West Virginia Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What Are Squatters' Rights in West Virginia?

In West Virginia, squatters' rights refer to the legal principle of adverse possession. Adverse possession allows a person to gain legal ownership of a property that belongs to someone else. 

To claim adverse possession in West Virginia, a squatter must occupy a property continuously for 15 years. During this time, the occupation must be actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, and continuous:


The squatter must physically and personally occupy the land and make real use of it. 

Open & Notorious

The occupation must be obvious to anyone, including the legal owner. Hiding or concealing the occupation won't count.


The squatter must possess the land for themselves and not share possession with strangers, the owner, or the public.  


The squatter must occupy the land without permission from the legal owner. Their use of the land challenges the owner's rights.


The squatter must occupy the land continuously for the full 15 year statutory period without any significant gaps. Periodic use or abandonment resets the clock.

If a squatter meets these requirements and occupies a property for 15 continuous years, they can file a quiet title lawsuit to gain legal ownership through adverse possession. The court will transfer title to the squatter if all conditions are met.

Types of Squatting in West Virginia

West Virginia recognizes three main types of squatting situations:

Simple Occupation 

This involves occupying a property that appears abandoned or not in use. The squatter makes no effort to take legal ownership and is only using the property for shelter. For example, a person may squat in a vacant house, apartment, or boarded up building simply to have a place to stay. 

Good Faith Mistake

These squatters occupy a property under the mistaken belief that they have legal ownership or rental rights. For instance, a squatter may incorrectly believe that they inherited the property or were legally sold it. Even though incorrect, they assume occupancy based on a good faith mistake.

Awareness of Trespassing 

This type of squatter knowingly occupies land without the owner's permission. They make no attempt to claim any legal rights to the property. Instead, they trespass on the property with full awareness that it does not belong to them. For example, a person may squat on private land or in a vacant vacation home without trying to claim adverse possession. They are simply trespassers refusing to leave when the owner demands.

Common Law Defenses for Squatting in West Virginia

Squatters in West Virginia may try to use certain common law defenses to justify their unauthorized occupation of a property. Two potential defenses are prescriptive easement and color of title.

Prescriptive Easement

A prescriptive easement is a right to use part of someone else's land for a specific purpose, even though you don't own it. In West Virginia, a squatter may be able to claim a prescriptive easement if they openly, continuously, and hostilely use part of the landowner's property for at least 10 years. 

For example, if a squatter continually walks across someone's backyard as a shortcut to a road for over 10 years, they could potentially claim a prescriptive easement to use the yard as a walkway. However, the squatter can only claim the easement for that specific use, not ownership of the entire land.

Color of Title  

Color of title is the legal justification for occupying land under the mistaken belief of legal ownership. In West Virginia, squatters who have a written document giving the appearance of legal title can claim ownership after 5 years of continuous hostile occupation under color of title, according to WV Code §55-3-1.  

For instance, a squatter who is deeded a property under false pretenses has color of title. If the squatter occupies the land for 5 continuous years under color of title, they may be able to claim legal ownership even though the original deed transfer was invalid. Color of title offers shorter adverse possession periods than typical squatter's rights claims in West Virginia.

West Virginia Statutory Code on Squatters Rights

West Virginia has specific laws in their statutory code that address squatter's rights and adverse possession in the state. The main laws are WV Code 55-2-1 and WV Code 55-3-1.

WV Code 55-2-1 states that to gain legal ownership of a property through adverse possession in West Virginia, a squatter must have actual, continuous possession of the land for 15 years. The possession must be open, visible, exclusive, notorious, and hostile to the actual property owner. 

WV Code 55-3-1 reduces the statutory period for adverse possession to 5 years if the squatter has color of title to the land. Color of title means the squatter has some kind of document that appears to give them legal ownership, even if it is subsequently found to be invalid. Examples include an invalid or expired deed, tax receipt, or deed outside the chain of title.

So in summary, West Virginia squatters can claim adverse possession and potential legal ownership by occupying a property continuously for 15 years openly and exclusively. Or they can claim ownership in only 5 years if they have color of title to the land in addition to their occupation. These statutory provisions give specific guidelines on the requirements for squatters to gain possessory rights over properties they occupy without legal ownership.

Court Rulings on Squatters Rights in West Virginia

Several key court cases at the state and federal level have helped shape squatters rights law in West Virginia.

The West Virginia Supreme Court has emphasized that for a squatter to successfully claim adverse possession, they must demonstrate "actual, visible, exclusive, hostile, and continued possession" of the property in question. Payment of taxes is not required under West Virginia common law. 

In the 1985 case of State v. Lambert, the WV Supreme Court upheld a squatter's adverse possession claim despite the fact they had not paid any taxes on the property. The Court ruled the continuous 15 year occupancy itself was sufficient grounds to claim ownership rights.

Federal courts have also weighed in on the issue. In Robinette v. Kaufmann, a 1991 case, the US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia reinforced there is no tax payment requirement to claim adverse possession in the state. 

The Robinette ruling stated that "the West Virginia statute governing adverse possession does not require that the claimant pay taxes during the statutory period" of 15 years continuous occupancy. Therefore, adverse possession claims can proceed even if the squatter has not paid property taxes.

So in summary, key decisions at both the state and federal judicial level in West Virginia have established that continuous, open, and hostile occupation for 15 years is the primary test for a successful adverse possession claim. Payment of taxes is not legally required, though it can bolster a claim.

How to Claim Adverse Possession in West Virginia

To claim adverse possession in West Virginia, you must occupy the land continuously for 15 years. The occupation must be actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, and continuous:

Actual Occupation

You must physically enter, occupy, and control the land as if you were the owner. Sporadic or occasional use is not enough.

