New Hampshire Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What Are Squatters’ Rights in New Hampshire?

Squatters’ rights, also known as adverse possession, are a legal principle that allow individuals to claim ownership of a property that they do not have title to, after occupying it continuously for a set period of time. 

In New Hampshire, squatters can make a legal claim on a property if they have resided there continuously for 20 years. The continuous occupation must meet certain requirements - the squatter must have occupied the property openly and without the permission of the legal owner. They must have paid property taxes, maintained the property, and made improvements during those 20 years.

To establish squatters’ rights in New Hampshire, the occupation and use of the property must be "open and notorious". This means the squatter makes no attempt to hide their presence, and acts as the true owner would. After 20 years of meeting these conditions, the squatter can file a lawsuit to claim legal ownership through adverse possession.

So in summary, the time period required to establish squatters’ rights in New Hampshire is 20 continuous years of open, uninterrupted occupation and use of an abandoned or unoccupied property. The squatter must meet all the requirements for adverse possession during those 20 years.

Squatting itself is illegal in New Hampshire and can lead to both civil and criminal penalties if squatters do not have the property owner's permission to be there. New Hampshire law prohibits trespassing on private property, breaking into buildings, and occupying land or structures without the consent of the owner. Police have the authority to remove squatters from private property when the owner files a complaint.

However, the concept of "adverse possession," which is more commonly known as "squatters’ rights," is legal in New Hampshire. Adverse possession allows a person to potentially claim legal ownership of an abandoned or unoccupied property if they maintain continuous occupation for 20 years. 

The key distinction is that squatting on its own, without fulfilling the lengthy adverse possession requirements, is unlawful. But if the squatter does meet all the criteria over two decades, they may be able to legally claim the property as their own through adverse possession.

So squatting is not legal per se in New Hampshire, but the process of fulfilling adverse possession requirements can allow a squatter to eventually gain legal rights to an abandoned property after 20 continuous years. Property owners need to take steps to prevent this long-term occupation from occurring on their land.

Requirements for Adverse Possession in New Hampshire

To claim adverse possession in New Hampshire, also known as squatters’ rights, the trespasser must meet specific legal requirements over a 20 year period. The occupying individual must demonstrate continuous possession of the property for the entire 20 year period in an open, obvious, and notorious manner. 

Continuous Occupation

The adverse possessor must physically inhabit or use the land for the full 20 years without any significant gaps. Even brief intermittent absences could disrupt the continuity of possession. The occupier must act as if they are the true landowner, for instance by living on the property or using it for business purposes. Merely storing personal items on the land does not satisfy continuous occupation.

Payment of Taxes 

The person claiming adverse possession must pay all property taxes for the full 20 year period. If the taxes fall delinquent at any point, it could nullify a future claim of squatters’ rights. The adverse possessor should have receipts and documentation showing timely payment of property taxes for the entire 20 years.

Making Improvements

Making permanent improvements or modifications to the property can help demonstrate that the trespasser inhabited and used the land as its rightful owner. Examples include building or renovating structures, clearing land, planting trees or gardens, installing fences or roads, and other acts that improve the property. Efforts should be made to maintain and care for these improvements over the full 20 year period.

By meeting these key requirements in an open and obvious manner for 20 continuous years, the occupying individual may be able to successfully claim adverse possession in New Hampshire courts. However, the original property owner can take various steps to prevent squatters' rights during that time.

How Can Property Owners Prevent Squatters Rights in New Hampshire?

There are several steps property owners can take to prevent squatters from establishing adverse possession rights in New Hampshire:

Conduct Regular Inspections of the Property

  • Frequently checking on any vacant property helps ensure no one is trespassing or attempting to take up residence without permission. Catching an Unauthorized occupation early makes it easier to remove squatters.

Post "No Trespassing" Signs

  • Clearly posted signage indicates the property owner has not abandoned the land and does not allow anyone on the premises without consent. This can deter potential squatters.

Serve the Squatter with a Notice to Vacate

  • If a squatter is found occupying the property, the owner can serve them with a formal notice demanding they leave within a certain timeframe, usually 30 days. This starts the legal process for removal.

