Everything Property Owners Should Know About Georgia Squatters’ Rights

Everything Property Owners Should Know About Georgia Squatters’ Rights

  • Ivan Savant
  • 12/3/22

In the balmy real estate marketplace across the state of Georgia, luxury homes for sale are attracting renters and buyers alike. Before getting caught in an unfortunate and complex situation with adverse possession on your property, educate yourself about Georgia’s squatters' rights.
Using adverse possession, a colloquially termed “squatter” can acquire your property simply by living on your property. However, each state dictates that different requirements must be met before an individual can claim possession in this manner. It is important to understand what a squatter is, what their rights are, what the requirements are in the state of Georgia, and how to protect yourself from adverse possession claims.

What is an adverse possession?

Adverse possession, often referred to colloquially as “squatters' rights,” is a legal principle that will transfer the title of land or property to an individual if they have resided on or have been in possession of another person's property for a designated amount of time.
Property titles are granted to individuals who meet certain criteria, regardless of whether they were in legal possession of the property or not. Sometimes, adverse possession takes place by accident, but more often than not, it is intentional and illegal, meaning that a squatter will knowingly come onto another person's property to live and then take it over after refusing to leave.

What is a squatter?

A “squatter” is defined as anyone who is living on someone else’s property without legal permission to do so. They could be someone who breaks into the property and begins living there without the permission of the owner. It could also be a tenant who stops paying rent or following their leasing agreement and continues to live on the property with no regard for the owners. Some roommates and renters continue to stay in a property after a lease has expired without paying rent.
In some very rare situations, adverse possession occurs by accident, but this is not the norm. The case of accidental adverse possession might arise when a property line is disputed. However, most adverse possession cases revolve around individuals living illegally on the property.

Is a squatter the same thing as a trespasser?

Not all trespassers are squatters; however, all squatters are trespassers. The key difference to keep in mind is that a trespasser, while still illegally on your property, will not be claiming your property. Squatters will claim ownership of your property after residing and maintaining it for a certain period of time. Squatters must be dealt with through the court system because they are making a claim on your property and trying to take possession from you.

Defining tenant at sufferance

Tenants at sufferance are also known as holdover tenants and are defined under Georgia Code title 44, chapter 7, article 3. These are tenants that continue to live in rental properties even after a lease has expired. The landlord can allow them to remain living on the property; however, under these conditions, they can be evicted at any time without notice and can be sued for unlawful detainer.

Defining Georgia’s squatters' rights

In Georgia, adverse possession claims require individuals to have stayed on a property for 20 consecutive years. These 20 years are required to be continuous, meaning that they cannot have been interrupted for weeks or months, and then the property's legal title can be changed. Be aware, however, that if the squatter claims “color of title,” that amount of time is reduced from 20 years to seven years. Adverse possession claims must still be filed legally and the title transferred into the squatter's name based on five specific requirements.

What is Color of Title?

Color of Title is a real estate property law phrase referring to a title to real property that may have the appearance of a valid title to a parcel of the property, but in reality, it does not provide a legally recognized title to the parcel at all. The person who holds property under Color of Title does not actually hold the title for a variety of possibilities, including adverse possession, or perhaps there could be a significant defect in the way the title was written, making the document therefore invalid.

The five requirements

Here are five requirements that a Georgia resident must reach to file for an adverse possession claim to take over land legally:
  1. Squatters must have remained on the land for 20 years continuously. If the settler has left the land for weeks or months at a time, their claim is invalidated. However, if they claim the color of title and have paid all property taxes, this period is reduced to seven years.

  2. The squatter must be the only person possessing the property. If anyone else has been living on the property, including other tenants or the owner, this will also invalidate their claim of possession.

  3. The squatter must be openly living on the land to anyone who researches or investigates the property. If they attempt to hide their living on the land, this will nullify their claim.

  4. A squatter is required to have a physical presence on the property to make an adverse possession claim. They must treat the property as if it were their own, documenting maintenance and improvement attempts on the property.

  5. A squatter must be able to prove that his claim to the property is a hostile claim. In the legal sense, a hostile claim means that you are making this claim against the wishes of the original property owner. If the property owner can prove that the squatter had permission at any time, the adverse possession will never succeed.

How do you protect yourself and your property from squatters?

Photo courtesy of the Ivan Savant Team
The absolute best way to avoid having to deal with adverse possession claims is to prevent squatters on your property in the first place. You can achieve this by carrying out property inspections regularly, securing your property, and posting “no trespassing” signs. If you do find squatters, seek legal counsel within the court as soon as you’re able.

A helping hand

You should hire a reputable and experienced real estate professional to find the perfect renter or buyer for your property as soon as possible. The sooner your home is occupied, the sooner you can stop worrying about squatters invading your space. So, whether you’re looking at Smyrna real estate or Kennesaw homes, you want to work with an expert who knows the area well. Ensure your real estate agent is reputable by contacting the Ivan Savant Team today.

*Header photo courtesy of Shutterstock

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