I was a little bit surprised when I first found out about this interesting "possession law" here in Iowa. After a certain amount of time, a squatter can put in a claim for ownership of a property you own. It could be land, a building, or a house. It does take a bit of time and there are things you can do if you run into a squatting problem but the fact that this is even possible is nuts.

Unsplash - Danny Burke
Unsplash - Danny Burke

What is a Squatter

No, we're not talking about the people you would see at the gym using their legs to lift heavy weights. We're talking about a different kind of squatter. According to the Dictionary, a Squatter is "a person who settles on land or occupies property without title, right or payment of rent. Another definition is "a person who settles on land under government regulation, in order to acquire title." Squatters take things a lot further than your common trespasser.

According to Apartment List, the difference between a trespasser and a squatter is "a trespasser is someone who knowingly enters or occupies a person's land without permission." A squatter is "someone who knowingly occupies another person's land or property, without their permission, with a claim for ownership."

Squatters aren't overly common but for people who own apartments or land, they can become a problem if you aren't careful. If you find yourself in a situation involving a squatter and they fulfill the law requirements, it's possible they can attain a title to your property.

Claiming Property

Have you ever heard of squatter's rights? There are certain possession laws put into place to prevent people from not taking care of their property. The idea behind this is to prevent the land from being unused or buildings to be left vacant and abandoned.

If you find yourself dealing with a squatter, lord help you, because getting them off and out of your property is a logistics nightmare. According to Apartment List, not only are squatters legally entitled to an eviction notice, you could be sued and/or lose ownership of your property. Why you need a legal reason to evict someone you never rented to in the first place is beyond me but losing your property entirely seems crazy.

According to Iowa Property Management,

A squatter can claim rights to a property after a certain time residing there. In Iowa, it takes 5 years of continuous occupation for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim (Iowa Code § 560.1, et seq). When a squatter claims adverse possession, they can gain legal ownership of the property. At this point, the squatter is no longer a criminal trespasser and has lawful permission to remain on the property.

As I mentioned earlier, it does take some time before a squatter can put in their claim to the property. 5 years should be plenty of time for you to get a squatter situation figured out and put behind you but the fact that this is possible at all seems wrong. The best things you can do if you are dealing with a squatter are to notify the police, send an eviction notice, and document all communication you have with the unwanted tenant.

My Opinion

It does make sense to have a law to prevent people from buying buildings and abandoning them or to dissuade buying land and then not using it. You can't just have abandoned buildings everywhere in a city. This still just rubs me the wrong way and maybe I'm in the minority here.

The way I see it, if you want to buy a house and use it as a street ornament, I don't care. As long as the property you have isn't being used to hurt anyone or do anything illegal, I don't care what you buy. It does seem like a big waste of time and money to buy something and not use it but I'm not a fan of telling people how to spend their money.

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