The Sheriff’s Office recently evicted a group of squatters from a home in Southwest Huntsville, reports ABC WAAY 31. Squatters, or people who unlawfully occupy land, are fairly common in Alabama, especially in neighborhoods where foreclosures have left many homes vacant. Landlords in Alabama have the right to evict squatters unless a squatter has acquired the property via “adverse possession”.

Adverse Possession

When you think of a squatter you may picture a homeless person who sneaks into an abandoned house at night in order to have a place to sleep. While some squatters do sneak in and out of the house that they are occupying, others openly move into the home and pretend that they are legally living there. These squatters often put utilities in their own name, have mail delivered, and prepare false documents indicating that they are rightfully in possession of the home. As a landlord in Alabama it is important to know that squatters who openly occupy your property may actually be able to acquire ownership of your land if they adversely possess the property for a specified amount of time and meet various other requirements.

Under Alabama Code of Law section 6-5-200, as well as a string of adverse possession court cases, a squatter in Alabama can acquire legal title over the land that they are occupying if they are able to show that all of the following requirements have been met:

  • Hostile: The squatter’s possession of the property must be hostile, meaning that they must occupy the land without the owner’s permission.
  • Actual: The squatter must have actual possession of the property.
  • Exclusive: The property must be in the squatter’s exclusive possession.
  • Open and Notorious: The squatter must publicly occupy the property and not hide his or her occupancy.
  • Continuous for the Statutory Period: Generally, the squatter must have been in possession of the property for at least 10 continuous years, pay taxes on the land, and have color of title. However, this requirement can also be satisfied if the squatter did not pay taxes or have color of title but did occupy the land for 20 years or more.

Classic Example of Adverse Possession

The notion of adverse possession is a very old legal concept that stems from the belief that land should be used and that if someone else can make use of land that an owner has left unattended then the new possessor should have legal rights to the land. For example, if Tom owns a 50 acre tract of land with a hunting cabin on it in rural Alabama that he has not visited for decades, Susan can likely acquire the property via adverse possession if she openly moves into the cabin without the owner’s permission, lives there continuously for 20 years, and has exclusive possession of the property.

How Can a Landlord Stop Adverse Possession?

Stopping adverse possession in Alabama is easy, the landowner must simply enforce their rights as a property owner. A landowner can do this by evicting squatters who have taken up residence on their land, or by reclassifying them as tenants (so that their possession is no longer hostile). Therefore, it is very important that landlords inspect their property regularly and consult with a competent eviction attorney if they discover squatters living illegally on their property.

Need Legal Advice?

If you are a landowner in Alabama and are concerned about losing your property rights to squatters, contact the experienced eviction attorneys at Cloud Willis & Ellis, LLC today. Our lawyers would be happy to discuss your legal options with you during a consultation at our offices in either Birmingham (205-322-6060) or Mobile (251-545-4844).