The term “squatter’s rights” traditionally refers to a person who is permitted to live in an abandoned or condemned building because of their extended stay. Georgia’s adverse possession and real estate laws specifically govern this issue.
Adverse possession laws
Georgia law provides obstacles for someone who sneaks into an abandoned home or structure and seeks ownership. First, an individual does not gain possession by simply sneaking onto the property. They must publicly live on that property uninterrupted and regularly for 20 years.
That period is 7 years under the principle of title of color. This occurs when the trespasser has legal documents that support their ownership claims.
Color of title applies to situations where an individual’s ownership is questioned despite their belief that they own the property, and a court must rule on ownership. Documents usually include tax payment records or a deed.
In the alternative to presenting legal documentation, the trespasser must show that they cultivated or used the property and paid property taxes. This involves showing that improvements and occupations were done in a way that everyone in the town or nearby properties was aware that someone lived there.
Trespassers claiming ownership have a high burden of proof. Property owners can also counter claims by demonstrating the following:
- That they are a legal landowner but are too young to live there on their own such as when a minor inherits a piece of property.
- They, or the landowner’s representative, demonstrate to the court that the legal owner has a mental instability.
- The legal owner is incarcerated and cannot care for the property.
Landowners, particularly those who own large property, may have to deal with adverse possession issues. They usually take these steps.
The first step is speaking with the trespasser and asking that they hold back from entering or trespassing and that they remove any structures that were placed on the property. This option has a greater chance of success if the trespasser recognizes that they made a mistake.
The second method, if the trespasser does not leave, is filing a legal action for eviction. This requires that the owner first prove that they are the property owner. Next, they must submit an eviction notice. This requires that a Georgia state court issue a document declaring that the owner is the property owner and holds the title to the land.