Vermont Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What Are Squatters’ Rights?

Squatters’ rights, also known as adverse possession, refer to laws that allow a person to gain ownership or rights over an abandoned property that they do not own or rent by living on it for a certain period of time. 

The concept behind squatters’ rights is that if a property owner abandons their property and makes no effort to maintain it or evict trespassers, after a certain number of years the trespasser can make a legal claim to acquire some or all of the rights to it.

Squatters’ rights laws originate from old English common law. The idea was that land was a precious commodity that should not go unused. If an owner neglected their land, after a period of time the law would allow someone else to make use of it.

In the United States, squatters rights are regulated by state laws under the legal doctrine of adverse possession. Each state has its own conditions for how long a squatter must live on an abandoned property and what steps they have to take before they can make a legal claim over it. Though specifics vary, some common requirements are that the squatter occupies the property continuously for 5-30 years, that their occupation is open and notorious, and that they pay property taxes on the land. If they meet the state's criteria, they can legally file a lawsuit and become the rightful owner.

So in summary, squatters rights allow non-owners to eventually gain legal ownership over neglected properties based on a concept of productive use of land. The details of how it works are defined in each state's adverse possession statutes.

Adverse Possession Laws in Vermont  

Vermont has specific laws regarding adverse possession and squatter's rights. In order to claim adverse possession in Vermont, a squatter must occupy a property continuously for 15 years. The occupation must be hostile, open, notorious, and exclusive during this entire period.  

The 15 year timeframe is the shortest amount of time to establish adverse possession in the country. Most states require 20 years of continuous occupancy to claim squatter's rights.

In addition to the timeframe, the squatter must meet several requirements to claim adverse possession in Vermont:

  • The occupation must be hostile to the true owner's rights, without permission or consent. Simply occupying a vacant property does not meet this requirement.
  • The occupation must be open and notorious, meaning visible and apparent to anyone, including the legal owner. Hiding or concealing the occupation will not qualify.
  • Exclusive occupation means the squatter is the only one possessing and using the property. Sharing occupation with others disqualifies adverse possession.
  • The squatter must substantially improve the property with buildings, fences, gardens, septic systems, and other additions that indicate permanent residency and ownership. Minor upkeep does not qualify.
  • The squatter must pay property taxes on the land for the entire 15 year period to validly claim adverse possession.
  • Lastly, the squatter cannot be an accidental trespasser. They must intend to claim legal ownership of the property by adverse possession.

Vermont property owners can take legal action to remove squatters at any time during the 15 year period. Successful adverse possession cases are rare, but knowledge of the specific laws can help safeguard property rights.

Vermont does have laws related to squatting and adverse possession. Specifically, squatting is addressed under Vermont's trespassing laws. 

Trespassing in Vermont is considered a misdemeanor criminal offense. If squatters are occupying a property without the owner's permission, they can be charged with criminal trespass under Title 13, Chapter 77 of Vermont state law. Police have the authority to arrest squatters.

However, squatting also involves civil law related to adverse possession and property rights. After 15 years of continuous possession, squatters may be able to claim legal ownership of the property through adverse possession. At this point, it becomes a civil matter for the courts rather than a criminal trespass issue.

The owner of the property can file a lawsuit to eject the squatters from the property within the 15 year period to prevent them from legally acquiring the property. After 15 years, the owner loses their legal right to the property through adverse possession unless they file a successful lawsuit to eject the squatters before the time frame expires.

So in summary, Vermont has criminal laws around trespassing that apply to squatters occupying a property without permission. But it also has civil laws allowing squatters to potentially gain legal ownership through long-term, continuous possession. The owner needs to take legal action to remove squatters within 15 years to avoid losing their property rights.

How to Establish Squatters Rights in Vermont

In order to establish squatters rights in Vermont through adverse possession, you must meet several requirements:

  • You must occupy the property continuously for 15 years. This means using the property as your permanent residence. Temporary stays or sporadic visits are not sufficient.
  • Your occupancy must be actual, open and notorious. You must live on the property without hiding your presence. 
  • Your possession must be hostile to the true owner. You are occupying the land without permission and against the rights of the actual property owner.
  • Your possession must be exclusive. You cannot share possession with strangers, the public, or the true owner.

