Squatters Rights in Michigan. Everything You Need to Know.

Laws & Eviction | 2 comments

Squatters Rights in Michigan

If you have rental property in Michigan, it is important to understand squatters rights in Michigan. In this article, we will explain what a squatter is, how squatters rights in Michigan work, and what you can do to protect your property from a squatter.

What is a Squatter?

A squatter is someone that takes up residence in a home, building, or piece of land, with the intention of permanently using the property without any legal permission from the owner.

Some squatters eventually gain legal title to the property through adverse possession.

Adverse possession is the process that allows the squatter to become the owner of the property after they have met the minimal requirements and have presented their case in front of a Michigan court.

Squatter vs. Trespasser

As a property owner, it is important to know that a squatter and a trespasser are not the same thing.

trespasser is someone that knowingly enters someone’s house, building or land without permission or authorization.

Trespassing is considered a criminal offense, thus once it is determined that a person is a trespasser, that person can be removed by the Sheriff’s office.

On the other hand, a squatter is someone that has taken up residence in someone else’s property and has the intention of living there as if they were the owner.

A clear example of a squatter that was NOT a trespasser is someone that was once a tenant but failed to pay the rent and is now being evicted. If this person decides to stay in the property and not move out as they are being asked to, they are now considered a squatter.

At this point, unlike trespassing, which is criminal, the squatter now needs to be handled by the court system, and the case is now considered a civil matter.

What is Adverse Possession?

The terms adverse possession and squatters rights are often used interchangeably because adverse possession is the set of legalities that give a squatter the right to gain legal title of a property after they have occupied that property and met the legal requirements to become the owner.

Someone seeking title by exercising adverse possession is also known as a disseisor.

A disseisor is someone that claims that they have been able to dispossess the true owner of the property and claim to now have a legal claim to the title of such property.

There are a few minimum elements a disseisor must prove in order to claim legal title of a property and exercise their squatters rights in Michigan.

Adverse Possession Elements

Before someone can claim legal title to a property through adverse possession in most states, as well as in Michigan, they must meet these basic elements:

Exclusive Use

For adverse possession to take place, the squatter or disseisor must exercise exclusive use of the property as if it was their own.

This means that the disseisor must act like the owner of the property and possibly keep out and remove trespassers, other potential squatters and even the true owner of the property.

The use of the property must be exclusive.

Actual Possession

Actual possession of the property dictates that the disseisor must use the property as an owner would, and effectively maintain and/or make improvements to the land or building.

Examples of this would be mowing the lawn, landscaping, changing locks or harvesting the land.

Open and Notorious

The disseisor must not hide the use of the property and must occupy it in a way that is able to be seen by the public or the legal owner.

An example of this would be exiting and entering through the front door as a regular owner would.

Hostile

This element can be interpreted somewhat differently by each state’s squatter laws, but at a minimum, in order to meet this element, the disseisor must have entered the property or must use the property without permission from the true owner.

The hostility part of this element does not necessarily mean that there must be confrontation or violence between the disseisor and the true owner.

It simply mandates that the disseisor’s motivations must be against the true owner’s claim to the property.

Continuous Use

Lastly, adverse possession can only take place if the disseisor or squatter uses the property continuously for the entire duration of the statute of limitations.

This means that the person claiming right to the property must exercise the four elements above continuously through the period of time mandated by the state’s squatter laws.

Squatters Rights in Michigan

For a person to claim squatters rights in Michigan and gain ownership of a property through adverse possession, they must meet all of the five adverse possession elements above, as well as meet additional requirements as stipulated by adverse possession laws in Michigan.

A person claiming adverse possession in Michigan must:

→ Meet all 5 adverse possession elements mentioned above.

→ Have continuous possession of the property for a minimum of 15 years. Length of time can be reduced to 10 years with proof of Color of Title.

Property taxes are not required, but if paid, the squatter may be qualified to receive title to the property from a tax assessor. This title can act as Color of Title and can reduce the required time of possession to 10 years.

Once all of these requirements have been met, a squatter now has the ability to initiate legal proceedings through Michigan’s court system and present their adverse possession claim in front of a judge.

For more information on squatters rights in Michigan and the adverse possession requirements, you can review Michigan Legislature Section 600.5801

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What is Color of Title?

Color of Title

Color of title is a term used in property law referring to someone’s claim to have possession of a document that grants them title to the property, when in reality, they don’t hold title to the property or there is something specifically wrong with such document.

As an example, a deed that contains written errors or that is void, may make it seem that someone has title to a property, but in reality, the deed does not grant ownership to this person.

Color of title is often mentioned in cases regarding adverse possession and real estate property claims because squatters can use color of title as a tool to give the appearance that they own the property, and could use it to eventually gain legal possession of real property.

Squatters rights in Michigan DO NOT require someone to hold Color of Title, but if acquired, it can reduce the required time of possession to 10 years.

How to Remove Squatters in Michigan

It is important to note that squatters rights in Michigan grant a squatter certain rights compared to a trespasser, and dealing with a squatter requires caution from the landlord.

However, unlike most states, where removing a squatter or trespasser has to be handled through full legal eviction, in Michigan, there’s a quicker solution. A law instated in 2014, HB 5069/PA 223, allows landowners to remove illegal occupants themselves using ‘self-help’ measures.

