Oklahoma Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What are Squatters' Rights in Oklahoma?

Squatter's rights, also known as adverse possession, are laws that allow a person to potentially gain ownership of an abandoned property by occupying it for a certain period of time. Essentially, a squatter can become the legal owner of a property that they do not hold title to after fulfilling specific requirements over many years.

Squatter's rights laws have existed in Oklahoma since before statehood. The current adverse possession law requires 15 years of continuous possession before squatters can make an ownership claim. Oklahoma also has a "Fence Law" that can transfer ownership after erecting fence boundaries and paying taxes for 5 years.

The specifics of adverse possession laws in Oklahoma are complex and nuanced. Property owners need to be aware of these laws in order to prevent squatters from taking over their vacant or abandoned land. Similarly, squatters need to understand the exact adverse possession requirements if they wish to legally occupy an abandoned property.

Requirements for Adverse Possession

In order for squatters to successfully claim adverse possession in Oklahoma, they must meet several requirements. The possession must be:

Continuous for 15 Years

The squatters must reside on the property for 15 full, consecutive years. Temporary absences are permitted, but the property cannot be abandoned for any long periods of time.  

Exclusive and Hostile

The possession cannot be shared with the legal owner or have permission from the owner. The squatter is occupying the property without consent.

Open and Notorious

It must be obvious to anyone that the squatters live on the property as owners. They cannot try to hide the fact they are residing there.

Paying Property Taxes

The squatters must pay the property taxes on the land for 5 continuous years. They must pay them on time like any other landowner.

The squatters must meet all of these requirements for the entire 15-year occupancy period to successfully claim adverse possession. If they do not fulfill each one, then their claim of ownership can be defeated.

Abandoned vs. Unoccupied Property

There is an important distinction between abandoned property and unoccupied property when it comes to squatter's rights in Oklahoma.

Abandoned property is property that the owner has willfully relinquished all rights to and no longer claims any ownership of. Legally, the owner has given up all rights and interest in an abandoned property. If squatters occupy abandoned property and meet all other requirements, they can gain ownership through adverse possession in Oklahoma.

Unoccupied property is property that still has a legal owner, but the owner is not currently residing there or actively using the property. The owner still pays property taxes, maintains insurance, and has not relinquished claim to the land. Squatters cannot legally gain ownership of unoccupied property through adverse possession in Oklahoma, even if the property sits unused for many years.  

The key difference is that an abandoned property no longer has a legal owner, while an unoccupied property is still claimed and owned by someone. Squatters have no rights to gain ownership of unoccupied land if the legal owner objects or challenges the squatters' occupation in any way. Property owners need to be diligent about protecting their rights to unoccupied land or buildings and take action to remove any squatters or trespassers.

Challenging a Squatter's Claim

If you find someone living on your property without your permission, you can challenge their right to be there and start the process to remove them. Under Oklahoma law, squatters can claim “adverse possession” of a property after residing there continuously for 15 years. However, as the property owner, you have legal options to remove squatters before they can make an ownership claim.

The first step is to provide written notice demanding that the squatters vacate the premises within a short timeframe, such as 5 or 10 days. The notice should explain that they are trespassers and do not have a legal right to occupy the property. 

If the squatters do not leave after proper notice has been given, the next step is to file an eviction lawsuit against them. This is known as a “forcible entry and detainer” or FED action. You can file this lawsuit in small claims court without a lawyer if the claim is for under $10,000 in Oklahoma. 

The eviction lawsuit will allow a judge to issue a court order for the squatters to vacate, and the sheriff can physically remove them if they do not comply. Be prepared to show evidence like deeds, titles, or tax records to establish ownership of the property.

Acting quickly and aggressively to remove squatters is key. If they do not voluntarily leave after receiving notice, take legal action right away. The longer the squatters occupy the property, the harder it becomes to evict them. Removing them within the first year is ideal to prevent an adverse possession claim.

With the right evidence and legal process, property owners can remove unwanted squatters from their land. Seek help from a real estate attorney if you need assistance challenging a squatter’s right to occupy your property in Oklahoma.

When Ownership Transfers

After 15 years of meeting the requirements for adverse possession, a squatter can gain legal ownership of the property in Oklahoma. At this point, the squatter has a legal right to the property and the original owner no longer has a valid claim.