Open & Notorious Possession

Your occupation must be obvious to anyone who inspects the land. You cannot try to hide the fact that you are occupying the property. 

Exclusive Possession

You must possess the land exclusively, not sharing occupation with the legal owner or others. Joint possession does not qualify.

Hostile Possession

You must occupy the land without permission from the legal owner. Your occupation must be clearly adverse and hostile to the owner's rights.

Continuous Possession

Your occupation cannot be abandoned or halted at any time during the 15-year period. You must possess the land continuously for the entire statutory period.

Paying property taxes on the land can bolster an adverse possession claim, although it is not legally required in West Virginia.

Once you have occupied the land openly, notoriously, and continuously for 15 years, **you can file a quiet title lawsuit to gain legal ownership**. The court will award you title to the land through adverse possession if you can prove the statutory period of continuous hostile occupation.

How to Remove Squatters from Your Property

If you find squatters occupying your land in West Virginia without your permission, you will need to take legal action to have them removed. Here are some steps property owners can take:

Serve a Notice to Vacate

The first step is to provide written notice to the squatters that they are trespassing and must leave the property within a certain time period, usually 30-90 days. The notice should identify the property, demand the squatters vacate, and state that legal action will be taken if they fail to leave. Send the notice via certified mail and post a copy on the property.

File an Eviction Lawsuit

If the squatters don't leave after proper notice, you can file a lawsuit to have them evicted. This involves filing a complaint and seeking a court order demanding the removal of the squatters. You may need to work with a real estate attorney to navigate the legal process and appear in court. 

Obtain a Court Order

If the court rules in your favor, you will receive an eviction order requiring the squatters to vacate by a certain date. The local Sheriff's department can assist in removing them if they fail to comply with the court order.

Install Security Measures

To prevent squatters from returning, install locks, alarms, lighting, and "no trespassing" signs around the property. You can also hire a security service to monitor the site. Build fences to block entry.

Regularly monitoring your West Virginia property is key to preventing prolonged squatter situations. Acting quickly when squatters are found can help avoid lengthy legal battles. Be sure to document any evidence of squatting for your lawsuit. With the right approach, you can reclaim possession of your land from unwanted squatters.

How to Prevent Squatters in West Virginia  

To prevent squatters from occupying your West Virginia property, there are several key steps you should take:

Inspect the Property Frequently

  • Visit your West Virginia property often to check for any signs of trespassing or unauthorized occupation. 
  • Walk the perimeter and look for any damage, vandalism, or indications someone may be living there. 
  • Check all structures to ensure locks are secure and no one has broken in.

Install Security Measures

  • Put up fencing, gates, and "no trespassing" signs around the property.
  • Install motion-sensor security lights and surveillance cameras if possible.
  • Change the locks if you suspect previous keys may have been copied.
  • Hire a security company to monitor the property if it sits vacant for long periods.

Pay Your Property Taxes

  • Pay your West Virginia property taxes on time every year. 
  • Delinquent taxes can make your property vulnerable to adverse possession claims.
  • Keep records showing you have paid all taxes owed on the land.

Ask Neighbors to Report Suspicious Activity

  • Talk to adjacent neighbors and ask them to notify you if they see anyone on your property.
  • Provide neighbors with your contact information so they can reach you if needed.
  • Offer to do the same for them in return to build reciprocity. 

Taking preventative measures can help deter potential squatters and strengthen your case if you need to take legal action to remove trespassers. Consistent monitoring and maintenance of your West Virginia property provides key protection against unwanted occupancy.

Key Takeaways

  1. In West Virginia, squatters can gain legal ownership of property through adverse possession by occupying it for 15 years under conditions that are actual, open, notorious, exclusive, hostile, and continuous.
  2. Squatters must physically occupy the property, making obvious use of it without the owner's permission, and not share the possession with others, including the owner, to meet the criteria for adverse possession.
  3. West Virginia recognizes various squatting situations, including simple occupation, good faith mistake (occupying under the mistaken belief of ownership), and awareness of trespassing without attempting to claim legal rights.
  4. Common law defenses such as prescriptive easement (the right to use part of the property for a specific purpose after 10 years) and color of title (occupying under a document that suggests ownership) can support squatters' claims.
  5. West Virginia law requires 15 years of actual, continuous possession for a squatter to claim adverse possession. However, this period reduces to 5 years if the squatter has color of title.
  6. Key court cases in West Virginia have clarified that continuous occupancy for 15 years is sufficient for adverse possession, and payment of property taxes, while beneficial, is not a requisite.
  7. To legally claim ownership via adverse possession, squatters must meet specific occupation criteria for 15 years and may then file a quiet title lawsuit to gain legal ownership.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does adverse possession exist in West Virginia?

Yes, adverse possession is recognized in West Virginia. After 15 years of continuous, open, notorious, hostile, and actual possession of land or property that belongs to someone else, a squatter can claim legal ownership of the property through adverse possession.  

How do I claim adverse possession in West Virginia?

To claim adverse possession in West Virginia, you must occupy the land openly, exclusively, continuously, and hostilely for a period of 15 years. Paying property taxes can help strengthen an adverse possession claim, but is not legally required. After the statutory period, you can file a lawsuit to quiet title and become the legal owner.

What is the shortest time period for squatters rights in West Virginia?

The shortest time period to claim squatters rights through adverse possession in West Virginia is 15 years. This is relatively long compared to some other states that have shorter statutory time periods of 5-10 years. 

How long does it take to evict a squatter in West Virginia?

The eviction process time for removing squatters in West Virginia can take 2-6 months on average. The property owner must first serve the squatters a written notice to vacate, giving them 30-90 days to leave. If they do not vacate, the owner can file an eviction lawsuit, which can add several more weeks or months to legally remove the squatters if they contest the eviction.

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