This means that landlords can change locks, turn off utilities, and remove squatters’ personal belongings. While physical force remains illegal, squatters can be arrested by the police, and landowners can take legal measures that are not available in most other states.

While the new law does not apply to holdover tenants or tenants at will, it provides a great deterrent for squatters in Michigan. By taking advantage of this law, landlords can remove squatters more quickly and without relying on a lengthy legal eviction process. It’s important, however, to know where you stand legally with tenant and consult a local attorney that specializes in eviction law and has vast knowledge of eviction laws and squatter’s rights in Michigan.

Here are a few things a landlord or property manager can take in order to remove a squatter from their property.

Call the Sheriff

The sheriff’s office may be unable to remove the person from the property if the person taking possession of the property was previously a tenant or tenant at will, but in Michigan, the sheriff’s department may be able to remove a squatter or trespasser.

Calling the sheriff is a good initial step because it logs a record of the incident and generates a report that the property owner can then show as evidence, if the case escalates to the court system.

Serve a Notice to Vacate

During the eviction process, the property owner or manager may need to give notice to the person occupying the property before they can be legally removed by the sheriff’s office.

And even though, at the early stages, you may not be looking at a situation in which you have to involve the court system, if the squatter does not have a legal claim to the property through adverse possession or color of title, in Michigan, a landlord can remove a squatter by serving them with a Notice to Vacate.

Start the Eviction Proceedings

Evicting a squatter requires due processes from the part of the landlord and requires a careful approach.

If a squatter is claiming adverse possession and is refusing to leave the premises after the time period allotted in the Notice to Vacate, then the next step would be to start proceedings in the county’s court.

This will initiate a hearing process in which the case will be presented in front of a judge and a ruling will be made based on the case details.

We recommend consulting an attorney with vast knowledge of property law in Michigan in order to avoid possible legal recourses against you, or the property.

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How to Protect your Property from Squatters

Squatter's Rights

Protecting against squatters and trespassers comes down to attentiveness and diligence from the part of the property owner or the property manager.

Leaving a property unattended and without regular maintenance for a long period of time can be a red flag for a potential squatter that the property is vacant, thus increasing the chances of a squatter situation.

And although the situation may not escalate all the way to someone claiming title of the property, nobody wants someone living in their property without approval or paying rent.

Here are a few things you can do to protect your property from squatters in Michigan:

Regular visits

It is recommended to visit and visually inspect the property often, especially if the property is vacant.

When visiting look for:

• Signs of someone living in the property.

• Open doors.

• Open windows.

• Left over trash.

• Water bottles left behind.

• Signs of entry.

If the property is located far enough that prevents you from visiting frequently, it is also an option to exchange contact information with a neighbor that could potentially alert you of someone taking up residence in the property.

Have a Maintenance Schedule

Having a regular maintenance schedule can not only keep the property in pristine condition, but it can also help deter a trespasser or squatter from taking up residence.

Having a properly maintained property gives the appearance that someone is already living in the property and deters possible squatters or trespassers.

Also, remember that for someone to claim title to the property through adverse possession, they must have exclusive use of the property and by maintaining the property, you are negating that element of adverse possession.

Record Keeping and Document Storage

As we have mentioned, adverse possession laws in Michigan require the disseisor to pay the property taxes and other fees to maintain the property.

For that reason, keeping track of tax due dates and tax payment receipts can not only keep you organized, but it can also prevent someone else from paying the taxes to the property.

Additionally, it is very important to safeguard other important property documents like the property’s title and expense records.

Keeping tidy property records is key in preventing possible scammers and squatters from getting a hold of these documents and using them against you.

Install an Alarm System

Having an alarm system installed can deter trespassers and squatters from potentially taking up residence in the home. An important first step in avoiding a squatter situation in the long run.

An alarm system can not only stop intruders in general, but if the home is vacant for a long time, it can stop someone at the first sign of entrance.

This can make all the difference from determining if this person was simply a trespasser and not something more, like a squatter.

In conclusion, squatters rights in Michigan are complex, and it is important for property owners to understand the legal process of adverse possession. By taking preventive measures and seeking legal assistance, property owners can protect their rights and avoid the costly and lengthy process of dealing with squatters.

How PropertyCtrl can Help Protect your Property

PropertyCtrl offers a powerful and easy-to-use cloud-based property management software, with tools and resources that empower you to take control of every aspect of your rental property.

This is how PropertyCtrl’s features can help you avoid a potential squatter or adverse possession situation.

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute as legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only.

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2 Comments

  1. Mike Rieck

    Is there any minimum time a person must occupy a residence before being considered a squatter?
    Seems there would be an amount of time the landlord would be afforded to find and remove trespassers before they would be treated as squatters. Otherwise someone caught trespassing could just say they planned to stay permanently.

    Reply
    • PropertyCtrl

      There is no explicit time of occupancy to determine whether a person is a trespasser or a squatter; the definition is primarily driven by intent. Although someone caught trespassing could claim that they planned to stay permanently, they would also need to assert a right to the property and treat it as if they were the owner (making improvements, performing maintenance, etc.). Claiming to stay permanently is unlikely to protect someone from legal consequences, as specific conditions, such as continuous and open occupation, usually need to be met for squatters’ rights to apply.

      Reply

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