Massachusetts Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What are Squatters and Squatters’ Rights in Massachusetts?

A squatter is someone who occupies an abandoned or unoccupied property without the owner's consent. Unlike a trespasser who illegally enters private property, a squatter intends to inhabit the property for an extended period of time. 

Squatters who openly occupy a property without the owner's permission for 20 continuous years may be able to make an adverse possession claim, also known as squatter's rights. If the squatter meets all legal requirements, they may be able to legally gain ownership of the property.

To claim adverse possession in Massachusetts, the squatter must occupy the property in an open, continuous, exclusive and notorious manner for 20 years. Their occupation must be hostile to the real owner's rights. This means they are inhabiting the property without permission.

Adverse possession claims allow a squatter to gain legal ownership of a property they have occupied and maintained for an extended period of time. After 20 years of continuous, hostile possession, the squatter may have a valid claim to legal title of the property.

How Squatters’ Rights Differ from Trespassing and Holdover Tenants

While squatters, trespassers, and holdover tenants may seem similar at first glance, there are some key differences between them that property owners should understand. 


A trespasser is someone who enters private property without permission from the owner. Trespassing is a criminal offense. Trespassers do not have any rights to occupy or possess the property they have entered illegally. As soon as a property owner becomes aware of a trespasser, they can call the police to have them removed. 


Squatters occupy an abandoned, vacant, or unoccupied property without the owner's consent with the intention of possessing it. Squatters may falsely claim a right to be on the property. In Massachusetts, if squatters openly occupy a property continuously for 20 years, they may be able to make a legal claim to the property through adverse possession.

Holdover Tenants 

A holdover tenant is someone who continues to occupy a property after their lease or rental agreement has expired. Unlike squatters, holdover tenants had initially gained legal possession of the property with the owner's permission through a rental contract or lease. However, they can be considered trespassing after the right to occupy expires. Holdover tenants still need to be formally evicted.

The main element that differentiates squatters is their intent to possess the property they occupy. Understanding the distinction can help owners take the appropriate actions to remove illegal occupants and prevent adverse possession claims.

Can Squatters Legally Take Ownership of a Private Residence in Massachusetts?

Yes, it is possible for squatters to legally gain ownership of a private residence in Massachusetts through adverse possession after occupying the property continuously for 20 years. 

Adverse possession, sometimes referred to as “squatters’ rights”, allows a person to acquire legal title to an abandoned property if they occupy the property openly, continuously, and exclusively for a certain period of time. In Massachusetts, the required period of uninterrupted possession is 20 years.

For a squatter to successfully claim adverse possession of a residential property in Massachusetts, they must demonstrate that their occupation has been hostile, actual, open and notorious, exclusive, and continuous over the entire 20 year period. Merely occupying a vacant home is not enough to start the clock for adverse possession; the squatter must intend to claim ownership of the property. 

The squatter bears the burden of proving all the elements of adverse possession in order to legally gain title through this method. Property owners can take legal action to remove squatters at any point during those 20 years. However, if the squatter satisfies the requirements and no action is taken by the rightful owner, they may file a lawsuit and be granted legal ownership after 20 years.

This underscores the importance for property owners of monitoring their property and taking prompt legal action to remove unauthorized occupants. Leaving a home vacant and unattended for long periods can increase the risk of squatters moving in and trying to eventually claim ownership through adverse possession laws. Staying vigilant about protecting your property rights is key.

Steps to Remove Squatters from Your Property in Massachusetts

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

Serve a Notice to Quit

The first step is to serve the squatters with a "notice to quit," which provides a formal demand for them to vacate the premises within a short period of time, usually 3-30 days. This provides them official notice that they are unwelcome and must leave.

File a Summary Process Action

If the squatters do not leave after receiving the notice to quit, the next step is to file a lawsuit against them through a "summary process action" in housing court. This initiates the formal eviction process against them.

Obtain a Court Order

During the court process, you will have to provide evidence that you are the lawful property owner and that the defendants are unlawful occupants. If the court rules in your favor, you will obtain a court order directing the squatters to vacate.

Removal by Sheriff

With a court order in hand, you can then arrange for the local Sheriff's department to forcibly remove the squatters and their belongings from the property. The Sheriff will come to the property and require the squatters to leave immediately.