File a Lawsuit to Evict if They Do Not Leave

  • If the squatter does not comply with the notice to vacate, the next step is filing a lawsuit to pursue a court-ordered eviction. This demonstrates the owner is actively working to regain possession. 

Offer the Squatter a Cash for Keys Agreement

  • To avoid drawn-out court battles, property owners can try offering the squatter a cash payment to promptly vacate the premises and return the keys. While not foolproof, cash incentives can provide a clean, fast resolution.

Removing Squatters from Your Property in New Hampshire

If you find squatters occupying your property in New Hampshire, there are several legal steps you can take to remove them:

Serve the Squatters with a Notice to Vacate

The first step is to provide the squatters with formal written notice that they must leave the property. In New Hampshire, a 30-day notice to vacate is typically required by law. The notice should identify the property, state that they are trespassing, and provide a specific date by which they must vacate. Make sure to serve each individual squatter personally.

File a Lawsuit to Evict the Squatters

If the squatters do not leave after receiving notice, you can take legal action by filing a lawsuit to evict them. This involves filing the appropriate paperwork with the local district court and scheduling a court date. You will need to provide evidence that you are the property owner and that the defendants are trespassing.

Involve Local Law Enforcement

If there are signs of criminal activity or threats to your safety, you can involve the local police department. They can visit the property, collect information, and take action to forcibly remove the squatters if necessary, especially if they refuse to comply with the eviction proceedings.

If adverse possession is close to being established, you may need to file a lawsuit asserting your ownership before the 20-year period expires. This preemptive legal action can prevent the squatters from being able to legally claim ownership of your property.

Taking these proactive steps can help property owners deal with squatters effectively under New Hampshire laws. Be sure to fully comply with all legal requirements when attempting to remove squatters from your property. Consulting with a local real estate attorney is highly recommended.

Squatters Rights in Other States

Compared to other nearby states in New England, New Hampshire's adverse possession laws are moderate but still favor the property owner more than the squatter. For example:

  • Maine has the shortest adverse possession period in New England at only 10 years of continuous occupation.  
  • Massachusetts requires 20 years like New Hampshire. However, Massachusetts also requires the squatter to have a good faith belief that they are the actual owner, which adds an additional layer of protection for property owners.
  • Vermont has a standard 15 year adverse possession period, which provides more time than Maine but less time than NH and MA.
  • Connecticut requires 15 years of continuous occupation but has additional restrictions to claiming adverse possession.
  • Rhode Island has a 10 year time period like Maine. However, Rhode Island also requires the squatter to have a claim of right or color of title to the property.

Outside of New England, states like Oklahoma and Alaska have some of the shortest adverse possession periods at only 5 years. These states offer the least protection for property owners against squatters. 

On the opposite end, a few states like Georgia do not allow adverse possession claims at all. Overall, New Hampshire's 20 year time period balances the interests of property owners and squatters in a moderate way compared to other states. It avoids extremes in either direction while upholding the legal concept of adverse possession.

History of Squatters Rights in New Hampshire

Squatters' rights laws have existed in some form in New Hampshire since the early Colonial period. Many early settlers technically were squatters themselves, occupying vacant land without underlying legal title. 

Over time, New Hampshire enacted formal adverse possession laws to address competing land claims and encourage productive use of properties. The current 20-year continuous occupation requirement has been in place since the early 1900s. 

Some key events in the evolution of New Hampshire's squatters' rights laws include:

  • 1630s - Squatters occupy lands granted by the English Crown without legal deeds.
  • 1719 - New Hampshire passes one of the first squatters' rights laws, allowing claims if land improved.
  • 1830s - Requirement of 20 year continuous possession introduced.
  • 1842 - Supreme Court rules paying taxes is required to establish adverse possession. 
  • Early 1900s - Current 20 year law formalized in statutes.
  • 1960s - Attempt to reduce timeframe to 7 years rejected.
  • 1990s - Law strengthened to protect true property owners.

