Michigan Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What is Squatting in Michigan?

Squatting refers to occupying an abandoned or vacant property without the permission of the owner. Squatters enter and take up residence in properties they do not have any right or title to. 

In Michigan, squatting is considered criminal trespassing. There are no "squatters rights" - squatters have no legal right to occupy properties they do not own or rent. Squatting is a criminal offense, not a civil matter.  

Simply put, squatting involves trespassing on private property and occupying it without the consent of the owner. Squatters often target abandoned or unoccupied homes and buildings. However, they can also illegally occupy inhabited properties when the residents are away.

The act of squatting itself does not give squatters any rights to the property. They are essentially trespassing and can be criminally charged and removed. Property owners do not need to go through a formal eviction process to remove squatters.

Requirements for Adverse Possession in Michigan 

In order to successfully claim adverse possession of a property in Michigan, a squatter must meet several requirements. 

  • The first requirement is that the squatter must occupy the property continuously for a period of 15 years. This means physically living on the property as an owner would, without any extended gaps of abandonment. 
  • Second, the squatter must pay the property taxes on the land for those continuous 15 years. They must demonstrate proof they have been paying taxes on the property for the entire duration.
  • Additionally, the squatter must make valuable improvements to the property. This could include maintenance fixes, renovations, additions, or other actions that increase the property value. Simply keeping the property maintained is generally not enough.
  • Finally, the squatter's occupation of the land must be open and notorious. This means their possession of the property is obvious, unambiguous, and apparent to others. They must occupy and use the land in a way that makes it clear they are asserting ownership.
  • The continuous 15 year timeframe along with meeting the other requirements makes adverse possession a very difficult claim to prove in Michigan. Most squatters are removed from properties long before reaching the 15 year milestone through legal eviction proceedings.

Abandoned vs Unoccupied Properties

In Michigan, there are important differences between squatting in an abandoned property versus one that is simply unoccupied:

Abandoned Property

  • An abandoned property generally refers to a building that the owner has vacated and ceased maintaining or caring for. It may have fallen into disrepair.
  • Squatters typically target abandoned properties because they have been neglected by the owner for a long time. 
  • The owner may have passed away, moved away, or intentionally deserted the property with no intention of returning.
  • Abandoned properties often have unpaid property taxes or utility bills, overgrown vegetation, and visible deterioration.

Unoccupied Property

  • An unoccupied property still has an active owner who intends to return and maintain or sell the property.
  • The owner may be away temporarily for an extended time, such as military deployment, caregiving duties, or a long vacation.
  • Unoccupied properties are usually still maintained, have utilities connected, and do not show signs of neglect.
  • It is always illegal for squatters to occupy an unoccupied property, even if the owner is away for years. The owner has not surrendered ownership rights.
  • Unoccupied properties have a much stronger defense against adverse possession claims since the owner clearly intends to reclaim the property.
  • The distinction between abandoned and unoccupied is very important in adverse possession cases. Squatters have a stronger claim on properties that have been completely deserted versus those that still have engaged owners.

Steps to Remove Squatters in Michigan

If you find squatters occupying your Michigan property, you will need to take legal action to remove them. Here are the key steps:

Call the Police to Report Trespassing

  • Your first move should be to contact the local police department to report the illegal trespassing. The police can visit the property and inform the squatters that they are trespassing on private property. 
  • In some cases, the police may be able to remove the squatters on the spot and charge them with criminal trespassing. However, the police cannot forcibly remove the squatters unless there is a court order.

Serve the Squatters with a Written Notice to Vacate 

  • After contacting the police, your next step is to provide written notice for the squatters to leave the premises. In Michigan, you can serve a 7-Day Notice to Quit - this gives the squatters 7 days to vacate before further legal action is taken.
  • The notice should identify the property, state that they are trespassing, and demand that they leave within the 7 days. This notice must be served on each individual squatter.

File an Eviction Lawsuit if They Fail to Leave 

  • If the squatters do not leave after being served with the notice, you will need to file a formal eviction lawsuit against them. This is done through your local county court. 
  • You will need to provide evidence that you own the property and that the defendants are trespassing. The court will schedule a hearing where you can seek a judgment to have the squatters evicted.

Obtain a Court Order to Remove the Squatters

  • If the court rules in your favor, you will be issued an eviction order. This authorizes the local Sheriff's department to physically remove the squatters from the property if they do not leave voluntarily. 
  • The Sheriff will visit the property and force the squatters out. If they resist, they may be arrested for trespassing. This court order gives you the legal power to reclaim your property.

Criminal Charges for Squatting 

Squatting is considered criminal trespassing under Michigan law. Trespassing is defined as entering or occupying property without the owner's consent. 

Squatters can face misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the circumstances. Trespassing on private residential property is a misdemeanor offense. The penalties include fines up to $500 and/or up to 30 days in jail. 

Trespassing on commercial property, industrial sites, construction sites, or utility property may be charged as a felony offense. Felony trespassing can result in fines up to $2,500 and up to 4 years in prison.

If a squatter is found guilty of breaking into a property, they can also be charged with breaking and entering. This carries additional fines and a longer potential jail sentence.

Police have the authority to immediately arrest squatters found illegally occupying a property in Michigan. Property owners can call the local police department to report criminal trespassers on their land.

The bottom line is that squatting in Michigan is not a legitimate claim to property rights. It is considered criminal activity and can result in both civil and criminal legal consequences. Property owners have full legal authority to remove squatters and press charges for trespassing.

