In Virginia, if a squatter remains on a property for 15 years, she can claim adverse possession rights to the property. She must remain on the property for the entire statutory period. The clock restarts if the property owner gets the property back before the statutory period ends. If the property owner is disabled, the statutory period extends to 25 years. The rub here is that the property owner must be disabled the entire period.
Squatters are people who take up residence or make use of property without the owner's permission. A squatter who meets certain conditions might be able to assume ownership of the property. This type of ownership is known as adverse possession, and it often occurs when the original owner of a property abandons the property, and then a non-owner takes up residence or uses the property without getting permission first.
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Conditions for Adverse Possession
Before a squatter can obtain the title of a property through adverse possession, certain conditions must be true. The squatter must occupy the property knowing that it's against the owner's wishes. In other words, she knows she's trespassing.
The squatting also must occur in full view of the public, including the property owner. Further, the squatter must use or live on the premises continuously for a specific number of years, and while doing so, she must bar others, including the owner, from entering or using the property. This means she can't share the property with others.
Squatting is often viewed as a more permanent form of trespassing. Virginia code defines trespassing as going onto or remaining on someone else's property after the owner forbids it. Forbiddance can occur in oral or written form. That is, the owner can tell the person to leave or put up signs that tell others to stay off of the property. Trespassing is a Class I misdemeanor in Virginia, so a trespasser can end up spending up to 12 months in jail and pay up to $2,500 in fines.
What’s the Difference?
It's important to understand the difference between a squatter and a trespasser. Both enter the property without permission, but the squatter remains indefinitely and has intentions to keep the property. He might pay taxes on the property, establish utilities in his name and improve the property. Police are likely to escort a trespasser from the property, But, a squatter lays claim to the property, and in this case, only court action can remove him.