Squatter’s Rights in New Jersey. Everything you Need to Know
Squatter’s rights in New Jersey give certain privileges to a squatter in order to gain title or possession of a vacant property if they meet the minimum requirements.
For that reason, if you have rental property in New Jersey, it is important to be prepared, educated, and know this information in order to possibly avoid a lengthy and costly situation.
In this article, we will highlight what a squatter is, how squatter’s rights in New Jersey work, and what you can do to protect your property from a squatter.
What is a Squatter?
A squatter is an individual or group of individuals that take up residence in a home, building or piece of land, with the intention of permanently using the property without any legal permission from the property’s 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 New Jersey court.
What is the Difference Between a Squatter and a Trespasser?
As a property owner, it is important to know that a squatter and a trespasser are not the same thing.
A 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 squatter’s 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 squatter’s rights in New Jersey.
Adverse Possession Elements
Before someone can claim legal title to a property through adverse possession in most states, as well as in New Jersey, they must meet these basic elements:
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 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.
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.
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.
Squatter’s Rights in New Jersey
For a person to claim squatter’s rights in New Jersey 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 New Jersey.
A person claiming adverse possession in New Jersey must:
• Meet all 5 adverse possession elements mentioned above.
• Have continuous possession of the property for a minimum of 30 years.
• Show proof of color of title for the entire 30 years of possession (Color of title explained in the next section)
• Timely pay any required state, county, or municipal property taxes for such property, for 5 out of the 30 years in which property has been continuously occupied.
Once all of these requirements have been met, a squatter now has the ability to initiate legal proceedings through New Jersey’s court system and present their adverse possession claim in front of a judge.
What is 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.
Squatter’s rights in New Jersey require someone to hold Color of Title for the entire 30 years of possession of the property.
How to Remove Squatters in New Jersey
It is important to note that squatter’s rights in New Jersey grant a squatter certain rights compared to a trespasser, and dealing with a squatter requires caution from the landlord.
For that reason, when dealing with a someone that has taken possession of a property without the owner’s permission, it is recommended to consult a local attorney that specializes in eviction law and has vast knowledge of eviction laws and squatter’s rights in New Jersey.
Although, in most cases, evicting a squatter must be handled through the New Jersey court system with judicial action, there are certain avenues 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 is considered a squatter and not a trespasser.
However, 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 must 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 New Jersey, a landlord can remove a squatter by serving them with a 3-Day Notice to Quit.
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 3-Day Notice to Quit, 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 New Jersey in order to avoid possible legal recourses against you, or the property.
How to Protect your Property from Squatters
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 New Jersey:
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 New Jersey 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.
How PropertyCtrl can Help you 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.
Never miss a property tax due date with a dedicated property calendar to keep you organized.
Run an organized property maintenance schedule with automatic remainders and notifications
Keep all of your important documents like your property's title, tax records and contracts in one single and safe place
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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