Nevada law defines a squatter as someone living in a residence or on land owned by someone else without the owner's permission. Squatters can gain legal property rights if they meet adverse possession claim requirements, including living on a property for five continuous years.
Squatters or Holdover Tenants?
A person becomes a squatter when they take up residence in an uninhabited or vacant dwelling without the owner's permission. This is known as unlawful occupancy, according to Evolve Nevada. The law does not apply to those who squat in commercial buildings or cars – they may face other charges, such as trespassing or burglary. There is no breaking and entering requirement for squatters.
Nevada law presumes they do not have an owner's permission to live on a property unless the person suspected of squatting has a rental agreement containing current contact information of the owner or their authorized representative and notarization or a signature by the property owner or an authorized representative of the property.
Holdover tenants live on a property past their rental agreement. When they receive a notice to quit or move, they must leave the premises or face a lawsuit for unlawful detainer, known as eviction. Holdover tenants cannot make an adverse possession claim if they received a notice to vacate – in this instance, the state considers them criminal trespassers.
Options When a Tenant Refuses to Leave
A landlord has two options when a tenant refuses to leave:
- They can continue taking rent payments from the tenant at the current rate and terms. The tenant then becomes a tenant at will. This means they can stay at the will of the landlord or property owner, who may evict them without notice at any time in the future.
- The landlord or property owner can file an unlawful detainer action against a holdover tenant and evict them through court proceedings.
Squatters' Rights and Adverse Possession Laws in Nevada
In Nevada, a squatter can live legally in a residence through a claim of adverse possession. If they occupy land or a building for a specific period of time and meet the state's requirements, they can claim a right to the property. To establish this right, known as adverse possession, squatters must show that they:
- Have lived on a property continuously for a minimum of five years and show proof that they paid property taxes for the entire time they've lived there.
- Are the only person in possession of the residence. Sharing it with anyone else automatically disqualifies the squatter from staking a claim to the property.
- Did not hide their presence while squatting. The landlord or property owner must know they are there.
- Actually live on the property and treat it like it was their own. For example, they may clean it or do some landscaping.
The squatter's claim must also be "hostile," which does not mean violent. It means that one of these concepts applies:
- It is a good-faith mistake: A person may have made the decision to squat based on an innocent mistake, like having an incorrect or invalid deed, and uses the property in good faith.
- The squatter has an "awareness of trespassing": The squatter shows an understanding that their actions are illegal. They understand that they don't legally have a right to live on the property.
- The squatter practices simple occupation: This rule merely refers to the occupation of a residence. The trespasser does not have to know that the property belongs to someone else.
Removing a Squatter by Arrest
Nevada's Unlawful Occupancy law, Nevada Revised Statutes Section 205.0817, allows law enforcement to charge a squatter with a gross misdemeanor. Before the enactment of this law, squatting was always a civil violation, rather than a criminal offense, and police couldn't do much to remove a squatter. Homeowners, however, still must complete the legal eviction process before the police can make an arrest.
If law enforcement does make an arrest, the owner can reclaim possession of their property by posting a Notice of Retaking Possession on the property within 24 hours after a squatter's arrest. They can also file a Changing of Locks & Submission of Posted Notice to protect themselves against the squatter should they reenter the property. The notice must be posted for a minimum of 21 days to give a squatter time to take legal action if they choose. If they do reenter, a squatter can face up to a year in jail.
Removing a Squatter Without Arrest
If law enforcement cannot arrest the squatter, they are subject to a civil process that is much like a standard eviction. A landlord or property owner must serve the squatter with a 4-day Notice to Surrender that informs them they must leave the property within four days if they do not intend to file an affidavit in opposition to their removal. NRS Section 40.280 details how the landlord or property owner must serve the notice, first by doing so personally and with a witness; if that doesn't work, leaving it with someone over 14 and mailing it to the property. They can also post a copy on the property and mail it or serve the notice through law enforcement.
At this point, the squatter can either leave the property or file an affidavit with the court to request a hearing. If the court allows a hearing to take place, it will schedule it within seven judicial days. It will then grant the removal order or give the squatter more time to vacate the property.
Preventing Squatters From Returning
If the property is vacant, the landowner should have it monitored and secured to make it difficult for squatters to return and make it as unappealing as possible to anyone thinking of setting up a home there. While it is empty, they should also disconnect any utilities and fit the doors and windows with alarms, steel or any other anti-tampering tools to shore up the property in the owner's absence.
The owner of the property can leave signs stating that there is someone on the property. They can also hire a management company to keep a watchful eye over the property when they cannot do so.
- Justia US Law: NRS Section 205.0817 - Unlawful Occupancy; Penalty.
- Nevada Legislature: NRS Section 40.280 Service of Notices to Surrender; Proof Required Before Issuance of Order to remove or writ of restitution.
- Evolve Nevada: Squatters Rights in Nevada
- iProperty Management: Squatter's Rights in Nevada
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.