Squatters vs. Trespassers in Michigan

There is an important legal distinction between squatting and trespassing in Michigan:


  • involves occupying an abandoned or unoccupied property without the owner's permission with the intent to gain ownership through adverse possession. Squatters will try to openly occupy the property to meet the "open and notorious" requirement.


  • simply means entering private property without permission from the owner. Trespassers do not make an open claim to the property like squatters do. 

Squatting could potentially lead to adverse possession if the squatter meets all legal requirements and occupies the property for the statutory period of 15 years. 

Trespassing is always illegal in Michigan, regardless of the circumstances. Property owners have the right to remove trespassers immediately.

The key difference is that squatters occupy the property with the goal of taking ownership, while trespassers merely enter without any claim to the land. However, squatters have no rights unless they complete the lengthy adverse possession process. Both squatting and trespassing can result in civil and criminal penalties.

Preventing Adverse Possession

Property owners in Michigan can take steps to prevent squatters from being able to claim adverse possession of their property. Some important precautions include:

  • Check on vacant property regularly. Conduct routine inspections of any vacant homes, buildings or land you own. Look for signs of trespassing or squatting.
  • Post no trespassing signs. Visibly posting no trespassing signs helps warn squatters and aids law enforcement in removing trespassers.  
  • Maintain the property exterior. Keep up with basic maintenance like mowing, landscaping, exterior painting, etc. A rundown appearance can attract squatters.
  • Keep up with tax payments. Pay property taxes on time every year. Lapses in tax payments can support an adverse possession claim. 
  • Secure all access points. Board up windows, lock doors, close off crawl spaces, and consider fencing or security gates. Don't make it easy for squatters to enter.
  • Have a caretaker checking regularly. For long-term vacant properties, consider hiring a caretaker service to check the property frequently. 

Taking proactive precautions like these can help property owners protect their vacant land or buildings against potential squatters and prevent claims of adverse possession in Michigan.

When dealing with a squatter situation, it is advisable to consult with a real estate attorney in Michigan for guidance. A lawyer can review the specifics of your case and explain the options available to you. They can provide assistance with properly serving the required notices to the squatter(s) and help with filing the eviction lawsuit in local court. 

A real estate attorney can advise you on the fastest way to legally remove the squatters from your property under Michigan law. They will ensure you follow all the proper procedures and meet the required deadlines for notices. This helps avoid any procedural mistakes that could delay the eviction. Having a lawyer represent you demonstrates you are taking the formal legal route to reclaim your property.

In some cases, the attorney may be able to negotiate with the squatter(s) directly on your behalf to get them to vacate the premises without requiring a full eviction process through the courts. Even if an eviction is necessary, having legal counsel increases the chances of success.

Don't take chances with informal or DIY evictions that risk running afoul of Michigan laws. The system is complex and requires expertise. A consultation with a real estate lawyer experienced in landlord-tenant disputes will provide clarity on the best path forward to remove unwanted squatters from your property. Protect your rights by seeking qualified legal advice and representation.

Bottom Line on Squatters in Michigan 

The bottom line is that squatters have no legal rights to property they do not own in Michigan. While the legal doctrine of adverse possession does exist, successfully claiming adverse possession is extremely difficult and requires meeting stringent requirements over a 15-year period. Very few squatters are able to legally establish ownership through adverse possession.  

Additionally, property owners have the right to take legal action to remove squatters and trespassers from their land. By following the proper eviction process, owners can work through the court system to regain possession of their property. This involves filing the correct paperwork, serving proper notice, and obtaining a court order to have the squatters physically removed if necessary.

In nearly all squatting cases in Michigan, the end result is the squatters being formally evicted and the rightful owners regaining control of their property. Squatters should not assume they can permanently occupy or eventually gain ownership of property they have no legal right to. Property owners have legal remedies available to them, and most squatters are removed relatively quickly compared to the lengthy 15-year requirement for adverse possession.

FAQs on Squatters in Michigan

Do squatters have to be formally evicted in Michigan?

Yes, if squatters refuse to leave the property after being asked, the owner must go through a formal eviction process through the courts to have the squatters removed, even if they have no legal right to be there. The owner cannot use self-help eviction methods like cutting off utilities or forcibly removing the squatters.

Can squatters face criminal charges in Michigan?

Yes, squatting is considered criminal trespass under Michigan law. If convicted, squatters can face fines up to $2,500 and up to 1 year in jail. Squatters can be arrested and charged for refusing to leave private property when asked. 

How does adverse possession work in Michigan?

To claim adverse possession, squatters must occupy the property continuously for at least 15 years. They must maintain the property as an average owner would, pay any property taxes owed for that time, and make visible improvements to the property. If they meet these requirements for the statutory period, they may be able to file a lawsuit and claim legal ownership.

What about abandoned properties in Michigan?

The fact that a property is abandoned or vacant does not give squatters any special rights to occupy it. Squatters must still go through the full 15 year adverse possession process to try and claim an abandoned property. The owner maintains full legal rights until the property is legally transferred through adverse possession.

Can the police remove squatters in Michigan?

Yes, the police can arrest squatters for criminal trespassing. However, the owner will still need to go through the formal eviction process to permanently remove the squatters from the property. The police do not have the authority to award ownership or force the squatters to vacate without a court order.

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