While the 20-year timeframe has remained consistent, New Hampshire has aimed to balance the rights of original owners and adverse possessors over the centuries. The evolution continues as courts modernize interpretations of this long standing law.

Penalties for Squatters in New Hampshire

Squatting itself is illegal in New Hampshire. While adverse possession allows individuals to eventually gain legal ownership after 20 years, occupying a property without permission initially can lead to civil and criminal penalties.

Some of the potential consequences squatters may face include:

Civil Penalties

Property owners can file lawsuits against squatters to recover any damages or losses resulting from the unauthorized occupation. This can include settlement money for damage to the property, legal fees, and lost rent. The property owner may also obtain a court order to have the squatters forcibly removed.


Squatters can be charged with criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor offense in NH punishable by up to 1 year in jail and a fine up to $2,000. Police may remove trespassers from the property.

Breaking and Entering

If a squatter forcibly enters a property or dwelling, they could face felony breaking and entering charges punishable by 3-15 years in prison.


Squatters who damage or deface the property they occupy can face vandalism charges and be forced to pay restitution.

Theft of Utilities

Diverting electricity, gas, cable, or other utilities without the owner's consent is theft of services, punishable as a misdemeanor or felony depending on the value stolen.

The consequences emphasize why it is risky and inadvisable to attempt squatting in New Hampshire, even if the goal is to eventually claim adverse possession. Property owners have legal options to remove squatters and pursue civil and criminal penalties against them.

Key Takeaways

  • In New Hampshire, squatters can claim ownership of a property through adverse possession after continuously occupying it for 20 years, openly and without the owner's permission.
  • The squatter must have paid property taxes, maintained the property, and made improvements during those 20 years to establish a claim.
  • For adverse possession, the squatter's occupation of the property must be obvious to anyone, including acting as if they are the true owner.
  • While squatting (occupying a property without permission) is illegal in New Hampshire, fulfilling the adverse possession requirements for 20 years can lead to legal ownership.
  • Property owners need to monitor their property, ensuring it's not abandoned or unoccupied for long periods, to prevent squatters from potentially claiming ownership.
  • Property owners can serve squatters with a notice to vacate and follow through with legal eviction proceedings if the squatters do not comply.
  • While the concept of adverse possession is legal under certain conditions, squatting without meeting these requirements can lead to civil and criminal penalties in New Hampshire.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are squatters' rights in New Hampshire?

Squatters' rights, also known as adverse possession, allow individuals to potentially claim ownership of abandoned or unoccupied properties in New Hampshire after 20 years of continuous occupation and fulfilling other requirements. Squatting itself is illegal, but adverse possession is permitted under the law. 

How long do you have to live on a property in NH to claim adverse possession?

You must live on the property continuously for 20 full years in order to claim adverse possession or squatters' rights in New Hampshire. The 20 years must be uninterrupted for the entire period.

Can someone claim my vacant home in New Hampshire?

If your property is abandoned or left vacant for an extended period, there is a possibility someone could attempt to claim adverse possession after occupying it continuously for 20 years. Regular inspections, no trespassing signs, and taking legal action can help prevent this.

What happens if I find squatters on my NH property?

If you find squatters occupying your New Hampshire property without permission, you can take actions like serving them notice to vacate, filing a lawsuit to evict them, involving law enforcement, or taking legal action to establish ownership before 20 years pass.

Yes, the process of adverse possession, also known as squatters' rights, is legal in New Hampshire after meeting specific requirements over a 20 year period. Squatting itself is illegal until those requirements are fulfilled.

How difficult is removing squatters in New Hampshire?

Removing squatters from your NH property can be difficult without proper legal procedures. Serving notice and filing a lawsuit is usually required, and law enforcement may need to get involved. It's critical to take action before 20 years of occupancy passes.

Resources for Property Owners Dealing with Squatters in New Hampshire

There are several resources available for New Hampshire property owners who need help dealing with squatters:

Law Enforcement 

  • Contact your local police department's non-emergency number to report squatters.
  • For criminal activity, call 911 immediately.
  • The county sheriff's office may be able to assist with removing squatters.

Squatters Rights Organizations

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