Maryland Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What are Squatters Rights in Maryland?

Squatters rights, also known as adverse possession, refers to a legal concept that allows a person to gain ownership of a property they do not have title to. This is done by occupying the property continuously for a statutory period of time without the legal owner's permission. 

In Maryland, squatters can make an adverse possession claim after living on a property for 21 years or more. If the squatter meets all legal requirements, they may be able to file a lawsuit to gain legal ownership of the property.

Adverse possession laws were created to encourage productive use of land and establish clear property rights. However, property owners should be aware of these laws so they can monitor their land and prevent squatters from taking ownership.

Requirements for Adverse Possession in Maryland

To claim adverse possession in Maryland, a squatter must meet all of the following requirements continuously for 21 years or more:

Hostile claim

The occupation must be under a claim of right hostile to the owner's title. The squatter must occupy the property without the owner's permission.

Actual possession

The squatter must be in actual, physical possession of the property. Simply stopping by or making occasional use does not qualify. The squatter must treat the property as if they are the true owner.

Open and notorious possession

The squatter's possession must be obvious and known to others, not concealed. It must be clear to the owner and the public that the squatter is occupying and possessing the property.

Exclusive possession

The squatter must hold exclusive possession of the property. They cannot share possession with the true owner or others.

Continuous possession

The squatter must reside on the property without any gaps or lapses. The 21-year timeline only counts during the period of continuous occupation. If the squatter vacates the property for a period of time, the clock resets to zero.

The 21-year requirement is a key element for adverse possession claims in Maryland. To gain legal ownership, the squatter must meet all of the above requirements for a minimum of 21 consecutive years. Anything less than 21 years does not qualify.

Hostile Claim Requirement

To claim adverse possession in Maryland, the squatter must occupy the property without the legal owner's permission. This is referred to as having a "hostile claim." 

It does not necessarily mean the squatter has to be aggressive or confrontational with the owner. Rather, it means the squatter is occupying the land without the legal owner's consent. If the owner gave the squatter permission to live on the property, then it would not qualify as a hostile claim.

The squatter must act as if they are the true owner, not acknowledging that someone else has a superior claim to the land. Things like paying rent or taxes would demonstrate that the squatter recognizes someone else's ownership.

The hostile claim must be continuous for at least 21 years. If at any point the squatter acknowledges the true owner's rights, it would restart the clock and they'd have to occupy the land for another 21 years before making an adverse possession claim.

So the key is for the squatter to openly use the property as their own for over two decades, without the owner's permission. Only by meeting this hostile claim requirement and the other elements can an adverse possession claim potentially succeed in Maryland.

Actual Possession Requirement

To claim adverse possession in Maryland, squatters must physically occupy and live on the property for the required statutory period. This means regularly using the property as if they were the true owners. 

Merely walking across the land or making casual use of it does not qualify as actual possession. Squatters have to make the land their permanent home and demonstrate exclusive control over it. They must carry out acts like building or making improvements to structures, planting gardens, putting up fencing, paying property taxes, and so on. 

Courts look for evidence that squatters exercised full possession and domain over the property as any typical owner would. Simply stopping by or storing belongings is not enough to fulfill the actual possession requirement under Maryland’s adverse possession laws. Continuous physical occupation and residential use for 21 years is necessary to prove a hostile claim over the property.

Open and Notorious Possession 

One of the key requirements for adverse possession in Maryland is that the possession must be open and notorious. This means that the squatter must occupy and use the property openly, without any attempt to hide their occupancy.  

Simply being present on the land does not satisfy this requirement. The squatter must make their possession well-known, so that any reasonable person would be aware of their occupancy. For example, the squatter may make improvements to the property, maintain and take care of the land, grow crops, build structures, or act like an owner in other obvious ways.

The squatter's use of the property must give actual notice to the legal owner and the public that someone is occupying the land under a hostile claim. Using the property only at night or in other hidden ways would likely fail to meet the open and notorious standard. The goal is that the owner and community are fully aware of the squatter's possession.