To claim adverse possession, you should:

  • Maintain records like utility bills or repair receipts to show you have occupied the property for the required time period.
  • Make visible improvements to the property like maintenance, repairs, or additions. 
  • Pay property taxes on the land and obtain the tax bills as evidence.
  • Get mail and other deliveries sent to the address to demonstrate it as your permanent residence.
  • Check municipal records to confirm the identity of the legal owner.
  • Hire a real estate attorney to file the adverse possession lawsuit once you meet the time requirements.

Having an experienced real estate lawyer handle the adverse possession claim is highly recommended. They can ensure proper procedure is followed and increase your chances of success.

Benefits and Risks of Squatters Rights

There are a few potential benefits as well as risks to consider when claiming squatters rights through adverse possession in Vermont.

Pros of Adverse Possession:

  • Gaining legal ownership of property for free - After meeting the requirements, squatters can gain legal title to the property without having to purchase it. This saves them the cost of buying real estate.
  • Productive use of vacant properties - Fixing up and occupying abandoned or vacant properties can help reduce crime and blight in a community. Squatters may make productive use of properties that would otherwise go unused and fall into disrepair.
  • Provide housing - In some cases, squatting provides housing for those unable to rent or buy homes conventionally. Adverse possession gives them a path to legal ownership.

Cons/Risks of Claiming Squatters Rights:

  • Legal fees - If the adverse possession claim is challenged, legal fees can pile up quickly. Even successful claims often require help from real estate attorneys.
  • Property owner retaliation - Trying to evict squatters without proper legal procedures can lead to retaliation or even violence in extreme cases. Squatters should be cautious.
  • No guarantees - There's no guarantee an adverse possession claim will be successful. If requirements are unmet, squatters may be evicted and find themselves homeless.
  • Property damages - Squatters may lack funds for critical maintenance and repairs. This can lead to property damage. They may be liable for repairs if evicted.
  • Restricted access to utilities - Squatters often lack electricity, plumbing, heat and other utilities. Making repairs and alterations to get utilities can require permits.

Does this adequately capture the key pros and cons of claiming adverse possession in Vermont? Let me know if you would like me to expand or modify anything.

What Rights Do Squatters Have in Vermont?

In Vermont, squatters who meet the requirements for adverse possession gain legal ownership of the property they have occupied. This gives them the same property rights as any other landowner in the state.  

Some key rights squatters gain in Vermont through adverse possession include:

  • The right to occupy the property and exclude others from it
  • The right to sell the property or transfer ownership
  • The right to modify, develop, or make improvements to the property
  • The right to use the property as collateral for a mortgage or loan

However, there are some limits on the rights obtained by squatters in Vermont:

  • They only gain legal ownership of the specific area they occupied, not necessarily the entire parcel. Their rights are limited to the area they actually inhabited and improved.
  • They must pay property taxes on the land during the entire occupation period to claim adverse possession. If they fail to pay taxes, they may not meet the legal requirements.
  • They are not entitled to collect rents or profits from the land during the adverse possession period. Only once they gain legal title can they collect incomes.
  • The original owner still holds title to any mineral, water, or subsurface rights on the land. Squatters only gain surface rights through adverse possession in Vermont.

So in summary, successful squatters gain important property rights in Vermont but there are also limits, especially related to the payment of taxes and the precise area of occupation. Gaining adverse possession gives them ownership rights similar to any landowner.

How to Evict Squatters in Vermont

If you find squatters occupying your vacant property in Vermont, you will need to go through the proper legal process to remove them. Here is an overview of how to evict squatters in Vermont:

The first step is to provide written notice demanding that the squatters leave the premises within a certain timeframe, usually 3 days. The best practice is to have a sheriff serve the notice. If the squatters fail to leave after the notice period, then you can file a lawsuit for ejectment with the county court to legally remove the squatters. 

You have the option of getting the police involved by reporting an illegal trespass, but they can only remove the squatters temporarily. The squatters can return and you would have to repeat the process. Getting a court order for eviction is the permanent solution.

Vermont requires a formal court-ordered eviction even if the squatters have no legal right to be on the property. Self-help evictions through force or unlawful means are illegal.

The court process takes time and you will have to pay a filing fee, serve the squatters, and go through a hearing. If the judge rules in your favor, the court will issue a Writ of Possession giving you the legal right to remove the squatters and reclaim your property.

You can choose to hire a sheriff or constable to carry out the eviction or do it yourself. The squatters' belongings must be removed from the property and stored safely. Usually hiring a Vermont eviction service is the fastest and most hassle-free route for $75 to $200.