Following these steps carefully is important, as self-evicting the squatters through unlawful means could result in fines or civil liability. Going through the proper court eviction process will allow you to legally remove unwanted squatters from your property.

Preventing Squatters in Massachusetts

To avoid potential squatter situations, Massachusetts property owners should take proactive measures to monitor and secure their properties. 

Monitor your property regularly

Conduct frequent inspections of your property looking for any signs of trespassing or unauthorized occupation. Check for things like cars parked on the driveway, lights on in the home, smoke from chimneys, open doors or windows, debris or belongings left outside, and noise coming from the property. Increase patrols during times when the property will be vacant for extended periods.

Secure access points

Make it difficult for trespassers to enter the property by locking all doors and windows and blocking any crawl spaces or other potential entryways. Consider installing security alarms, motion sensor lights, or cameras to further deter squatters. Post no trespassing signs to establish your legal right to remove intruders. 

Hire a property management company

A property management firm can regularly monitor your property in between visits of your own. They can check for signs of break-ins, conduct maintenance, and take steps to remove potential squatters or trespassers on behalf of the owner. Having a management company oversee the property provides more consistent surveillance than just the owner sporadically inspecting.

Signs of a Potential Squatter Situation

Some indications that squatters may be occupying your property without permission include:

  • Finding signs of habitation such as belongings, furniture, or trash on the property. Squatters will often move their personal items into a property.
  • Noticing broken or unlocked windows, doors, or other areas of entry to the building. Squatters may break in through vulnerable areas.
  • Seeing evidence of people coming and going from the property. This may include unfamiliar vehicles parked on the premises. 
  • Smelling smoke from cooking or campfires coming from the property. Squatters will sometimes build outdoor fires for cooking and warmth.
  • Observing lights in the house on at night or during periods when the property should be vacant. 
  • Hearing sounds coming from inside the building such as voices, music, or dogs barking.
  • Discovering makeshift beds, campsites, or other living areas set up on the grounds. Squatters may live in tents or vehicles.
  • Finding graffiti, property damage, or unapproved modifications and construction.
  • Receiving complaints from neighbors about noise, parties, or high levels of activity at odd hours.
  • Noting overgrown landscaping, fallen trees, or other evidence of property neglect if the home is normally maintained.

Regularly monitoring your property is important to identify early signs of unauthorized occupation. Address the situation promptly to avoid adverse possession claims.

Resources for Massachusetts Homeowners Dealing with Squatters 

Dealing with a squatter situation can be stressful for homeowners. Fortunately, there are resources available to help property owners take the proper legal steps to remove squatters and reclaim their property.

Consulting with a real estate attorney is highly recommended for guidance on the eviction process and your legal rights and responsibilities. An attorney can draft the demand letter to vacate and represent you in filing for eviction in court if necessary.

Government Resources

The Massachusetts Attorney General's Office provides information on landlord-tenant law and the eviction process. Contact them for guidance on proper procedures for removing squatters. 

Local law enforcement may also be able to assist if squatters refuse to leave. Have police observe as you change the locks to avoid potential conflict.

Squatter Removal Services

Professional squatter removal services are available to legally remove squatters from a property. They serve legal notice, initiate court eviction proceedings if required, and use trained personnel to physically remove squatters and their belongings. This simplifies the process for homeowners.

The Adverse Possession Process in Massachusetts

In order for a squatter to legally gain ownership of a property in Massachusetts through adverse possession, they must meet very specific requirements over a 20 year period:

  • The squatter must occupy the property in an open, continuous, exclusive and notorious manner for 20 years. Their occupation can't be hidden or sporadic; it must be obvious to any reasonable person that they live there.
  • The occupation must be hostile to the true owner. The squatter must possess the property without permission and against the rights of the actual property owner. 
  • The squatter must make improvements to the property or pay taxes/bills associated with it. They need to treat the property as their own.
  • The occupation can't be interrupted at any time during the 20 year period. The squatter can't abandon the property for long stretches.
  • The squatter must claim ownership of the property during this 20 year period. They can't later decide to make an adverse possession claim long after occupying the land.
  • After 20 years, the squatter can file a lawsuit to quiet title. If successful, the court will award them legal ownership of the property.
  • The original owner can interrupt the 20 year timeline by taking action to remove the squatter before time expires.

