Property Squatters: Who are they? What rights do they have? How to get them off property?
Who are they?
A squatter is a person who resides in a property without the consent of the landlord/registered owner of that land.
The difference between property squatters and a tenant is the absence of a formal/verbal agreement made between the squatter/tenant and the landlord/registered owner of the land. If an agreement exists, the person will most likely be considered a tenant. When there is no verbal or written agreement, and the landlord has never consented to the person living on the property, they will be considered a squatter.
What rights do they have?
A property squatter must vacate the premises when requested to do so by a registered owner of the land unless they can prove they have “adverse possession” of the property. Vacation, however, is a common issue when it comes to squatters. As they are already living on the property without a legal agreement to do so, it can be difficult to get them to agree to leave.
When a squatter can prove adverse possession, it means they have a legal right to remain in the property. To prove adverse possession of a property, the squatter must have:
- Taken possession of the property for an uninterrupted period of 12 years;
- Treated the property as their own, i.e. made renovations or works to the property, paid the rates, etc.;
- Had the intention to execute the world at large/it was known to the “world at large”(telling everyone that they are the true owners) that it was their property, i.e. that they were the legal owner of the property;
- The legal owner must have abandoned the property.
As you can imagine, proving adverse possession is a complicated thing to do. When a claim for adverse possession is successful, it extinguishes the original registered owner’s title – as such, they will no longer be the owner of the property.
Actions you can take against property squatters.
There are multiple ways to remove a squatter from the property, and each depends on the details listed above and the level of the squatter’s resistance.
- Have the police remove the squatter as they are a “trespasser.”
- QCAT Claim: Apply to QCAT for a warrant of possession under the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008
- Magistrates Court: Apply to the Magistrates Court for a warrant of possession under the Property Law Act 1975.
We recommend that if you are dealing with a squatter on your property, the first and best action to take is to talk to them and see if you can agree to have them vacate the premises. You can do this personally, with the help of a Real Estate Agent, with the help of a Lawyer or even attend Dispute Resolution to deal with the squatter.
Discuss the issue with your local police, so they are aware of the situation before you speak with the squatter. After your discussion with the squatter, if they still do not want to vacate, lodge a formal trespass complaint with the police and request they remove them from the property.
Whenever a matter is taken to the courts, whether it be QCAT, Magistrates court or others, please be aware of the significant time and money it can cost. Each court has its time frames and fees for an application; however, as a general rule, once you lodge a claim, it will usually only be heard 4-6 weeks after lodgement.
If you have a squatter on your property, contact Cornerstone Law Offices. We can review the history to determine if they are a squatter or a tenant.