To start the process of claiming ownership, the squatter must file a quiet title action lawsuit against the legal owner of record. This lawsuit establishes the squatter's right to ownership through adverse possession. The squatter must provide evidence that they have met all the requirements over the statutory period of 15 years. This includes:

  • Proof of continuous possession and residence on the property for 15 years 
  • Evidence of paying property taxes for 5 consecutive years
  • Documentation showing any improvements or maintenance performed
  • Affidavits affirming no challenges were made by the legal owner  

If the court is satisfied that the squatter has fulfilled all the requirements, they will issue a new deed granting full ownership to the squatter. The original owner's deed is nullified. The squatter can then register the new deed to complete the transfer of ownership.

At this point, the squatter becomes the legal owner and has full rights to occupy, sell, or transfer the property as they wish. The original owner no longer has any claim to the property after 15 years of adverse possession by the squatter.

Paying Property Taxes

One of the requirements for claiming adverse possession in Oklahoma is that the squatter must pay property taxes on the land for 5 consecutive years. Paying taxes helps to establish that the squatter occupied and maintained the property just as an actual owner would.

The payment of property taxes must be proven through official tax records. The squatter should make sure to keep receipts and documentation showing the taxes were paid each year. If ownership of the land is challenged in court, these records will be critical evidence to support the squatter's adverse possession claim.

Without being able to provide proof of paying taxes, it will be very difficult for a squatter to successfully claim adverse possession. The court needs to see a demonstrated financial investment and care towards the property. Simply residing on the land is not enough under Oklahoma law.

Squatters should also make sure the tax payments are made under their own name, rather than the name of the legal property owner. Paying taxes under the owner's name does not help the squatter's claim, since it looks like the true owner is still financially maintaining the property.

After 5 full years of paying property taxes in their own name, the squatter's claim to the property will be much stronger. However, payment of taxes alone does not guarantee they will gain ownership. All other requirements must still be met, and the owner can still challenge the squatter's right to the property. But tax records are a pivotal piece of evidence for any adverse possession claim in Oklahoma.

Making Improvements

One question that often comes up regarding squatters is whether they have any rights to improvements they make to the property they are occupying. In Oklahoma, a squatter can try to claim ownership of any improvements they make if they can prove they rightfully own those improvements.

Some examples of improvements a squatter might make include:

  • Building a structure like a shed or fence
  • Making repairs or renovations to a building
  • Installing plumbing, electrical systems, or appliances
  • Clearing land or planting trees
  • Paving a driveway 

To claim ownership of these improvements, the squatter has the burden of proving they own the improvements and did not make them using the owner's resources. For example, if they built a shed using their own tools and materials, they could make an ownership claim. But if they used salvaged materials from the property, it would likely belong to the owner.

The value of the improvements may be a factor as well. Minor improvements like planting flowers may not give a squatter any claims. But more valuable improvements like adding a room to a house might. In some cases, a squatter can sue an owner to recover the value of the improvements if they vacate the property.

Overall, squatters do not have an automatic right to claim improvements they make to someone else's property. But under certain conditions, Oklahoma law allows squatters to potentially recover at least some of the value of their improvements. Property owners need to be aware of this possibility when seeking to remove squatters.

Preventing Squatters

Property owners can take preventative measures to avoid issues with squatters in the first place. Here are some tips:

Inspect Properties Regularly

Make it a habit to regularly inspect rental properties between tenant occupations. Look for any signs of trespassing, vandalism, or people taking up residence in the property. Address any issues immediately before squatters can establish occupancy.

Secure Entry Points 

When a property is vacant, ensure that all doors, windows, and other entry points are locked and secured. Consider installing extra locks if needed. Board up any broken windows or doors. Fence off the property if possible.

Post No Trespassing Signs

Post visible "No Trespassing" and "Private Property" signs around the perimeter of the property. You can also print and post a copy of trespassing laws. This helps deter potential squatters and establishes you do not consent to unwanted occupants.

Hire a Property Manager

Consider hiring a property management company to monitor your vacant rentals. Property managers regularly inspect properties and address any signs of unauthorized occupation. Having a third party involved helps prevent adverse possession claims.

By taking proactive measures, property owners can avoid costly and time-consuming legal battles down the road. Don't allow squatters to occupy property without your consent.

Removing Squatters

If a property owner discovers trespassers occupying their land, they have legal options for removing the squatters and reclaiming their property. However, self-help evictions are illegal in Oklahoma - property owners cannot forcibly remove squatters on their own. Instead, a court-ordered eviction is required.

The process typically involves the following steps:

1. Serve the squatters with a written notice to vacate. This provides a formal warning and establishes a timeline for the squatters to leave voluntarily. The notice should explain that they are trespassing and must vacate the property by a certain date or face eviction. 

2. If the squatters do not leave by the deadline, the property owner files an eviction lawsuit. This is known as a forcible entry and detainer (FED) action. Filing with the local district court starts the formal legal eviction process.

