North Dakota Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

Introduction to Adverse Possession in North Dakota

Adverse possession is a legal principle that allows a person to claim ownership of property they do not have a valid title or deed for, if they occupy the land continuously for a statutory period. North Dakota's adverse possession law requires 20 years of continuous possession before legal title can be claimed.

The concept of adverse possession dates back hundreds of years to English common law. Its purpose was to ensure property did not go unused and to promote productive use of land. Adverse possession laws were adopted in the United States for similar reasons. 

The rationale behind adverse possession is that if a property owner allows someone else to exclusively use, improve, and pay taxes on their land for an extended period without complaint, the squatter gains a valid claim to legal title. After 20 years, the original owner is assumed to have abandoned their rights to the property. Adverse possession rewards squatters who maintain and improve the land.

In North Dakota, the statutory time period to claim adverse possession is 20 years, one of the longer time frames in the U.S. The adverse possession law aims to balance the rights of legal property owners with the goal of keeping land in productive use.

Requirements to Claim Adverse Possession

In order to claim adverse possession in North Dakota, a squatter must occupy the property continuously for 20 years. They must meet all of the following requirements:

Continuous Possession

  • The squatter must physically occupy the property for the full 20 year statutory period without any significant gaps. Even a short absence could disrupt the continuity claim.

Open and Notorious Possession

  • The squatter must occupy the land without concealing their presence. Their use of the property must be obvious to any reasonable observer. Things like making improvements, installing utilities, maintaining the property, and living openly on site demonstrate open possession.

Exclusive Possession

  • The squatter must possess the property exclusively, without sharing possession with strangers, the legal owner, or others. Exclusive possession means the squatter has sole control over the land.

Hostile Possession

  • Hostile possession means the squatter is occupying the property without permission from the legal owner. Their use must be against the rights of the true owner. There must be a lack of consent from the owner.

Actual Possession

  • The squatter must exert control over the property through their regular use and occupancy. They must treat the property as their own. Actual possession varies based on the type of property but can include activities like planting, harvesting crops, maintenance, repairs, etc.

Using Color of Title for Adverse Possession

  • Color of title refers to a deed or other document that appears to give the occupant valid title to the property, but is actually defective. While not required for an adverse possession claim in North Dakota, color of title can help adverse possessors meet some of the requirements.
  • Specifically, color of title can assist with demonstrating a hostile claim, actual possession, and open/notorious possession. The rationale is that if someone possesses a deed or document that appears to give them valid legal title, their occupation of the land demonstrates the necessary intent and acts of ownership.  
  • However, it is important to note that having color of title alone is not sufficient for a successful adverse possession claim. The occupant still needs to meet all continuous occupation, exclusive possession, open/notorious possession, actual possession, and hostile claim requirements over the statutory period.
  • So in summary, color of title is not mandatory but can be a useful tool for adverse possessors in North Dakota to help exhibit some of the required elements for a claim. But it does not replace the need to occupy the land and demonstrate ownership through actions for the statutory period.

Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes in North Dakota?

In North Dakota, adverse possession claimants are not required to pay property taxes in order to meet the legal requirements for adverse possession. Payment of taxes can help strengthen an adverse possession claim by demonstrating open, notorious, hostile and exclusive possession of the property. However, payment of property taxes is not an absolute requirement in order for a squatter to successfully claim legal ownership through adverse possession in North Dakota.

The act of paying taxes implies the claimant is asserting ownership rights over the property. It shows they are publicly using the property exclusively as their own, not hiding their presence. But North Dakota case law has ruled that non-payment of taxes does not defeat a claim of adverse possession if all other requirements are met. As long as the squatter can satisfy the 20 year continuous occupation and other legal requirements, they can gain legal ownership without ever paying property taxes.

So in summary, payment of property taxes is not mandatory but can be beneficial for adverse possession claims in North Dakota. It provides additional evidence of open, notorious possession and claim of ownership. But the lack of tax payment alone will not invalidate an adverse possession claim if the squatter meets all other statutory requirements over the 20 year period.

Process for Claiming Adverse Possession 

To claim adverse possession of a property in North Dakota, a squatter or claimant must follow these steps:

  • Occupy the property openly and continuously for 20 years. The occupation must be actual, visible, exclusive, hostile and continuous for the full 20 year statutory period. Sporadic or occasional use is not sufficient.  
  • After the 20 year occupancy period, file a quiet title lawsuit against the legal owner to claim legal ownership of the property. This legal action is known as an action to quiet title.

