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What are Squatters Rights in Oregon? Adverse Possession & Eviction

Adverse Possession Laws in OregonIf you need to sell a vacant property fast, discovering that someone’s been living there without your consent will catapult your stress levels to new heights. However, you can’t simply use force to remove them—you can get in legal trouble if you try. This is because squatters have protections under federal and state law.

Squatters rights in Oregon are broadly similar to squatting laws and adverse possession laws in other states but have distinct nuances that are Oregon-specific. Squatters are also legally distinct from trespassers and holdover tenants. For property owners and potential squatters alike, a thorough grasp of Oregon squatters rights is crucial.

For informational purposes only. Always consult with an attorney, tax, or financial advisor before proceeding with any real estate transaction.

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Key Takeaways

  • Squatters rights mean that property owners cannot personally undertake eviction methods such as forcible removal, shutting off utilities, changing the locks, etc. Legal eviction procedures must be followed.
  • Adverse possession laws in Oregon allow squatting individuals to claim ownership of a property after 10 years of uncontested occupation if several criteria are met.
  • Trespassing is a criminal offense; squatting is treated as a civil matter.
  • If the property owner has explicitly informed the squatter that they are unwelcome (including “no trespassing” signs) and they don’t leave, they’re trespassers.
  • Preventive measures, such as regular inspections and securing properties, are essential to protect against squatting.

Understanding Squatters Rights in Oregon

In Oregon, squatters rights, encapsulated within the broader legal framework of adverse possession, offer a unique pathway for individuals to claim property ownership. If a person openly occupies a property for 10 continuous years, treating it as a homeowner would and having reason to believe they have a right to live there, they may be granted ownership of the property.

A potential squatter may believe they have a right to live in the property for any number of reasons, such as falling victim to a scam—for example, a scammer may sell or rent a property they have no right to and give the victim what appears to be a genuine lease agreement. Another possibility is that the tenant had an agreement with a previous property owner and was never told by the property inheritor that they were unwelcome. The problem may be as simple as a surveying error with a fence on the wrong side of a property line, both property owners fully believing that the fence is in the correct position until the time comes to sell and the error is discovered.

In some cases, though, unethical landlords have falsely claimed that legitimate tenants were squatters by “losing” their lease agreements—similarly, many trespassers have falsely claimed to be legitimate tenants by presenting fraudulent paperwork. Squatters rights exist to peacefully resolve these issues and protect legal tenants from being unfairly evicted. 

Crucially, squatting is not synonymous with trespassing; while trespassing is a criminal offense, squatting falls into a civil domain. However, once a property owner declares that a squatter is unwelcome, the situation can escalate to a criminal matter.

Oregon’s approach to squatters rights is nuanced, with legal advice often necessary for both property owners and squatters navigating potential adverse possession claims. This understanding is key to ensuring legal compliance and safeguarding property rights in the state.

The Concept of Adverse Possession

Adverse possession, a legal doctrine integral to understanding squatters rights in Oregon, is a process through which a person can gain ownership of a property by occupying it under specific conditions over time. This concept hinges on five critical legal requirements: hostility, actual possession, open and notorious presence, exclusivity, and continuity of occupation.

