the writ will be issued. 

The sheriff will then serve the writ of possession to the squatters, giving them 24 hours to vacate the premises. If the squatters do not leave after proper notice, the sheriff can return and physically remove them. Police officers do not have the same enforcement authority when it comes to removing squatters.

Frequently Asked Questions About Squatters’ Rights in Maine

What are the requirements for adverse possession in Maine?

In Maine, squatters can gain legal ownership of a property after 20 years of continuous occupation. The possession must be actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, and continuous for the full 20 year period.  

How long do squatters have to occupy a property in Maine to claim ownership?

Squatters in Maine must live on the property for 20 full years before they can make an adverse possession claim for legal ownership. The 20 years must be uninterrupted.

Can police remove squatters from private property in Maine?

No, police in Maine do not have the authority to remove squatters from private property. Only a sheriff can forcibly remove squatters after a legal eviction process takes place and a writ of possession is obtained.

What does right-of-way mean in relation to squatters’ rights in Maine?

Right-of-way refers to a type of easement that gives someone the right to travel through another person's private property. Easements and squatters’ rights are related, but legally distinct concepts in Maine.

What is the Maine rule for adverse possession?

The Maine rule for adverse possession requires 20 years of continuous, uninterrupted occupation and use of a property. Provided the other requirements are also met, this 20 year period allows a squatter to make a legal claim for ownership of the property.

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