 In the lawsuit, provide evidence of meeting all the requirements for adverse possession:

  • Exclusive possession - Show that the squatter occupied the land for their own purposes and controlled access to the property.
  • Continuous possession - Provide evidence that the squatter used the property continuously for the full 20 year period required under North Dakota law. Occasional or sporadic occupation does not qualify.
  • Open and notorious possession - Show the squatter occupied the land without hiding their presence, living openly on the property as a true owner would.
  • Actual possession - Provide evidence that the squatter exerted control over the land, treated it as their own, and occupied the property in good faith under claim of right or color of title.
  • Hostile claim - Demonstrate the squatter occupied the land under claim of right or color of title, without permission from the legal owner. 
  • If the court is satisfied all requirements have been met, the judge will issue a decision granting the claimant legal ownership of the adversely possessed property through an order to quiet title. The court will recognize the squatter as the new legal owner and settle any other claims against the property.

Restrictions on Adverse Possession Claims in North Dakota

In North Dakota, there are certain restrictions and exceptions when it comes to claiming adverse possession of real property. Some properties cannot be adversely possessed under state law.

Government-Owned Properties

Properties owned by the state or federal government cannot be adversely possessed in North Dakota. This includes any public lands, military bases, national forests, post offices, and other government properties. Trespassing on government-owned land can lead to criminal charges.

Public Utilities and Common Carriers

Properties belonging to public utilities and common carriers, like railroad companies, telephone companies, gas and electric providers, water companies, etc. are exempt from adverse possession claims under North Dakota law. This protects essential public services from having their land taken without consent.

Cemetery and Burial Sites

Land that contains cemeteries, gravesites, and Native American burial mounds cannot be adversely possessed. These cultural heritage sites are protected under state laws. Disturbing burial sites can lead to criminal charges.

Sovereign Lands

Certain sovereign lands like the beds of navigable waterways up to the ordinary high watermark are excluded from adverse possession. The state of North Dakota has ownership of these lands on behalf of the public.

By having these exceptions, North Dakota aims to protect publicly-owned properties and sites with historical, cultural, or public service value from adverse possession claims. Only privately owned properties can be adversely possessed if all legal requirements are met.

Rights of Squatters in North Dakota

Squatters in North Dakota do not have any legal ownership rights to a property until they have completed the requirements for adverse possession. Simply occupying a property without the owner's permission is considered criminal trespassing under North Dakota law. 

Trespassing violations can result in misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the circumstances. Squatters have no right to sell, mortgage, rent out or transfer the property they are occupying. Any attempt to do so has no legal validity.  

While occupying someone else's property, squatters have no more rights than a trespasser. They do not have any rights to collect rent from tenants, modify or renovate the property, or stop the owner from entering the premises. Squatters cannot claim a homestead exemption on a property they do not legally own.

Only after meeting all the adverse possession requirements for the statutory period of 20 years can a squatter legally gain ownership of a property in North Dakota. Until that time, they are committing criminal trespass and have no lawful rights to the property beyond basic human rights. Property owners have legal recourse to remove squatters from their premises despite any claims to the contrary.

Removing Squatters in North Dakota   

If you find someone unlawfully living on your North Dakota property, you will need to take legal action to have them removed. Here are the general steps property owners should follow:

Serve Notice to Vacate

The first step is to serve the squatters with a written notice to vacate (move out). The notice should clearly state that they are trespassing on your property and need to leave within a certain time frame, such as 30 days. The notice should be personally delivered or posted on the property.

File Eviction Lawsuit

If the squatters do not leave after proper notice, you can file a lawsuit to evict them. This would be filed in your county's district court. The court will schedule a hearing and decide on the eviction.

Get Court Order for Removal

If the court rules in your favor, you will be issued an eviction order. This authorizes law enforcement to physically remove the squatters and their belongings from your property. The order gives the squatters a certain number of days before removal can occur.

Call Sheriff for Removal

Once you have the court-ordered eviction, contact the local sheriff's office to schedule the removal. A sheriff's deputy will visit the property and force the squatters to vacate. The deputy can arrest squatters who refuse to cooperate. Your property will then be returned to your possession.