In addition to obvious use of the land, the squatter should communicate directly with the legal owner, if possible. Written notice and verbal assertions about possessing the property demonstrate open and notorious possession. Overall, the squatter must occupy and use the land continuously without concealment for the 21 year period to claim adverse possession rights in Maryland.

Exclusive Possession

For a squatter to make an adverse possession claim in Maryland, they must show they exclusively possessed the property. This means the squatter must be the only one occupying and using the land or property during the statutory period.  

Exclusive possession establishes that the squatter is making a hostile claim and acting as the true owner, rather than sharing use or possession with the legal owner or other parties. If multiple people are occupying or using the land, then exclusive possession cannot be established.  

The squatter must show they were in sole control of the property and no one else, including the legal owner, was possessing or occupying any part of it for the full statutory period. Casual use by others, such as occasional trespassing, does not necessarily defeat the exclusivity requirement. But permission from or shared use with the owner does prevent a claim.

Overall, the squatter must act as if they are the one and only owner, possessing and controlling the property to the exclusion of all others. Sharing possession or use could defeat their adverse possession claim.

Continuous Possession 

To meet the continuous possession requirement for adverse possession in Maryland, the squatter must occupy the property without any gaps of abandonment. This means the squatter must use the property as their permanent residence or demonstrate nonstop possession for the entire statutory period. 

The continuous possession time frame in Maryland is 21 years. If the squatter vacates the property for any period of time before the 21 years is up, then continuous possession is broken. This stops the clock and the squatter would have to start the 21 year occupancy period again from day one.

There are some exceptions where the continuous possession requirement may still be met in Maryland, even if the squatter is not physically present, such as military service or incarceration. However, the squatter cannot voluntarily abandon the property for any length of time or they lose the continuity of possession. Occasional brief trips away from the property do not break continuous possession, but the squatter must intend the absences to be temporary.

Overall, the continuous occupation of a property for 21 full years is a key requirement for a squatter to adversely possess a property in Maryland. Property owners should take action to remove squatters before they meet the 21 year time period to avoid the continuous possession that can lead to a successful adverse possession claim.

In order for squatters to gain legal rights to a property in Maryland through adverse possession, they must meet all the requirements continuously for 21 years or more. This includes having hostile, actual, open and notorious, exclusive and continuous possession of the property for over two decades. 

Once a squatter has met all the criteria for the statutory period, they can file a lawsuit against the legal property owner to gain ownership rights. The burden of proof falls on the squatter to show the court evidence that they adversely possessed the property for the required time frame. 

Some of the evidence a squatter may use includes:

  • Tax bills or other documents showing payment of taxes on the property
  • Receipts for repairs and maintenance costs 
  • Utility bills in their name for the property address
  • Photographs documenting their possession over many years
  • Testimony from neighbors about their long-term occupancy

If the squatter can prove they lived on the property meeting all legal standards for over 21 years, the court may grant them legal title and ownership rights. The original owner loses their rights if they failed to take action before the statutory time period elapsed.

How Property Owners Can Prevent Claims

Property owners can take steps to prevent squatters from gaining adverse possession rights to their property in Maryland. Here are some tips:

Monitor the Property Regularly

The best way for a property owner to prevent an adverse possession claim is to monitor their property closely for any unauthorized people living there. Conduct regular inspections of vacant buildings or land, especially if it is remote or isolated. Look for signs that someone has accessed the property like damage or belongings left behind. The sooner a squatter is discovered, the easier they are to remove.

Post No Trespassing Signs

Posting no trespassing signs around the perimeter of the property establishes clear notice that any entry is prohibited. Make sure the signs are placed visibly and adhere to state regulations. Take photos or video documentation of the posted signs as evidence.

Provide Written Notice to Vacate

If a squatter is found occupying the property, provide them with formal written notice to immediately vacate the premises. Send this notice certified mail and keep records. The notice gives the squatter official warning to leave and starts the timeline prior to filing a lawsuit.