  1. Hostile Claim: In Oregon, “hostile claim” doesn’t imply aggression; it just implies that the squatter has an honest and reasonable belief that they have the right to the property. This is against the interests of the legal owner and thus “hostile.” This belief must be maintained throughout the period of occupation, and the squatter claiming adverse possession must be able to provide convincing evidence, such as color of title.
    • The term “hostile claim” may be one of three definitions. Most states use “simple occupation,” which allows adverse possession whether or not the squatter is aware they’re trespassing.
    • States that use “awareness of trespassing” require that the squatter know they’re trespassing to grant adverse possession.
    • States that use “good faith mistake” are the opposite, requiring that the squatter not know they’re trespassing on the property. Oregon falls in this category.
  2. Actual Possession: The squatter must physically use the property, treating it as their own. This includes maintenance, cleaning, and other acts of ownership.
  3. Open and Notorious: The squatter’s presence on the property must be visible and obvious to anyone, including the property owner. This requirement ensures the owner has a fair chance to take action if they oppose the squatter’s occupancy.
  4. Exclusive Possession: The squatter must occupy the property alone, not shared with other public members, including the legal owner.
    • However, Oregon law acknowledges co-tenancy, allowing claims even when the property is shared with other squatters, tenants, strangers, or even the owner. In this case, the requirements are more rigorous; the squatter claiming ownership must have been in continuous possession for 20 years and have paid property taxes.
  5. Continuous Possession: The squatter must reside on the property uninterrupted for at least 10 years, or 20 in the case of co-tenancy, for their claim to be valid.
    • This period can be longer or shorter in other states. Texas allows as little as three continuous years of possession as long as the squatter has color of title, for example, while New Jersey requires 30 years but no other documentation.

If you’re worried about someone breaking in, claiming squatters rights, and stealing your property before you can sell it, you don’t have to be. To successfully claim adverse possession, a squatter would have to openly live on your property for at least a decade without you telling them to leave, and be able to prove that they had good reason to believe they had a right to the property. It’s vanishingly rare.

However, it’s important to understand the complexities of adverse possession in order to evict squatters and trespassers as simply and painlessly as possible.

Squatting vs. Trespassing: Understanding the Legal Differences in Oregon

While squatting and trespassing might appear similar at first glance, they differ fundamentally in their legal implications.

Squatting is typically a civil matter. An individual occupies a property without the owner’s permission but with the potential to legally claim ownership over time. If the squatter has been explicitly told to leave but refuses, they become a trespasser. However, if the squatter has performed work such as beautification and maintenance, they can sometimes avoid being prosecuted for criminal trespassing charges.

Prominent “No Trespassing” signs are sufficient for a potential squatter to be classified as a trespasser. However, if the property is vacant and there are no indications that squatters are unwelcome, squatting is technically legal. This can often happen in foreclosed properties or abandoned properties.

On the other hand, trespassing is a criminal offense and occurs when a person enters or remains on a property without any rights or permissions from the owner and with no apparent intention or legal basis to claim ownership. In cases of trespassing, property owners have more straightforward legal recourse to remove the trespasser, typically involving law enforcement and criminal charges.

Understanding this distinction is crucial for property owners and occupants in Oregon, as it influences the legal approach and rights involved in each scenario.

Holdover Tenants and Their Rights in Oregon

If you’re considering selling your home with renters in it, you may be concerned about what happens if your tenants don’t want to leave. Does that make them squatters, trespassers, or something else?

Holdover tenants, often referred to as “tenants at sufferance,” are tenants who continue to occupy a property after their lease term has expired without the explicit consent of the landlord to extend their stay—but also without the landlord explicitly telling them to leave. A key aspect of being a holdover tenant is that the tenant continues to make rent payments under the terms of the expired lease.

If a landlord opts to accept these payments, the tenant’s status shifts to that of a “tenant at will.” This means they remain on the property at the discretion of the landlord and can be evicted at any time without prior notice, unlike standard rental agreements, which often require advance notice for eviction.

However, if a holdover tenant receives a notice to vacate and refuses to leave, they may face legal action in the form of an unlawful detainer lawsuit. Importantly, holdover tenants in Oregon are not eligible to make an adverse possession claim if they have been asked to leave the property. At this point, their continued occupation shifts from a civil issue to a criminal trespassing matter.

While both holdover tenants and squatters occupy a property without a current legal agreement, the former’s previous tenant status and ongoing rent payments set them apart from squatters who have no prior legal agreement or rent obligation with the property owner.

Legal Procedures for Evicting Squatters in Oregon

In Oregon, the process of evicting squatters is governed by specific legal procedures that property owners must follow to ensure their actions are within the bounds of the law. Unlike some states, Oregon does not have explicit laws tailored for the removal of squatters, which means that property owners use the standard judicial eviction process.

