When the term "squatters' rights" is used, it typically refers to the law of adverse possession. Adverse possession occurs when a trespasser actually obtains title to someone else's property by using it in a specific way for a specific period of time. Squatters' rights in Michigan are similar to those in other states that allow adverse possession, and like in other states, obtaining title by adverse possession in Michigan is very difficult.
What Is Adverse Possession?
"Squatters' rights" is simply a colloquialism for the concept of adverse possession. Adverse possession is the ability of a trespasser to obtain actual title to the property on which he trespasses. The law of adverse possession in states where permitted is similar in a lot of ways, but every state has its own specific requirements and its own interpretation of what those requirements mean.
Michigan Adverse Possession Law
Michigan squatters' law requires that, for a trespasser to obtain title to someone else's property, she must prove in court that her use of the property was:
- Hostile to the true owner's interest.
- Visible, open and notorious.
- Continuous and uninterrupted for the statutory period, which in Michigan is 15 years.
The Squatter must take Actual Possession
To start, a trespasser must have actual possession of the property before he can claim title by adverse possession. This means that the trespasser is on the property and treats it as if it's his own, and if the true owner discovered him, the owner would have a cause of action for trespass.
The Squatter's Use must Be Hostile to the True Owner's Interest
The "hostile" requirement does not actually mean aggression or ill will; it simply means that the true owner has not given the trespasser permission to use or occupy the property, and the trespasser is using it as her own with no intent to leave.
If the true owner gives the trespasser permission to use the property, the use is not hostile, and the trespasser cannot take title by adverse possession. The same is true if the squatter is on the property but intends to leave if discovered by the true owner, because the squatter intends to defer to the owner's interest.
Visible, Open and Notorious Use
The trespasser must also establish that his use of the property is visible, open and notorious. His activities on the property must be such that a reasonable person would be aware that someone is using or occupying the property. The trespasser cannot hide his use or occupancy of the property.
Exclusive Use or Possession of Property
The trespasser must also prove that her use of the property has been exclusive, meaning no one else was occupying or using the property at the same time as she, including the true owner. If the property owner is also using the property at the same time as the trespasser, there is no adverse possession claim (although the trespasser may have a prescriptive easement claim, which is adverse possession for a particular use of land rather than the entire property).
Continuous and Uninterrupted for the Statutory Period
Finally, the trespasser must use the property continuously and without interruption for 15 years. Sporadic use of the property is not enough.
Action to Quiet Title
If a trespasser has met all the elements under Michigan squatters law, she will have to bring an action to quiet title before she can claim to own the property. This is a lawsuit brought in the circuit court of the county where the property is located. The true owner will have the opportunity to respond, and a judge will decide whether the elements of adverse possession have been met. If so, a judgment will be entered granting title in the property to the trespasser.
- Outside Legal Counsel: Michigan Adverse Possession Law; Simple Possession is Not Enough
- Kreis Enderle: Adverse Possession in Real Property Boundary Disputes
- Foster Swift Collins & Smith: Title Through Adverse Possession
- Nolo: Adverse Possession: When Trespassers Become Property Owners
- iProperty Management: Squatter's Rights in Michigan