Act Quickly to Remove Squatters

Once notice has been given, take prompt legal action to remove the squatter if they fail to leave. The longer they remain on the property, the harder it becomes to evict them. Removing them within the first weeks or months is much easier than after several years of occupation. Don't delay!

File a Lawsuit to Evict

If the squatter does not vacate after receiving notice, the property owner should file a lawsuit seeking their eviction. An attorney can help file the proper complaints with the court system to schedule a fast eviction hearing. This is the next legal step for removing someone without a legal right to be there.

Removing Squatters from a Property

If you discover squatters on your property in Maryland, you will need to take legal action to remove them. Here are the steps:

Give Proper Written Notice to Vacate

The first step is to provide written notice demanding that the squatters leave the property. For a weekly or monthly tenancy, you must give at least 7 days' notice. For a tenancy at will, at least 30 days' notice is required. The notice should identify the property, demand possession, and state an end date for them to vacate.

File an Eviction Lawsuit

If the squatters do not leave after proper notice, you can file a lawsuit for eviction. This is known as a Wrongful Detainer Action in Maryland. You will need to provide evidence that you own the property, the squatters are occupying it, and you gave proper notice to vacate.

Sheriff Performs Physical Eviction

If you win the eviction lawsuit, the court will issue an Order of Restitution giving the sheriff the right to physically remove the squatters. The sheriff will visit the property, order the squatters to leave, and use reasonable force to evict if necessary.

Obtain Injunction

If the squatters return after being evicted, you can obtain an injunction prohibiting them from coming back onto the property. Violating the injunction can lead to civil or criminal penalties against the squatters.

The eviction process can take several weeks or months depending on the court schedule and appeals by the squatters. It is crucial to take action as soon as squatters arrive to prevent them from claiming any rights. Consult a real estate attorney to ensure you follow proper procedures for Maryland.

Key Takeaways

  • In Maryland, squatters can claim adverse possession after continuously occupying a property for 21 years, meeting specific legal requirements during this period to potentially gain legal ownership.
  • Squatters must demonstrate hostile, actual, open and notorious, exclusive, and continuous possession of the property without the owner's permission to qualify for adverse possession.
  • Occupation must be without the legal owner's permission, implying the squatter does not acknowledge any other superior claim to the property. This does not necessarily mean aggression but refers to the absence of the owner's consent.
  • Squatters must physically occupy the property, treating it as their own, and maintain exclusive control over it, excluding others, including the legal owner, from possession.
  • The squatter’s presence on the property must be obvious and known to the public and the owner, demonstrating an undeniable occupation.
  • The squatter must reside on or utilize the property without interruption for the entire 21-year period, with any significant absence resetting the possession timeline.
  • After fulfilling the 21-year requirement, squatters must initiate a legal process, typically a lawsuit, to officially claim ownership of the property, requiring them to prove their adherence to all adverse possession criteria.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there squatters’ rights in Maryland?

Yes, Maryland recognizes squatters' rights under the concept of adverse possession. Squatters can claim legal ownership of a property if they continuously occupy it for 21 years, meeting specific requirements such as hostile, actual, open and notorious, exclusive, and continuous possession.

Can I kick someone out of my house in Maryland?

Legally, you cannot physically remove someone from your house without following due process. If someone is living in your house without permission, you may need to file for eviction in court to have them legally removed.

Can you evict someone without a lease in Maryland?

Yes, you can evict someone without a lease in Maryland. You will need to provide proper notice as required by Maryland law, typically a "Notice to Quit," before filing an eviction lawsuit if the individual does not voluntarily leave.

Can you evict a squatter in Maryland?

Yes, squatters can be evicted in Maryland. Property owners must follow the legal eviction process, which includes serving a proper notice and obtaining a court order. The process is similar to evicting a tenant but may involve additional legal steps if the squatter claims adverse possession.

How long to evict squatters in Maryland?

The time it takes to evict squatters in Maryland can vary widely depending on the complexity of the case, the court's schedule, and whether the squatter contests the eviction. It could take several weeks to several months from serving notice to obtaining a court order and having the squatter removed by a sheriff.

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