Gaining ownership through adverse possession requires a long, drawn out legal process. Squatters must meticulously meet all requirements over 20 years.

Risks and Downsides of Squatters for Property Owners

Having squatters occupy your property can lead to many risks and downsides for owners, including:

Financial Risks

  • Squatters may damage or vandalize the property, leaving owners with costly repairs and losses. Owners are responsible for repairing any damages caused by squatters.
  • Property taxes and insurance must still be paid while squatters occupy the premises.
  • Securing the property or pursuing legal action can be expensive. Attorney and court fees add up quickly.
  • Potential loss of rental income if squatters occupy a rental property or home.
  • Decreased property value from deterioration during squatting.
  • After 20 years of squatting, the adverse possession doctrine could award ownership rights to squatters. 
  • Owners can be sued if squatters are injured on the property.
  • Removing squatters without proper legal procedures can lead to lawsuits.

Property Risks

  • Squatters often do not maintain the property or make vital repairs.
  • Leaks, mold, and structural damage can develop, devaluing the property.
  • Squatters may illegally tap into utilities or overload electrical systems.
  • Insurance companies may cancel policies if they discover unauthorized inhabitants.

Taking action quickly against squatters is vital to avoid potentially massive financial, legal, and property risks. Don't ignore a squatter situation.

Key Takeaways

  • In Massachusetts, squatters are individuals who occupy an abandoned or unoccupied property without the owner's consent. They can potentially gain legal ownership through adverse possession after 20 continuous years of occupation, provided they meet certain criteria.
  • To claim adverse possession in Massachusetts, a squatter must occupy the property openly, continuously, exclusively, and notoriously for 20 years, with the occupation being hostile to the real owner's rights.
  • Squatters differ from trespassers, who enter property illegally without intention to stay, and holdover tenants, who initially had permission to occupy the property through a lease or agreement but stayed beyond the term without consent.
  • Squatters can legally gain ownership of a private residence in Massachusetts if they successfully demonstrate 20 years of hostile, actual, open, notorious, exclusive, and continuous occupation.
  • Property owners in Massachusetts must serve a notice to quit, file a summary process action, and obtain a court order to legally remove squatters. The sheriff can enforce eviction based on the court order.
  • Property owners are advised to regularly monitor and secure their properties, conduct frequent inspections, and take immediate action upon discovering unauthorized occupants to prevent squatter situations.
  • A squatter must meticulously prove all elements of adverse possession in court after 20 years of continuous occupation to gain legal title, facing potential legal challenges from the property owner during this period.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get rid of a squatter in Massachusetts?

To remove a squatter in Massachusetts, you must first serve them with a formal notice to quit, giving them a specific timeframe to leave the property. If they fail to leave, you can file a summary process action (eviction lawsuit) in housing court. Once you obtain a court order, the local sheriff can enforce the eviction and physically remove the squatter from the property.

What is adverse possession in Massachusetts?

Adverse possession in Massachusetts is a legal principle that allows a person to claim ownership of land they’ve continuously, openly, exclusively, notoriously, and hostilely occupied for a period of 20 years. If the squatter meets these conditions, they may be able to gain legal title to the property.

How do you stop adverse possession in Massachusetts?

To prevent adverse possession in Massachusetts, property owners should regularly inspect their property, maintain clear boundaries, and immediately address any unauthorized use or occupation. Filing a lawsuit against trespassers or squatters before the 20-year period expires can also interrupt the continuity of their possession, resetting the adverse possession clock.

How do I evict a tenant in MA without a lease?

To evict a tenant without a lease in Massachusetts, you must provide them with a 30-day notice to quit, which informs them of your intention to regain possession of the property. If the tenant does not vacate after this period, you can file a summary process action in court. Following a court hearing, if the judgment is in your favor, the court will issue an order of eviction that can be executed by the sheriff.

What is the difference between a trespasser and a squatter in Massachusetts?

The main difference lies in their intentions and duration of stay. A trespasser in Massachusetts illegally enters private property without the intention to stay long-term and can be removed by law enforcement once discovered. A squatter, on the other hand, occupies an abandoned or unoccupied property without the owner's consent but with the intention of staying long-term and possibly claiming ownership through adverse possession after 20 continuous years.

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