3. The court will schedule a hearing and make a judgment on the eviction case. If the judge rules in favor of the property owner, they will issue a writ of restitution ordering the squatters to vacate.

4. The writ is carried out by the county sheriff's department. Law enforcement will visit the property to physically remove the squatters if they fail to leave voluntarily. Force may be used if necessary to arrest squatters who refuse to comply with the court order.

5. Once removed, the property is returned to the legal owner. They can change the locks and take measures to prevent re-entry by the squatters. Any property left behind can be disposed of or stored as required by state law.

Squatters often seek to delay formal eviction as long as possible. However, property owners have the law on their side to reclaim possession and eliminate unwanted trespassers on their land through the courts. Consulting an attorney can help navigate the legal process efficiently.

Resources for Property Owners 

Dealing with squatters can be a complicated legal matter. Fortunately, there are resources available in Oklahoma to help property owners through the process:

  • Consult with a real estate attorney who specializes in property rights laws. They can review your case and help craft the strongest legal strategy.
  • Contact the Oklahoma Bar Association to find an attorney. Their lawyer referral services can connect you with lawyers experienced in adverse possession and squatter issues.
  • Reach out to legal aid organizations like Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma if you cannot afford an attorney. Their network of pro bono lawyers may be able to provide assistance.

Law Enforcement 

  • Notify local law enforcement if squatters refuse to leave the premises after proper notice. The sheriff's department can remove trespassers from private property.
  • File a report about any unlawful activities taking place on the property, like vandalism, illegal dumping or theft. This creates a paper trail of the squatters' actions.
  • Talk to the district attorney's office about pressing charges for trespassing if the squatters repeatedly return to the property after removal.

Government Agencies

  • Contact the county assessor's office to find property records and confirm you are the legal owner. This can help in building a case against the squatters.
  • Reach out to the county recorder's office to see if the squatters have tried filing any fraudulent documentation.
  • Notify city code enforcement about unpermitted construction, unsafe living conditions or ordinance violations related to the squatters. They may cite the property.

Having the right help can make navigating adverse possession laws much easier for property owners in Oklahoma. Don't hesitate to use all the resources available.

Key Takeaways

  • In Oklahoma, squatters can potentially gain legal ownership of an abandoned property through adverse possession after a continuous occupation of 15 years, provided specific conditions are met.
  • Oklahoma has a "Fence Law" that may allow squatters to claim ownership after erecting fence boundaries and paying property taxes for 5 years, highlighting a unique path to ownership based on specific actions and responsibilities.
  • The process of claiming adverse possession in Oklahoma involves complex legal requirements, including continuous, exclusive, hostile, open and notorious possession, alongside the obligation to pay property taxes for 5 consecutive years.
  • Oklahoma law makes a critical distinction between abandoned property, which no longer has a legal owner, and unoccupied property, which still belongs to someone and is merely not currently in use.
  • Property owners have legal avenues to challenge squatters, including providing a written notice to vacate and filing an eviction lawsuit for forcible entry and detainer action if squatters do not comply.
  • After successfully meeting the adverse possession requirements for 15 years, squatters can initiate a quiet title action lawsuit to claim legal ownership, transferring the property title from the original owner to the squatter.
  • Property owners are advised to take preventive measures against squatting, such as regular property inspections, securing entry points, and hiring property management services to monitor and maintain the property's security and integrity.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you evict a squatter in Oklahoma?

To evict a squatter in Oklahoma, the property owner must first serve the squatter with a notice to vacate. If the squatter does not comply, the owner can then file an eviction lawsuit in court. After obtaining a court order, the sheriff's department may assist in physically removing the squatter from the property.

Can you take over abandoned property in Oklahoma?

Yes, it is possible to take over abandoned property in Oklahoma through the process of adverse possession. The squatter must occupy the property continuously, openly, and without permission for 15 years, and meet other legal requirements, including paying property taxes for at least 5 years to potentially gain legal ownership.

What are the requirements for adverse possession in Oklahoma?

The requirements for adverse possession in Oklahoma include a continuous, open, exclusive, and hostile possession of the property for 15 years. Additionally, the squatter must pay property taxes on the property for at least 5 consecutive years to strengthen their claim.

Can you evict a tenant without a lease in Oklahoma?

Yes, you can evict a tenant without a lease in Oklahoma. The process involves giving the tenant a notice to vacate, typically providing a certain number of days to leave the property, depending on the situation. If the tenant does not vacate after the notice period, the landlord can proceed with filing an eviction lawsuit.

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