Missouri Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What Are Squatters in Missouri?

In Missouri, a squatter is someone who occupies an abandoned or unoccupied property without the permission of the owner. They intend to gain ownership of the property through adverse possession laws, also known as "squatter's rights." 

Squatters differ from holdover tenants, who are tenants that remain on a property after their lease has expired and without the landlord's consent. Holdover tenants still retain some legal right to the property based on their prior lease agreement. 

Squatters have no legal right to the property initially and are trespassing by occupying the property without permission. Their goal is to remain on the property without the true owner's consent for a certain period of time in order to legally claim adverse possession or ownership of the land.

The key distinctions are:

  • Squatters have no lawful right to occupy the property when they move in, while holdover tenants previously had a legal right based on their lease.
  • Squatters occupy the property without the owner's knowledge or permission. Holdover tenants begin their unlawful occupancy after a prior legal right ends.  
  • Squatters hope to gain legal ownership through adverse possession laws. Holdover tenants are not trying to claim ownership, just unlawfully continuing a prior lawful occupancy.

So in summary, squatters occupy abandoned properties without permission in hopes of claiming legal ownership after meeting adverse possession requirements. Holdover tenants have overstayed a lawful lease without the landlord's consent.

Requirements for Adverse Possession in Missouri

In order for squatters to successfully claim adverse possession in Missouri, they must meet several legal requirements. The possession must be hostile, open and notorious, actual, exclusive, and continuous for a period of 10 years. 

Hostile Possession

A squatter's possession is considered hostile when they occupy the property without the owner's permission. Hostile possession doesn't require any ill will, just a lack of consent from the true owner. Squatters must intend to claim ownership of the property through adverse possession.

Open and Notorious Possession  

The occupation of the property must be obvious and known to others for it to qualify as open and notorious possession. The squatter cannot try to hide the fact that they are occupying the property without permission. Their use of the land must be visible to the public.

Actual Possession

A squatter must be physically present on the property and treat it as if they were an owner. Occasional or short-term use does not qualify as actual possession. The squatter must exert control and use the property on a continuous basis.

Continuous Possession 

To meet this requirement, the squatter must occupy the property without any gaps or extended interruptions. They cannot abandon the property for long periods of time and still claim continuous possession. The 10-year clock resets if the squatter vacates the property.

Exclusive Possession

The squatter must possess and use the property exclusively, to the exclusion of the true owner and others. They cannot share possession or control over the property with anyone else, including the legal owner. Exclusive possession helps demonstrate the squatter's intention to claim ownership.

Color of Title

Color of title refers to a legal document, like a deed, that appears to give the squatter ownership rights to the property. While having color of title can help strengthen an adverse possession claim in Missouri, it is not always required. What matters most is meeting the continuous possession requirements.

Proving Hostile Possession  

To prove hostile possession in Missouri, a squatter needs to show that they are occupying the property without the owner's consent or permission. Hostile possession doesn't necessarily mean there is any ill will, anger, or animosity between the squatter and owner. Rather, hostile possession simply means the squatter lacks permission from the rightful owner to live on or use the property. 

The squatter does not need to communicate directly with the owner to ask for consent. If the owner has abandoned the property or is not making use of it, and the squatter moves in without any prior arrangement or agreement, then their possession is considered hostile. 

As long as the squatter intends to occupy the property as their own and does not have the owner's consent, their possession satisfies the hostile requirement for an adverse possession claim in Missouri. Ongoing objection, confrontation, or contact with the owner is also not necessary. The mere lack of permission itself establishes hostile possession.

So if a squatter can show they moved into an abandoned or neglected property because it was unoccupied, and not because the owner granted them any lawful right to live there, their occupation will be viewed as hostile and meet this major requirement for an adverse possession claim.

Proving Open and Notorious Possession 

To claim squatter's rights in Missouri through adverse possession, the occupation of the property needs to be open and obvious to others. This means that the squatter is making no effort to hide the fact that they are occupying the property without permission. 

The possession should be visible, well-known, and readily apparent to onlookers, neighbors, passersby, and anyone else who surveys the property. Putting up no trespassing signs, making repairs, maintaining the land, putting belongings on the premises, and generally acting like an owner are examples of open and notorious possession.

The squatter cannot be trying to hide their occupation or be secretive about the fact that they are living on or using the land. As long as it's obvious to others that the property is inhabited and occupied by the squatter, it helps them build their claim for future ownership under adverse possession laws. Merely occasional use or temporary periods of occupation likely won't qualify as open and notorious possession in Missouri.

Proving Actual Possession  

To prove actual possession in Missouri, the squatter must physically occupy and use the property in a meaningful way. Simply stopping by the property occasionally or using it sporadically for short periods does not qualify. The occupation has to involve activities like living on the land, maintaining and improving the property, planting gardens, storing personal items, etc. Essentially, the squatter must act as the true owner and exclude others from using the land as they want.

Missouri courts look at how the squatter is using the property and if they have made it their permanent, principal home. Merely storing some belongings in an abandoned building while living elsewhere is generally not enough to prove actual possession. The squatter usually needs to show they have moved themselves and their belongings onto the property full-time. Overall, the goal is to demonstrate the squatter has complete physical control and occupation of the land to the exclusion of anyone else. Just limited, short-term, or sporadic use does not meet the continuous possession requirements for adverse possession.

