What are Squatters Rights in the State of Arizona?


Generally speaking, there’s a difference between owning and living on a property. Many people live on property they don’t own, especially in Arizona. About a third of all households (32%) are renters, but in those cases, they know the property owner and pay them to live onsite.

But what about living on a property without paying the owner? What if someone found an abandoned house and claimed it as their own? These squatter situations happen in Maricopa County daily. In these cases, the occupants can be granted squatters’ rights. These rights protect them and make them difficult to displace, even when they are unwanted, and you are the rightful owner. For these rights to take effect, various requirements must be fulfilled first.

What are Squatters Rights?

Squatter’s rights are legal rights granted to someone who has been living on a property without the knowledge or consent of the actual owner. Squatting is also different from trespassing or overstaying a lease. Once the legal qualifications for squatters’ rights are met, displacing them from the property is much more difficult. Typically, squatting becomes trespassing if the property owner tells the squatter to leave the premises and posts signs warning against trespassing. It is in the owner’s best interest to legally convert squatters to trespassers as quickly and clearly as possible. Once a squatter is made aware that they are on a property illegally, they can’t claim any rights to it.

Similarly, tenants of a rental property who stay after their lease expires are also not considered squatters. If the owner doesn’t want the tenants on the property, they will become trespassers. Alternatively, if the tenants continue to pay rent without a lease, they are renters at will, and the owner can decide whether to permit them to stay on a month-by-month basis or kick them out. These situations will all have their own requirements for notice and removal, different from squatters.

Requirements to Remove a Squatter in Arizona

It is important to consult with an attorney as you begin to address unwanted occupants on your property. Squatter’s rights are frequently invoked in Arizona. Sometimes, a squatter may move into a clearly abandoned property with no signs posted. In other instances, the squatter may have a color of title, meaning they have a document that appears to grant them ownership but doesn’t hold up under legal scrutiny. Rather than a color of title, most squatters tend to claim they have verbal permission from the owner. In all of these circumstances, it is important to prove ownership of the home and to clearly post no trespassing signs. Begin collecting evidence of notice given for trespassing violations. Video of verbal communication as well as written notices all provide legal leverage to remove unwanted occupants. Below are a few considerations you should understand and consult with an attorney about, as they may impact removing unwanted squatters.

Time Period

The amount of time a squatter lives on the premises before receiving rights varies depending on the situation. The minimum time for squatters with no color of title is two years. For those with the color of title living in a rural area, the time is three years. The time is five years for squatters with a color of title for city property.

If the squatter has been paying property taxes during their stay, they must remain onsite for at least five years to claim rights. Similarly, if the squatter has paid taxes and cultivated the land, the period is still five years. However, if the squatter has only cultivated the land (maintained it) and not paid taxes, the time limit extends to ten years.

It’s also important to note that the period must not be interrupted. While a squatter may leave temporarily (i.e., for a vacation or job), their residency on the property must not be interrupted. For example, if you lived in an abandoned house for a year, then lived with a friend for six months, you couldn’t come back to the abandoned house and claim squatter’s rights after another six months.

Land Limit

Although this limitation is rarely tested, squatters may not claim more than 160 acres of land, regardless of the circumstances of their stay.

Hostile Ownership

For property ownership to be hostile, it goes against the rights and wants of the owner. For example, if a property owner permits an occupant to stay on the property, the occupation is not hostile. Squatter’s rights are claimed in hostile situations. If permission is given, they can frequently be considered a guest or a tenant at will, which is why many squatters claim they have permission when they actually do not, as time accrues in a property.

Also, in Arizona, squatters don’t have to know they’re trespassing on someone else’s property. In fact, the squatter’s intent is insignificant unless they’re trying to hide their ownership or cover up the fact that they were told to leave the premises.

Physical Presence

For someone to be considered a squatter, they have to actually live on the property, not just claim ownership of it. For example, if you’re fixing up an abandoned house but live elsewhere, you can’t claim squatter’s rights since you’re not always physically present on the property.

Obvious and Exclusive Ownership

Squatters can’t hide the fact that they’re claiming ownership of a property, nor can they share that ownership with anyone else. If multiple people or families are living onsite, no one person could claim any rights except the actual property owner. Similarly, if a property is open to the public, no one can claim squatter’s rights because no one lives on the premises exclusively.

Overall, a squatter must act as if the property is theirs and not share it with others.

A Property Owner’s Rights in Regard to Squatters

If you own property and someone is squatting on it, you have the right to remove them from the premises. You can use eviction laws and law enforcement if someone is trespassing on your property. In many cases, you will want to give appropriate notice to vacate and utilize an attorney to obtain a writ of restitution from a judge to authorize law enforcement to physically remove the unwanted occupants from the property.

These situations frequently occur with inherited and probated property when it passes from a decedent to an heir or beneficiary. As the ownership of the property changes hands, occupants can become unwanted. Houses may sit vacant for long periods of time as they pass through the probate process; sometimes, they sit vacant for years and are discovered by vagrants who decide to take up residence. These situations complicate the process of not only honoring the wishes of a loved one but selling or utilizing the property as needed.

Let Unbiased Options Help You if You Have Squatters in Arizona

It is important to consult with an attorney as you begin to address unwanted occupants on your property. Unbiased Options is not providing legal advice. This article reflects the opinions and personal experiences of the author. Unbiased Options is a real estate service that can help you deal with ugly situations. We deal with evictions and squatters or squatters’ rights frequently and can help you if you have an unwanted property that you are having trouble selling because of damage and unwanted occupants. We can assist you with a wide variety of situations and scenarios, so call us for a free consultation to help you get unstuck and move forward with your property.

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