Criminal Penalties for Trespassing

Trespassing in North Dakota is a criminal offense that can result in misdemeanor charges, fines, and jail time for squatters. Under North Dakota law, criminal trespass occurs when a person enters or remains on any property knowing they do not have consent or authority.  

Trespassing is a Class A misdemeanor offense, punishable by:

  • Up to 1 year in jail
  • A fine of up to $3,000

Trespassing becomes a Class C felony for repeat offenders who commit criminal trespass more than twice in 5 years. This elevates the penalties to:  

  • Up to 5 years in prison
  • A fine of up to $10,000

Squatters occupying a property without the owner's permission are committing criminal trespass. They face misdemeanor charges if caught and prosecuted. Those with prior trespassing convictions are at risk of felony charges and prison time.

Adverse Possession vs. Squatters' Rights

While the terms "squatters' rights" and "adverse possession" are sometimes used interchangeably, there are important differences between the two.

Squatters' rights generally refer to the rights and protections that trespassers have against immediate eviction and removal. In North Dakota, squatters have certain protections against forcible entry and wrongful detainer actions if they have established occupancy for a certain period of time. However, squatters' rights do not give a trespasser ownership or title rights to a property.

Adverse possession, on the other hand, is a legal principle that allows a trespasser to gain legal ownership and title to a property if they meet specific requirements over a statutory period of time (20 years in North Dakota). 

A common misconception is that just by occupying a property long enough, a squatter can claim ownership through adverse possession. But there are strict requirements that need to be continuously met for the full statutory period before adverse possession is legally valid. Merely occupying a property does not meet the requirements of making an open and hostile possession and claim to the property that is necessary for adverse possession.

So while squatters' rights afford certain protections from immediate removal, adverse possession is the legal method by which a squatter may potentially claim full ownership of a property after the statutory period. But adverse possession requires more than simply being a squatter - it requires meeting all the specific legal requirements for the full statutory time period.

Key Takeaways

  • In North Dakota, adverse possession requires a continuous possession of 20 years, making it one of the longer statutory periods in the U.S. for such claims.
  • The squatter must physically occupy the property openly and in a manner that is visible and obvious to anyone, acting as if they are the true owner of the property for the entire 20-year period.
  • The possession must be exclusive, without sharing the property with others, and hostile, meaning without the permission of the legal property owner.
  • The squatter must exert control over the property through regular use and occupancy, which may include making improvements, installing utilities, or conducting maintenance and repairs.
  • While having color of title (a document that appears to give ownership but is legally ineffective) can assist in demonstrating certain adverse possession elements, it is not a mandatory requirement for a claim in North Dakota.
  • Unlike some states, North Dakota does not require squatters to pay property taxes to establish an adverse possession claim, though doing so can strengthen the claim by demonstrating ownership responsibilities.
  • After meeting the adverse possession requirements for 20 years, squatters must file a quiet title lawsuit against the legal owner to claim legal ownership of the property officially.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is there squatters rights in North Dakota?

Yes, North Dakota recognizes squatters' rights under the legal doctrine of adverse possession. Squatters can claim legal ownership of property after continuously occupying it for 20 years, meeting specific conditions.

How long does it take to evict someone in North Dakota?

The eviction process in North Dakota can vary in length, typically ranging from a few weeks to a couple of months, depending on the circumstances and how quickly the eviction notice is served, the response of the tenant, and the scheduling of the court hearing.

What is adverse possession in North Dakota?

Adverse possession in North Dakota is a legal principle that allows a person to claim ownership of property they've continuously, openly, notoriously, exclusively, and hostilely occupied for 20 years, without the legal owner's permission.

What are the rules for eviction in North Dakota?

In North Dakota, landlords must provide tenants with a notice to vacate before filing an eviction lawsuit. The notice period depends on the violation but typically ranges from 3 days for nonpayment of rent to 30 days for lease violations or no-cause terminations on a month-to-month lease.

What is the trespassing law in North Dakota?

Trespassing in North Dakota involves entering or remaining on property without authorization. It's generally considered a criminal offense, with penalties varying based on the circumstances, including potential misdemeanor charges, fines, and jail time for repeat offenders or if the trespass involves damage or theft.

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