Judicial Eviction Process

The judicial eviction process begins with the property owner issuing a formal eviction notice to the squatter. This notice must clearly state the reason for eviction, such as trespassing. If the squatter fails to vacate the property following this notice, the property owner can file an eviction lawsuit in court.

Eviction notices may include:

  • 72 hours’ notice to pay rent: if the squatter fails to pay the amount by the specified date, the owner can file a formal eviction
  • 10-day notice to quit: for week-to-week tenancies where the lease has ended
  • 30-day notice to quit: for month-to-month tenancies where the lease has ended
  • 24 hours’ notice to quit: in any case where illegal activity was committed on the property, such as prostitution, manufacture of controlled substances, or burglary.

Self-eviction actions, like changing locks or shutting off utilities with the intention to make a tenant or squatter leave, are illegal in Oregon and could lead to lawsuits against the property owner. All tenants must be served due notice for eviction.

Provisions for Disabled or Underage Property Owners

Oregon law provides specific protections for property owners with legal disabilities. If a property owner is deemed legally incompetent or insane, their property cannot be subject to an adverse possession claim as long as they remain in that state. Moreover, once they are no longer legally disabled (for instance, after leaving a mental health facility), they have one year to contest any adverse possession claims.

If the rightful property owner is a minor, Oregon law allows adverse possession to be delayed by up to five years. Once the owner turns 18, they have one year to contest any adverse possession claims.

Statute of Limitations

Oregon also enforces a statute of limitations regarding squatter evictions. Property owners have a 10-year window to evict a squatter, starting from the first day of squatting. This timeframe aligns with the period required for an adverse possession claim, underscoring the importance of timely action by property owners.

Understanding these legal nuances is crucial for property owners in Oregon. Navigating the process of evicting squatters can be complex and is often best handled with the assistance of legal counsel to ensure all actions comply with state laws.

Preventive Measures Against Squatting in Oregon

Property owners in Oregon can take several proactive steps to protect their properties from squatting. These measures are not only practical but also crucial in preventing the legal and financial complications that can arise from squatter situations. Here are some key strategies:

Regular Property Inspections: Regularly inspecting the property can help identify any unauthorized occupants early. This is especially important for vacant properties or those not regularly visited by the owner.

Securing the Property: Ensure that all entrances are secured. This includes locking doors and windows and possibly installing security systems or fences. Effective physical barriers can be a significant deterrent to squatters.

Prompt Payment of Property Taxes: Keeping up with property tax payments is essential. In the context of adverse possession claims, proof of timely tax payments can be a critical factor in legal proceedings.

Clear Signage: Posting “No Trespassing” signs on unoccupied properties can serve as a legal notice that unauthorized occupation will not be tolerated and may be useful in legal proceedings.

Immediate Response to Squatting: If squatting is detected, it’s important to act swiftly. Serving a written notice as soon as squatting is discovered can initiate the legal process required for eviction. The legal channels may move slowly, so the sooner, the better. Do not take matters into your own hands—forcible eviction should be handled by legal authorities.

Renting to Squatters: In some cases, offering to rent the property to the squatters can be a mutually beneficial solution, turning an illegal occupation into a legal tenancy. It also serves as notice that the property is owned by another, negating potential adverse possession claims.

Legal Assistance: Consultation with a lawyer experienced in property law is advisable. Legal counsel can provide guidance on the correct procedures to follow and help navigate the complexities of the situation.

Implementing these preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of squatting and ensure that property owners in Oregon are better equipped to handle such situations legally and effectively.

Understanding Squatters Rights as an Oregon Property Owner

Understanding squatters rights in Oregon is imperative for property owners and potential squatters alike. The distinction between squatting and trespassing, the intricacies of adverse possession, and the legal status of holdover tenants are all crucial components of this understanding. Property owners must be aware of the legal procedures for evicting squatters and the importance of acting promptly. Additionally, adopting preventive measures against squatting can safeguard property owners from potential legal complications.

For informational purposes only. Always consult with an attorney, tax, or financial advisor before proceeding with any real estate transaction.

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Jordan Matin
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