As a property owner, squatters are an issue that you want to avoid at all costs. Squatters can acquire property ownership through a legal doctrine known as adverse possession. Different states have different requirements that a squatter must meet before making a claim of adverse possession in Georgia.

As per Georgia state law and Georgia adverse possession laws, there are 5 distinct requirements that a squatter must meet to gain ownership of your property. These include staying in the property for 20 uninterrupted years and occupying the property exclusively.

As a landlord or property owner, it’s important to familiarize yourself with Georgia’s landlord-tenant law, Georgia adverse possession laws and squatter's rights in order to prevent someone else from taking over the legal possession of your real estate property. In this post, we’ll cover the rights that squatters have and how you can prevent them.

Who is Considered a Squatter?

Before you can successfully understand the squatters’ law and the understanding of real estate law needed protect your property from them, you must know who a squatter is. A squatter is someone that stays on a property without lawful permission from the owner. This means that, besides lacking ownership rights to the real estate property, they also don’t pay any rent to live there.

Is a Squatter a Trespasser?

You may be wondering: what's the difference between a squatter and a trespasser under real estate law and Georgia adverse possession laws?

When people understand what a squatter is, they often assume that they are a trespasser or individual claiming ownership of the property. However, this is not the case. If the property owner decides to evict them by seeking help from relevant authorities they are not the trespasser. At this point, their squatting is no longer a civil matter but a criminal offense.

Who are Tenants at Sufferance?

Tenants at sufferance are usually referred to as holdover tenants. These are tenants that choose to continue living in the rental premises even after the term of their lease agreement expires. Unless the landlord sues them for unlawful detainer, they can continue living on the property at the landlord’s will. This also means that the landlord can evict them at any time without notice.

What are the Squatters’ Rights in Georgia?

As per Georgia adverse possession laws, after living on a property for a certain uninterrupted period of time, a squatter can make an adverse possession claim to the property.

In the state of Georgia, to make the adverse possession claim, a squatter needs to have stayed on the real estate property for at least 20 years. These 20 years need to be continuous (i.e. not interrupted for weeks or months) for the property's legal title to be changed.

However, with ‘color of title,’ that time can be reduced to just 7 years. However, what is a color of title under adverse possession laws?

Color of title is a legal term that refers to a title that has significant defects in the written documents. This means that what seems like a valid title isn’t proper and therefore invalidates their claim to the property.

In the United States, squatters must meet 5 distinct requirements in order to file for a legal adverse possession claim and the legal title of the property to be changed.

Here are the 5 requirements to file for a Georgia adverse possession claim and take over the land legally:

Requirement 1: Continuous Possession of the Unit

A squatter making an adverse possession claim must have resided at the property for at least the statutory period of 20 continuous years. Leaving the property for weeks or months at a time will invalidate the claim they are the property owner under Georgia adverse possession laws.

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The only exception to this rule is if the squatter has color of title and has paid all property taxes. Color of title is a legal method which means they only need to have stayed on the property for a statutory period of 7 continuous years.

Requirement 2: Exclusive Possession of the Property

The squatter must possess the property exclusively. This means that they should be the only ones occupying the land and the only ones with tax payment records. Sharing it with others, whether that’s other tenants or the owner themselves, would invalidate their adverse possession claim.

Requirement 3: Open & Notorious Possession of the Property

The squatter’s occupation of the property must be obvious to anyone in the general public. Even the rightful owner making reasonable efforts to investigate the matter should be able to tell there is a squatter living there.

Attempting to hide the fact that they are living there would nullify the squatter’s claim for adverse possession.

Requirement 4: Actual Possession of the Property

A squatter’s physical presence at the property is required under Georgia’s adverse possession statutes. They must also treat the property as the actual owner would to make a legal claim. They can do this by documenting their maintenance or improvement efforts on the real estate property. This would demonstrate that they have maintained actual possession of the unit.

Requirement 5: Able to Make a Hostile Claim

Finally, to make a Georgia adverse possession claim and take legal action, a squatter must be able to make a ‘hostile claim’ to the property. ‘Hostile’, in a legal sense, does not connote violence or something dangerous. Instead, it takes on one of the following three definitions:

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1. Awareness of Trespassing

According to this definition, a trespasser must be aware of their illegal actions. In other words, a trespasser should be aware that they don’t have any legal rights to live at the property and are in fact a trespasser.

2. Simple Occupation

Unlike the first definition, this definition means a squatter isn’t required to know that they are trespassing on someone else’s property.

3. Good Faith Mistake

Under this definition, a squatter may occupy the property thinking that the documents they have to it are valid. In such a case, they occupy the property ‘in good faith’. That notwithstanding, they may still be able to make a claim for adverse possession.

The Complexities of Adverse Possession Claims

Real adverse possession cases are often complex and involve a combination of actions and motives extending over a long period of time. Sometimes they even involve multiple generations of possessors and occupiers.

For this reason, not anyone that moves into an unoccupied, abandoned, or foreclosed property can establish legal ownership of the property. In reality, this is typically illegal and their trespassing may amount to a felony.

How to Protect Your Georgia Property from Squatters

The best way to avoid having to deal with squatters making a Georgia adverse possession claim to your property is to keep squatters from living on your property in the first place. There are several things you can do to accomplish this, including:

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  • Carrying out regular property inspections.
  • Securing all entrances to the property. This may mean blocking the entrances, closing all doors, and making sure that windows and doors are properly locked.
  • Posting signs that say ‘No trespassing. All trespassers will be prosecuted’.
  • Beginning the formal eviction proceedings as soon as you find out there are squatters living in your property.
  • Offering the squatter the legal documentation to rent the unit.
  • Seeking the help of a court in evicting the squatters if they fail to honor the eviction notice.
  • Hiring expert legal help before taking any drastic actions, such as attempting to self-evict the squatter.
  • Hiring a reputable property management company to help find a desirable tenant for your property and make sure there are no squatters in your property at any time.

How to Remove Squatters

If there is a squatter already living in your Georgia real estate property, then you must begin the legal principle of a formal eviction process. This means serving the tenant with an eviction notice to leave the property. Georgia doesn’t specify the time limits of this notice; the period can be anywhere from 24 hours to 10 days.

If the squatter doesn’t move out after the expiry of the notice period, take the issue to court immediately and file a forceful detainer lawsuit. If your trial is successful, the court will direct the sheriff to conduct the eviction on your behalf.

Conclusion

At Avalon Property Management, we are well versed in Georgia state-wide laws. We can help you handle all legal aspects of your property, including removing a squatter. Further, with our services, we’ll fill your vacancy and take care of your property so that you never face having squatters on your property. Contact us today to get started with our services or to learn more about Georgia adverse possession.