The total costs for the eviction process including filing fees, serving notices, attorney fees if hiring one, and using the sheriff can range from $3,000 to $5,000 in Vermont. It pays to take quick legal action against unwanted squatters on your property.

How Long Does Adverse Possession Take in Vermont?

In Vermont, squatters must occupy a property for 15 years before they can make an adverse possession claim. This time frame applies to all types of properties including residential, agricultural, commercial, and vacant land. 

The 15-year clock starts running from the date the squatter first occupies the property. They must maintain actual, open, notorious, hostile, and continuous possession for the entire 15 years. This means living on the land and making it appear to the public like they own the property. Paying property taxes on the land can help establish a claim.

There are a few exceptions that can pause or reset the clock:

  • If the owner acknowledges the squatter's right to be on the property, the 15-year clock restarts. This could happen if the owner accepts payment from the squatter for rent or taxes.
  • If the squatter abandons the property for any length of time or does not maintain continuous possession, the clock resets back to zero. 
  • Minors under the age of 18 cannot make an adverse possession claim in Vermont. So any time a minor spends occupying the property does not count towards the 15 years.
  • Military members deployed abroad are not subject to adverse possession claims under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Their time away does not count towards the 15-year clock.

As long as a squatter meets all the requirements, they can claim legal ownership after 15 years of uninterrupted possession. At that point, the squatter can file a quiet title action and become the rightful owner. Property owners need to take action to evict squatters before the 15 years is up.

Squatting, or occupying a property without the owner's permission, occupies a gray area of legality across the United States. While some states have laws expressly prohibiting squatting on private property, other states are more permissive. Overall, squatters rights and adverse possession laws vary significantly from state to state.

In states like California and New York, squatting can be prosecuted as criminal trespass. Police have the power to remove squatters from private property at the request of the owner. Other states, like Vermont, have adverse possession laws that allow squatters to potentially gain legal ownership of a property after residing there continuously for a statutory period, typically 5 to 20 years.  

To claim adverse possession, squatters must meet certain requirements related to paying property taxes, maintaining the property, and occupying it openly and continuously. Even in adverse possession states, squatters have no rights to the property during the statutory vesting period. Additionally, the original property owner can take actions like posting no trespassing signs, blocking entrances, or filing eviction proceedings to prevent squatters from fulfilling the requirements.

Ultimately, squatting occupies a legal gray area that varies significantly across the U.S. In some states, squatters have no rights and can be removed as trespassers. In others, squatters can potentially gain legal ownership through adverse possession statutes. Property owners should understand their state's squatting and adverse possession laws in order to take appropriate action.

FAQ: Squatters Rights in Vermont

Squatters rights and adverse possession laws can be confusing for property owners in Vermont. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

How do I remove squatters from my property in Vermont?

If you discover squatters on your property in Vermont, you will need to evict them legally through the court system. You cannot remove them by force or make them leave without a court order. Hire a lawyer to file a lawsuit against the squatters for trespassing and eviction.

What is the shortest amount of time for squatters to gain rights?

In Vermont, squatters must adversely possess a property continuously for 15 years before they can claim legal ownership based on adverse possession. This is the shortest amount of time in Vermont.

Can I reclaim my property from squatters in Vermont?

Yes, if squatters have been on your property for less than 15 continuous years, you can take legal action to remove them and reclaim ownership of your property. If they have been there over 15 years, it becomes more difficult to evict them since they may legally own the property.

What happens if squatters damage my property in Vermont?

You can sue squatters for any damage they cause to your property in Vermont. Your insurance policy may also cover vandalism damages. Document any property damage from squatters with photos/video and get cost repair estimates. 

Do squatters pay property taxes in Vermont?

No, squatters do not pay property taxes on properties they occupy. The legal property owner continues paying the taxes. This is one requirement in Vermont for adverse possession - the squatter must pay taxes.

Should I get a lawyer to remove squatters in Vermont?

Yes, it's highly advisable to hire a real estate lawyer to file a lawsuit to evict squatters and reclaim possession of your Vermont property. Removing squatters involves complex property laws and procedures best handled by professionals.

What are the risks of allowing squatting?

Risks include property damage, safety hazards, legal complications, and the possibility the squatters gain ownership if allowed to occupy the property for over 15 continuous years. Act promptly to remove squatters from your property in Vermont.

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