Rhode Island Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What are Squatters' Rights in Rhode Island?

Squatters rights, also known as adverse possession, refers to a legal principle that allows a person to potentially gain ownership of an abandoned property they have occupied and maintained for a certain period of time. The rationale behind this concept is that if a property owner truly cares about their property, they will not allow someone else to openly occupy it for years on end without granting permission or taking action.  

In Rhode Island, squatters may be able to make a legal claim of adverse possession if they have lived on an abandoned property openly for 10 years. This means that if the true property owner does not act, after a decade of continuous, open and obvious occupation, the squatter can become the new legal owner.

This article will provide an overview of the relevant laws and requirements surrounding squatters rights in Rhode Island. It will cover topics such as what constitutes squatting, the specific criteria to claim adverse possession, how property owners can evict squatters, differences between commercial and residential properties, and more. The goal is to provide a comprehensive guide to understanding squatters rights and adverse possession in the state of Rhode Island.

Do Squatters Rights Exist in Rhode Island?

Yes, Rhode Island does recognize the legal principle of adverse possession, commonly known as squatters rights. This means that under certain conditions, a person who occupies an abandoned property without the owner's permission may be able to legally gain ownership or title to that property after a set period of time. 

Specifically, Rhode Island law allows for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim on a property after 10 years of continuous, open, notorious, and hostile possession. If the squatter meets all the requirements for adverse possession, they can legally file a lawsuit and claim legal ownership of the property.

So in summary, squatters rights do technically exist in Rhode Island in the form of adverse possession laws that allow a squatter to gain legal rights to a property after occupying it for 10 continuous years. This timeframe is shorter than many other states, allowing squatters to make ownership claims more quickly. As long as all the requirements are met, squatters can gain possession and even title to abandoned properties through adverse possession.

Requirements for Adverse Possession in Rhode Island

In order for squatters to successfully claim ownership of a property through adverse possession in Rhode Island, they must meet several requirements:

Continuous occupation for 10 years

Squatters must reside on the property for an uninterrupted period of 10 years. This means living in the property as their permanent, primary residence for the full 10 years. Any significant gaps during the 10-year period could disrupt the continuity claim.

Open and notorious use

It must be clear that the squatters are occupying the land. They must make no attempt to hide their presence, and act as obvious inhabitants of the property. This could include things like maintaining the land, making improvements, installing utilities, paying property taxes, etc.  

Exclusive use and possession

Squatters must be the sole occupants during the 10 years. The adverse possession claim could be voided if the owner or other tenants resided on the property at any time during the decade. Squatters must act as exclusive owners.

Hostile use

The occupation cannot have the actual owner's permission. The possession must be hostile, meaning without authorization from the legal property owner. The owner must not have given consent for the squatters to live on the land.

By openly occupying the property for 10 continuous years in an exclusive, uninterrupted manner, squatters who meet these requirements may have a legitimate claim for adverse possession in Rhode Island. However, actually gaining legal title is a complex process. Most squatters interested in adverse possession will consult an attorney to ensure they take the appropriate steps under the law.

Maintaining the Property 

For squatters rights in Rhode Island, it is essential to maintain the property to the same standards as a legal owner would. Squatters must actively occupy, control, and improve the property during the 10-year adverse possession period. Simply living on the land is not enough - the squatter must maintain and care for the property as if they were the true owner. 

Actions that demonstrate maintaining the property include:

  • Making repairs and improvements - Fixing broken items, painting, landscaping, etc.
  • Paying property taxes - Paying any owed property taxes strengthens an adverse possession claim.
  • Complying with building codes - Following zoning and permit requirements for any changes made to structures on the land.  
  • Controlling access - Securing entrances and restricting others from accessing the property.
  • Living openly - Using the property continuously and not trying to hide occupation from neighbors.

By caring for the land and making productive use of it, squatters show they have essentially taken over possession from the legal owner. Maintenance and improvements made by the squatter help satisfy the "open and notorious" use requirements of adverse possession in Rhode Island.

