Claiming an abandoned, unoccupied or foreclosed property, or vacant land through squatter’s rights, or adverse possession, is possible in Arizona if the timeline and conditions set out by the state are followed. The squatter has no title claim to the property, no ownership and doesn’t pay rent; he simply moves in and takes up residence as if he does own the property. If the squatter has been on the property for a minimum of two years without interference from the owner, the squatter can begin proceedings to claim the property as his own, which leads to an adverse possession claim.
Squatters vs. Trespassers
A squatter can move into a property that shows physical evidence of being abandoned. If the squatter publicly begins maintenance and acts as if he owns the property and does so publicly and continuously for two years without the legal owner interceding, he can begin the process of claiming the property as his own. He also avoids a criminal charge if found out by the legal owner.
Squatting is a civil matter, and if the owner discovers a squatter on his property, he can either claim against him in civil court or charge the squatter with trespassing. Either way, the squatter is removed. Squatters must fulfill certain obligations of occupancy to avoid being charged with trespassing, which is a criminal offense.
Squatters Have Rights
If a squatter occupies a seemingly abandoned property and wishes to have the property’s title revert to him, he must meet specific conditions in Arizona, including:
- He must physically inhabit the property and do so exclusively and continuously.
- His occupation must be visible to the public.
- He must be in possession of the property for the period set by the state of Arizona, which is a two-year minimum.
- If he doesn’t reside on the property but cultivates the land, he must do so for 10 consecutive years before beginning ownership proceedings.
Read More: Squatters' Rights in Queensland
Claiming Property Through Adverse Possession
Arizona’s state laws, as enacted through their legislature, and the court system of the state dictate when a property claim can be initiated through adverse possession. A squatter can’t simply live on an abandoned property and treat it as his own and automatically claim title. He has to prove to the court that his living on the property has been continuous, that the owner ignored the property, and the squatter has improved its value while occupying it.
Color of Title Possession
Another way to gain title to a property is a color of title claim. A squatter may believe he is entitled to the property although the chain of title doesn’t list him among the owners. This happens when the title is not recorded, has errors, or the true ownership of the property is in dispute.
The claimant must fulfill the obligations of ownership if he is to follow through successfully with an adverse possession claim. The waiting period to begin a color of title possession is three years.
Beginning an Ownership Claim
Under the conditions of color of title ownership claims on rural land, the squatter must live there for a minimum of three years. If the property is in the city, the claim can begin after five years of occupancy. Absent a color of title claim, a squatter can begin the process of claiming ownership after two years.
While it is not required that the squatter pay property taxes on the property, doing so for five consecutive years means his claim is looked upon more favorably.
Getting Rid of Squatters
When a claim is made against a title to a property, the legal owner is notified. He has three years to respond. If the squatter refuses to leave, the owner can begin a quiet title lawsuit. The end result is that the state judge can issue an order giving the original owner, not the squatter, legal title to the property.
A writer for many years, Jann has contributed to television programming revolving around legal issues, written for magazines and web sites regarding the law, and her manuals on real estate law specifics are used in real estate schools in Florida.