Utah Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What are Squatters’ Rights in Utah?

Squatters’ rights, also known as adverse possession, is a legal principle that allows a person occupying someone else's property without permission to potentially gain ownership after a certain time period. 

In Utah, squatter's rights laws allow a squatter to make a legal claim for ownership of an abandoned property after occupying it continuously for 20 years. If the squatter satisfies all the requirements, they can gain legal ownership of the property even though they moved in without the owner's consent.

The rationale behind squatter's rights laws is to discourage landowners from willfully neglecting their unoccupied properties. If a property sits vacant and abandoned for an extended period of time, and a squatter moves in, makes use of the property, and fulfills the legal requirements of adverse possession, then the squatter can petition to become the rightful owner after 20 years.

So in essence, squatter's rights in Utah provide a way for squatters to potentially gain legal ownership of a property they have occupied openly and exclusively for 20 continuous years. The key requirements beyond just occupying the property are paying property taxes and making improvements.

Requirements to Claim Squatter's Rights in Utah

To establish squatters rights in Utah through adverse possession, the squatter must meet several requirements:

Open and Continuous Occupation

The squatter must physically occupy the property for an uninterrupted period of 20 years. This means living on the land and using it as if they were the rightful owner. Any significant lapse in occupation could disrupt the continuous possession requirement.  

Exclusive Occupation

The squatter must be the only one possessing and occupying the land during the 20 year period. They cannot share occupation with strangers, the legal owner, or tenants. Exclusive occupation helps demonstrate the squatter's intention to act as the true owner.

Payment of Property Taxes

The squatter must pay property taxes on the land for at least 5 consecutive years during the 20 year occupancy period. Payment of taxes further demonstrates their claim to ownership.

Improvements or Repairs

Making useful improvements or repairs to the property can bolster the squatter's adverse possession claim. Things like building structures, improving drainage, maintaining landscaping, and other upgrades may be considered evidence of ownership.

Meeting these requirements does not automatically guarantee the squatter will gain legal ownership, but it strengthens their case when asserting adverse possession in Utah. The court looks at the totality of actions to determine if the squatter acted as the true property owner for 20 continuous years.

How to Claim Adverse Possession in Utah

To claim adverse possession in Utah and obtain legal ownership of a property, a squatter must meet several requirements over a 20 year period:

Occupy the property openly and exclusively for 20 continuous years**

The squatter must reside on the property without permission and exclude all others from using the land for the full 20 year period. They cannot vacate the property for long periods or share possession with others. Their occupation must be obvious and unambiguous.

Pay property taxes for at least 5 consecutive years

The squatter must pay the property taxes on the land for 5 straight years and have proof of payment. They are not required to pay for the full 20 years.

Make improvements or repairs to the property

The squatter must make useful improvements like buildings, fencing, drainage systems or maintenance and repairs. They need to treat the property as their own. Just occupation is not enough.

The 20 year clock only starts counting when all three requirements are met. The squatter must meet the "open and notorious" test by occupying the property in a way that would put a reasonable owner on notice. Secretive, sporadic or concealed use is not sufficient.

The squatter can file a lawsuit for quiet title after the 20 year period expires. If successful, the court will grant them full ownership of the land. The original owner forfeits their rights by failing to remove the squatter during the 20 years.

Removing Squatters in Utah

If you find someone squatting on your property in Utah, you will need to legally remove them through a formal eviction process. Here are the general steps:

Serve a Notice to Quit

The first step is to provide written notice demanding the squatters leave the premises within a certain timeframe, usually 3-5 days. The notice should identify the property address, list the squatters' names if known, and give a deadline for vacating.

File an Eviction Lawsuit

If the squatters do not leave after the deadline in the notice to quit, you can file a lawsuit against them. This formal unlawful detainer lawsuit is filed in county court to have a judge order their removal. 

Obtain a Court Order

After hearing your eviction case, the judge will issue an order for the removal of the squatters if the evidence supports your claim. The court order will direct the sheriff's department to remove the squatters from the property.

Sheriff Removes Squatters

With a court-ordered writ of restitution, the sheriff will visit the property and forcibly remove the squatters if they do not comply. Their belongings can also be removed and put into storage.

The eviction process maintains your legal rights and prevents you from using unlawful self-help measures like cutting utilities or forcibly removing the squatters yourself, which could incur penalties or damages. Consult with a local landlord/tenant attorney to ensure proper procedures are followed when removing squatters.

Preventing Squatters 

It is important for property owners to take proactive steps to prevent squatters from occupying their vacant land or buildings. Here are some tips on keeping squatters away:

Conduct Regular Inspections

If you own vacant property, check on it frequently to look for any signs of trespassing or squatting. Try to inspect the property every couple of weeks. Look for lights, movement, belongings, or any other indications that someone may be staying there. 

Post "No Trespassing" Signs

Posting visible signage that prohibits trespassing can deter potential squatters. Make sure the signs meet your state's legal requirements for formatting, size, and placement. Also check local ordinances, as some areas require registering the property address with the police when posting no trespassing signs.

Secure the Property

Make sure all entryways are locked and secured. Board up windows, lock gates/doors, and consider installing fencing around the perimeter. This makes it harder for squatters to get in and start occupying the property.

