Under Missouri law, a squatter is a person or an entity that does not pay rent or have ownership of the rea; estate they occupy. A squatter can have occupied a property for days, months or years. Whether there is such a thing as “squatters rights” depends on the circumstances of the situation.
Rental Property Holdover Tenants
A holdover tenant is a tenant who continues to occupy a residence for a period of time after the term of the lease is up, without the consent of the landlord. In order to evict a holdover tenant, the landlord must give the tenant a notice to quit, meaning to leave the property. A holdover tenant is different from a squatter because a squatter never entered into a lease with the landlord.
Court Action for Eviction of a Renter
In most situations, a landlord is allowed to begin eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent if the tenant has not paid rent for at least one month after the due date. The landlord must then submit a landlord petition for recovery of rent and/or possession form with court costs and a service fee. The service fee is for the eviction notice being served upon the former tenant.
After the landlord files the petition with their local circuit clerk’s office, they are given a court date, usually within 21 business days.
If the judge rules in the landlord's favor, the landlord is given a judgment of possession. If the tenant fails to vacate the property willingly, the landlord can file an execution, which requires a service fee. Typically, the tenant is allowed to remove their possessions and vacate the premises.
Sheriff Removal of Tenant
If the tenant refuses to remove their possessions and leave the premises, the deputy sheriff will remove the tenant and their possessions from the rental unit. A holdover tenant who paid no rent after their lease was up does not have a right to remain in the property. A squatter who never paid any rent and never signed a lease agreement also has no right to remain in the property.
Squatter Eviction Process
Property owners can evict a squatter from real property by telling the squatter they are not welcome on the property and then calling the police. The property owners should explain that the squatter is trespassing. The state of Missouri defines the offense of trespass in the first degree as knowingly entering or remaining a building or inhabitable structure or real property, if the entering itself is unlawful.
Protecting Against Trespassing
A real property must be fenced or otherwise enclosed in a manner designed to exclude intruders or to give notice against trespass. Notice can be given by actual communication to a trespasser, such as a guard stating to a person seeking entrance that they are committing trespass or posting in a manner reasonably likely to come to the attention of intruders.
Signs stating “Private Property - No Trespassing - Keep Out” are an effective method of posting.
Purple Marks on Property
In addition to the posting of real property with guards and/or signs, a property owner can also post the property by placing identifying marks with purple paint on trees or on posts around the area. Each purple mark must be a vertical line of at least 8 inches in length.
The bottom of the mark shall be no less than 3 feet nor more than 5 feet high. The marks must be placed no more than 100 feet apart and be readily visible to any person approaching the property.
Property Post Caps
Alternatively, the property owner can post property with a post capped or otherwise marked on at least its top 2 inches. The bottom of the cap or mark shall be not less than 3 feet but not more than 5 feet, 6 inches high. Such posts must be placed not more than 36 feet apart. They must be readily visible to any person approaching the property.
Before applying a cap or mark that is visible from both sides of a fence shared by different property owners or lessees, all the owners or lessees must concur in the decision to post the property.
In most cases, the offense of trespass in the first degree is a class B misdemeanor. The penalty for a class B misdemeanor is up to six months in jail and a fine not to exceed $1,000. Typically, one of the requirements of a sentence for trespass is that the trespasser not return to the property from which they were ousted.
Evicting a Roommate or Relative
A landlord is the proper person to evict a tenant’s roommate or relative if that person has not been paying rent. The landlord can take action if the roommate or relative signed the lease and has not fulfilled their obligation to pay rent. The landlord is also the party to take action if the roommate or relative never signed the lease.
The tenant should state in writing to the landlord that the roommate or relative is not a guest and does not have their permission to remain in the rental unit. The lease will likely require the tenant remaining in the unit to be liable for the full amount of rent.
If a person owns a property and their roommate or adult relative has not been paying rent, the person can remove that person from the house. The person who owns the property is legally the landlord. They must give the tenant or relative a notice to quit. They then must submit a petition of landlord for recovery of rent and/or possession form with court costs and a service fee.
Gaining Land by Adverse Possession
Missouri defines adverse possession as remaining on real property and excluding others for a period of 10 years or more. A person can make an adverse possession claim through a wide variety of actions:
- Putting up fence lines.
- Building roads.
- Farming the land.
- Harvesting timber.
- Paying property taxes.
- Maintaining the land through improvements like cutting the grass and clearing weeds.
Requirements to Qualify for Adverse Possession
Each situation involving adverse possession laws is different. A court needs to review the details to determine whether a particular use qualifies as adverse possession. Yet a person who claims adverse possession must fulfill certain criteria. The use must have been:
- Actual possession, meaning that the person actually had the ability to control the land.
- Exclusive possession, meaning that they possessed the land for themselves, not for another person.
- Open and notorious possession of the property, meaning known to others.
- Continuous possession, meaning uninterrupted for 10 or more years.
- Hostile, meaning that the use was not permitted by the owner.
There are exceptions to the general rules regarding adverse possession. For example, if title to the surface estate is severed from the mineral estate, such as minerals beneath the ground of the property, title to the mineral estate cannot be acquired by adverse possession of the surface alone.
Rightful Owner Claim Through Quiet Title
A squatter who occupies property for 10 or more years and fulfills all of the requirements can claim title to the real property. The landowner has three years after the squatter claims title via adverse possession to file a suit to quiet title. A suit to quiet title settles the title to the real property when legal ownership is in question.
- Revisor of Missouri: Section 441.060, tenancy at will
- Revisor of Missouri: Section 516.010, actions for recovery of lands commenced, when
- Greene County Circuit Clerk, Missouri: Landlord/Tenant
- Revisor of Missouri: Section 569.140, trespass in the first degree
- Revisor of Missouri: Section 569.145, posting of property against trespassers
- Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission Public Information: Criminal System
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.