Proving Continuous Possession 

To prove continuous possession in Missouri, a squatter must demonstrate that they occupied the property without any extended gaps or long interruptions. This means residing on the land regularly and not leaving for long periods of time. Occasional short trips away from the property are generally acceptable. However, the squatter cannot abandon possession for weeks or months at a time and still have a valid claim.

The continuous possession standard requires that the squatter acts as an average owner would. For example, occasionally renting out the property or having a caretaker watch over it while away would be seen as normal ownership behavior. But if the squatter leaves the property vacant for a seasonal period year after year, this would likely fail the continuous possession test.

Overall, the squatter must show actual physical control and occupation for the entire statutory period without abandonment. While minor gaps are allowed, the squatter cannot leave the property unattended or unmonitored for long stretches. Consistent ongoing possession for the 10 year period is required to claim adverse possession in Missouri.

Proving Exclusive Possession

To claim adverse possession in Missouri, the squatter must prove they occupied the property to the exclusion of all others, including the legal owner. This means the squatter exercised complete control over the land for the entire statutory period without sharing possession with the rightful owner or allowing anyone else to use or access the property. 

The occupation can't just be sporadic visits or occasional use - the squatter must show they exclusively controlled and used the property continuously for the 10 years required under Missouri law. They need to demonstrate there was no joint possession with the true owner. The owner couldn't use, visit, or access the property during the statutory period. 

Exclusive possession is one of the key requirements to claim squatters’ rights. If the owner also occupies, uses, or retains control of any part of the property, then the squatter's claim will fail. The squatter must be the only one possessing and controlling the land exclusively. Simply visiting or storing belongings while the owner also uses the property is not enough to establish exclusive possession in Missouri.

Understanding Color of Title 

Color of title refers to a document such as a deed or title that appears to give the adverse possessor legal claim to the property, even if the document doesn't actually convey legal ownership. While having a color of title is not strictly required under Missouri adverse possession laws, it can help strengthen a claim by showing the intention to occupy and possess the land as an owner rather than a trespasser.

Some examples of documents that can serve as color of title are:

  • A deed that inaccurately describes the property boundaries 
  • A deed from someone who is not the true property owner
  • A will or probate document purporting to leave the property to the adverse possessor
  • A tax deed from an invalid tax sale

Even though these documents do not legally entitle the adverse possessor to ownership, they help demonstrate a good faith belief of ownership. Having color of title makes a claim to adverse possession stronger. However, it is still possible to claim adverse possession in Missouri without any written documentation through open, continuous possession for the statutory period. Paying property taxes on the land can also help establish an adverse possession claim even without color of title.

The key point is that while color of title can reinforce a claim, it is not an absolute requirement to gain adverse possession rights in Missouri. The continuous, open acts of possession themselves serve as the basis for a claim. With or without written documentation, occupying the land as an owner for the statutory period is what gives an adverse possessor the ability to claim legal ownership.

Paying Property Taxes in Missouri

Payment of property taxes can help support an adverse possession claim in Missouri, but is not strictly required by law. 

Paying taxes on a property is one way to demonstrate that a squatter is occupying the land in an open and obvious way. It shows they are not trying to hide their possession from the owner or public records.

However, Missouri adverse possession laws do not mandate that squatters pay the property taxes in order to successfully claim ownership after 10 years. Payment of taxes is not an absolute necessity, especially if the squatter has occupied the land for a long period of time. 

The continuous, actual use and possession of the land is more important than paying taxes in demonstrating a hostile claim. So squatters may be able to gain adverse possession without ever paying property taxes in Missouri.

The required elements are hostile, open and notorious, actual, continuous and exclusive possession for 10 years. As long as those requirements are met, payment of taxes is helpful but not mandatory.

So in summary, while payment of taxes can bolster an adverse possession claim in Missouri, it is not strictly required by law, especially for long-term occupants. The key is meeting the other requirements through obvious, continuous occupation and use of the property.

Removing Squatters in Missouri 

If you find squatters occupying your property in Missouri, you have several legal options for removing them and regaining control of your land. Here are the main steps property owners can take:

Send a trespass notice

Formally notify the squatters that they are trespassing on your property and need to vacate immediately. Send this notice via certified mail and post a copy visibly on the property.

File an eviction lawsuit

If the squatters do not leave after receiving notice, file a lawsuit to evict them. You can file in small claims court if damages are under $5,000. The court will schedule a hearing and then issue an eviction order if the ruling is in your favor.  

Call the sheriff

If the squatters do not comply with the eviction order, contact the sheriff's office to have them forcibly removed. The sheriff's office is legally authorized to remove trespassers from a property.

Seek injunctive relief

File a lawsuit seeking a court injunction or restraining order against the squatters that requires them to vacate. The court can use its equitable powers to have the squatters removed.

Claim damages

Seek compensation through the court for any damages or loss of rental income caused by the squatters occupying your property. This can be done as part of an eviction lawsuit.

The eviction process can take several weeks or months depending on the county and court schedule. Property owners should take action as soon as squatters are discovered to avoid delays in regaining possession. Seeking legal counsel can also help expedite the eviction process and make sure all proper procedures are followed. Acting quickly is key to removing unwanted squatters from your land.

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