Minnesota Property Laws on Squatters' Rights

By Scott Thompson

In the state of Minnesota, a person who lives illegally or squats on a piece of property can apply for a title through adverse possession if the original owner doesn't evict him within 15 years.

What the Law Says

Squatter's rights in Minnesota are based on section 541.02 of the 2014 Minnesota statutes. According to this law, no landowner can take legal action to recover control of real estate unless he or his predecessors had possession of that real estate within the past 15 years.

Any squatter who moves onto a piece of property, stays there for 15 years and pays taxes on it for any five consecutive years can claim title by adverse possession. If the squatters were merely living on the property without paying taxes on it, the original owner can still take legal action to have them removed.

The only exceptions involve boundary disputes and properties that have never been assessed. If a neighbor claims adverse possession to a portion of your property in a boundary dispute, it isn't necessary for her to show that she paid taxes on that portion. If a piece of property has never been assessed, squatters are not required to pay taxes on it to establish adverse possession.

Claiming Adverse Possession

To claim a title to the disputed land, the squatters must meet five conditions for 15 years.

  1. They must be in actual possession of the property. All this means is that they must be actively using it in some way. 
  2. They must be in open possession. Squatters who sneak around to avoid being seen are not in open possession. This doesn't mean that the owner has to know the squatters are there -- only that he could see them if he looked. 
  3. Their use of the property must be hostile. This doesn't mean they have to behave in a hostile way, only that they cannot claim squatter's rights if they had permission to be on the property. 
  4. They must be in continuous possession of the property. This doesn't necessarily mean they have to have been occupying the property full time, but they do have to be using it on a regular basis for the entire time. 
  5. Their use of the property must be exclusive, meaning that they must act like landowners by keeping other people from using the property. Squatters who build a cabin and put a lock on the door might be able to claim adverse possession, but squatters who build a cabin for public use probably cannot. 

Adverse possession can be passed on from one squatter to another. For instance, if a man builds a cabin on property he doesn't own and then passes it on to his daughter after five years, she would be able to meet the 15-year requirement after another 10 years have passed.

It is not legally possible to claim squatter's rights on public lands in Minnesota.

Why It Exists

The only way a squatter could meet all of these conditions would be if the original owner was not maintaining the property or paying any attention to what was being done with it. The law recognizes that a person who actively uses, maintains and improves a piece of land may have a better claim to it than a person who neglects the property despite holding the title.

In practice, it is unusual for true squatters to succeed in a claim of adverse possession because it is unlikely they could meet all the conditions for 15 years. Most cases of adverse possession involve disputes between neighbors. For instance, if you find out the footpath to your backdoor actually runs through your neighbor's property but you have been using it as your own path for more than 15 years, you may be able to claim adverse possession of the path.

About the Author

Scott Thompson has been writing professionally since 1990, beginning with the "Pequawket Valley News." He is the author of nine published books on topics such as history, martial arts, poetry and fantasy fiction. His work has also appeared in "Talebones" magazine and the "Strange Pleasures" anthology.

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