Gaining Title and Ownership

After occupying a property for the required statutory period in Rhode Island (10 years), the squatter can file a lawsuit to claim legal ownership through adverse possession. They must prove to the court that they meet all the requirements for adverse possession.  

The legal owner of the property will be notified of the lawsuit and has the right to contest ownership. The owner may argue that the squatter did not occupy the land for the full statutory period or did not meet the other adverse possession requirements.

If the court is convinced the squatter meets the legal requirements, they will issue a judgment granting them legal title to the property. The squatter will be given a new deed and can register it with the appropriate county records office.  

Once the court rules in favor of the squatter, the original property owner no longer has any rights to the land. Their title is extinguished and transferred to the squatter through the doctrine of adverse possession.

However, if the original owner can provide evidence the squatter did not meet the requirements, then the court will deny the claim for adverse possession. The squatter will then be subject to eviction if they attempt to remain on the property.

Gaining title through adverse possession extinguishes all rights the former property owner had. The squatter becomes the new legal owner and receives a deed registered in their name.

Evicting Squatters in Rhode Island

If squatters do not meet the requirements for adverse possession after the statutory period, the legal property owner has the right to evict them. The property owner must first provide proper notice for the squatters to vacate the premises. This written notice gives the squatters a certain number of days to willingly leave the property, usually between 3-30 days depending on the jurisdiction.

If the squatters do not vacate after proper notice is given, the property owner can then file an eviction lawsuit with the local court. The court will schedule a hearing where both parties can present evidence and make their case. If the judge rules in favor of the property owner, the court will issue an eviction order requiring the squatters to leave the premises. If the squatters refuse to leave after being ordered by the court, the county sheriff can forcibly remove them.

Property owners should be aware it is illegal to attempt to forcibly remove the squatters without going through the proper eviction process. This includes turning off utilities or removing the squatters' belongings while they are occupying the property. If squatters believe the owner has wrongfully evicted them, they can file a lawsuit to recover possession of the property. It is essential for property owners to follow lawful eviction procedures to avoid any potential legal complications.

Commercial vs. Residential Property

In Rhode Island, squatters can attempt to claim adverse possession rights for both residential and commercial properties. The laws make no distinction between the two types of real estate. 

However, some sources indicate that squatters may be able to claim commercial property faster than residential, due to the differences in how the spaces are monitored by owners. Commercial spaces often have absentee owners who visit infrequently. Residences usually have occupants who are actively using the property.

This means squatters could potentially establish the continuous occupation time period required for adverse possession more quickly for a commercial building than for a home. Instead of needing 10 years of occupancy, a squatter may be able to claim rights in 5-7 years for a commercial property in Rhode Island. However, the 10 year timeframe remains the legal requirement on paper.

The other requirements for adverse possession are the same, no matter if the property is residential or commercial. The use must be open and notorious, exclusive, continuous for the statutory period, and hostile to the true owner's rights. As long as the squatter meets these conditions, they can attempt to claim ownership of both abandoned residential and commercial real estate in Rhode Island through adverse possession.

Abandoned vs. Unoccupied Property

When it comes to squatting in Rhode Island, there is an important distinction between abandoned property and unoccupied property. 

Abandoned property refers to a home, building, or land where the legal owner has surrendered all rights and claims to the property. There is usually clear evidence that the owner has vacated the property and has no intention of returning, such as a lack of maintenance, unpaid taxes or mortgages, and an absence of people living there. 

Squatting is generally easier to accomplish on true abandoned property, since the original owner has given up rights to the land or building. As long as squatters meet the continuous occupation requirements for adverse possession, they may be able to make a legal claim to the property after 10 years in Rhode Island.

Unoccupied property still has an identifiable legal owner, even if no one is currently living there. The owner maintains legal rights to the property and has likely only left it temporarily vacant. They still pay property taxes, maintain insurance policies, and have not abandoned their claim to ownership.