Enlist Neighbors to Monitor

Talk to neighbors nearby and ask them to keep an eye out for any potential squatting activity. Provide them with your contact information so they can inform you right away if they see anything suspicious. The sooner you find out about squatters, the faster you can take legal action.

Taking preventative measures can stop squatters before they start. But if trespassers do illegally occupy your property, be sure to take prompt legal action to have them removed.

Squatters vs. Tenants

The key difference between squatters and tenants is that tenants have permission from the property owner to live on the premises, usually in the form of a lease agreement. Squatters occupy the property without the owner's consent.

Tenants have certain legal rights and protections under landlord-tenant laws that squatters do not have. For example, tenants cannot be forcibly removed without following a formal eviction process. Squatters, on the other hand, can potentially be removed by police without notice if the owner decides to press charges for trespassing. 

Tenants are also responsible for paying rent and adhering to the terms of their lease. Squatters don't pay rent or have a lease agreement with the owner. Their lack of a legal right to occupy the property makes squatters vulnerable to immediate eviction and removal.

Property owners who suspect they may have squatters should attempt to gather evidence these occupants do not have permission to be on the premises. Signs of squatting may include changed locks, unauthorized repairs, or lack of communication. Squatters do not have the same legal rights as lawful tenants with documentation allowing them to live on the property.

Squatters Rights to Make Improvements

Squatters in Utah can make certain improvements to a property they are occupying in order to help establish their claim for adverse possession. Any improvements made by squatters are considered part of their continuous occupation and maintenance of the property. This helps demonstrate that they are occupying and using the land like a true owner would.

However, if the squatter's adverse possession claim ultimately fails, the improvements they made automatically become the property of the legal owner. The squatter has no right to remove any additions, upgrades, or renovations they made.  

There are some limitations on the types of improvements squatters can make:

  • They cannot make major structural changes without approval from the owner. This includes demolishing buildings, rebuilding parts of the structure, or adding new buildings.
  • They cannot make changes that go against zoning laws or building codes. Any improvements must be properly permitted and inspected.
  • The improvements must not extend beyond the boundaries of the property being adversely possessed. The squatter cannot stake claim to more land.
  • The improvements should be consistent with the intended use of the property. A residential lot should remain residential.

Overall, minor upgrades like maintenance, repairs, landscaping, and renovations are acceptable for squatters to make in Utah. But they cannot make huge, permanent alterations without the legal owner's consent. Any improvements are made at the risk that the owner retains them if the squatter's claim fails.

Checking for Squatters Claims 

Before purchasing a property in Utah, it's important to check if there are any potential squatters rights claims. Here are some tips:

Hire a title company to do a full title search and examine any recorded easements or encumbrances on the property. This can uncover any adverse possession affidavits that have been filed.

County Recorder Records

Check the county recorder's records to see if there are any recorded documents or maps that reference squatter occupancy or claims. Look for property affidavits, surveys, or tax records.

Property Inspection

Do a thorough walkthrough of the property looking for any signs of occupancy such as possessions, furnishings, structural additions or improvements. Check for locked doors, no trespassing signs, or people actually occupying the property. Document everything with photographs and video.

Taking these preventative steps before purchasing a property can potentially uncover squatter claims and prevent legal headaches down the road. It's much easier to evict squatters or revoke claims before you officially own the property. Don't take shortcuts - always fully investigate the property's occupancy history.

Utah Squatting Period vs. Other States

Utah requires 20 years of continuous occupation to establish adverse possession rights, which is on the longer end compared to other states. Many states have adverse possession periods ranging from 5 to 30 years. 

For example, states like Missouri, Maine, and Minnesota have a 20 year requirement similar to Utah. However, other states have much shorter adverse possession periods such as:

  • New Jersey - 30 years 
  • Arkansas - 7 years
  • Iowa - 5 years
  • Alaska - 10 years 

The 20 year continuous occupation period in Utah presents a high bar for squatters to claim adverse possession. The lengthy time frame makes it more challenging to prove continuous and uninterrupted use compared to states with shorter 5-10 year periods. 

Property owners in Utah are afforded greater protection against adverse possession claims due to the state having one of the longest squatting periods in the country. For those looking to take possession of an abandoned property, Utah requires substantially more time and evidence than most other states.

While squatters may have certain rights under adverse possession laws, property owners do have legal options to remove squatters from their land in Utah. Here are some of the main legal actions that can be taken:


If a squatter has established tenancy in a property, the owner can take legal action to evict them through the court system even if they don't have a formal lease agreement. Serving a notice to quit gives the squatter 3-5 days to vacate the property before an eviction lawsuit can be filed. If the court rules in favor of the property owner, law enforcement can forcibly remove the squatter from the premises.

Criminal Trespassing Charges  

Squatters occupying a property without permission are committing criminal trespass. The property owner can press charges against the squatter. If found guilty, the squatter would face fines or even jail time. A conviction can also help strengthen a case for eviction.

Damages for Unlawful Occupancy

In some cases, property owners may sue squatters to recover damages for loss of rental income and other costs associated with unlawful occupancy. However, collecting damages can be difficult if the squatter lacks sufficient assets. But a judgment could potentially be collected in the future if the squatter's financial circumstances improve.

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