It is much more difficult for squatters to take legal possession of unoccupied property through adverse possession. Even if the owner is not physically present, they still have the title and deed and have not surrendered their property rights. Squatters would have a difficult time proving “hostile” occupancy when the true owner could return at any time.

The bottom line in Rhode Island is that squatters stand a better chance of eventually gaining ownership by occupying abandoned property with no identifiable owner. Trying to adversely possess an unoccupied property with a legal owner still actively asserting their rights is extremely difficult. Consult with a real estate attorney before attempting to occupy any property without the owner's permission.

Adverse Possession vs. Trespassing

The key difference between adverse possession and trespassing is the duration of occupation. Trespassing refers to occupying or using someone else's property without permission. It can occur even with a very brief period of unauthorized occupation. 

Adverse possession, on the other hand, requires long-term, continuous occupation of the property - typically 10 years or more in Rhode Island. Adverse possession claimants must occupy the property openly and treat it as their own for that entire statutory period.

Mere trespassers have no rights and can face civil or criminal penalties if caught on the property. But adverse possessors who meet all the legal requirements may be able to claim legal rights and even ownership after many years of occupation.

Trespassing is usually considered a minor civil offense or misdemeanor crime, while adverse possession leads to a major transfer of property ownership rights. There's a big difference between staying at an abandoned property for a few days versus moving in and living there for a decade.

So while trespassing and adverse possession may look similar on the surface, the duration and intention behind the occupation determine the legal implications. Occasional, temporary trespassing does not meet the requirements for adverse possession in Rhode Island.


Adverse possession and squatters rights allow people to gain ownership of property they have occupied without the legal owner's permission. In Rhode Island, squatters can potentially claim ownership after 10 years of continuous occupation if they meet certain conditions. It's important for property owners and squatters alike to understand the legal requirements around adverse possession in Rhode Island.

Key Takeaways

  • Squatters can gain ownership through adverse possession after 10 years of continuous occupation.
  • The occupation must be open, notorious, exclusive and hostile to the legal owner's rights.
  • Squatters must maintain the property and pay any taxes or fees associated with it.
  • The legal owner can reclaim ownership at any time by communicating their intent to do so or by evicting the squatters.
  • Commercial properties have different rules than residential properties when it comes to adverse possession.
  • Merely trespassing on a property does not establish ownership rights like adverse possession does.

By having a clear understanding of the adverse possession laws and requirements in Rhode Island, property owners can take steps to prevent squatters from occupying their land. Likewise, squatters should ensure they meet all the necessary conditions before trying to claim ownership rights to an abandoned property through adverse possession. Consulting with a legal professional is advisable when asserting adverse possession rights.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I claim adverse possession in Rhode Island?

To claim adverse possession in Rhode Island, an individual must occupy a property openly, continuously, and exclusively for a period of 10 years. The occupation must be hostile, meaning without the permission of the property owner, and under a claim of right. The person claiming adverse possession must also improve the property or pay property taxes during this period. To legally establish a claim, the individual usually needs to file a lawsuit to obtain a court judgment confirming the transfer of ownership.

How do I evict a squatter in Rhode Island?

Evicting a squatter in Rhode Island involves several legal steps. First, the property owner should serve the squatter with a written notice to vacate the property. If the squatter does not leave within the specified time frame, the property owner can file an eviction lawsuit, known as a "forcible entry and detainer" action, in the appropriate court. The court will schedule a hearing, and if the judge rules in favor of the property owner, they will issue an order for the squatter to be removed from the property. If necessary, law enforcement can assist in enforcing the eviction.

Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes in Rhode Island?

Yes, one of the conditions for a squatter to claim adverse possession in Rhode Island is that they may need to pay property taxes on the property they are occupying. Paying property taxes is part of demonstrating the squatter's claim of right and investment in the property. However, merely paying taxes alone does not grant adverse possession; the squatter must also meet other requirements, such as continuous and exclusive occupation for at least 10 years.

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