Once upon a time, this issue was an academic discussion. Now, squatter rights in Kentucky is a real problem. Housing costs are so high that, to many people, the risk of getting caught is worth the reward of rent-free living.
Legally, squatters occupy buildings, usually dwellings, without legal permission. Squatters are often previous owners or tenants of a house who refuse to leave, and under the premise of squatters’ rights, they may have a case. Fortunately, recent buyers have rights as well. In most cases, the old adage that “possession is nine-tenths of the law” doesn’t always apply to squatters’ rights in Kentucky. Legal title is usually all that matters, but it’s complicated.
What Are Squatters Rights?
In the Bluegrass State, squatters’ rights usually hinge on a legal doctrine called adverse possession. Kentucky law is very specific in this area. To establish a legal claim, and invoke the aforementioned “possession is nine-tenths of the law” axiom, squatters must prove five basic elements:
- Actual Possession: In a nutshell, “actual” means “actual.” The squatter must continually occupy the building or dwelling and exert dominion over the property to the detriment of the legal owner.
- Hostile: Usually, this element demonstrates the squatter’s intent to permanently occupy the building. If Renee the renter overstays her lease and adds a deck to the house, it’s pretty clear she intends to stay there without paying.
- Open and Notorious: This element is a lot like the previous one. Possession is open and notorious if the squatter physically improves the property or engages in “substantial activity” on that property.
- Exclusive: If, at any time, the legal owner occupies the property, the adverse possession clock resets and, in terms of proof, the squatter must start over. Kentucky is one of the only states that recognizes split adverse possession, like a roommate who refuses to move out. Rural property exclusivity comes up sometimes as well. For example, Tim might use a swimming hole that Mary legally owns.
- Period of Time: In Kentucky, if a squatter proves the first four elements and has occupied the building for at least fifteen years, the legal owner loses title of the property. Squatters could prove adverse possession based on the first four elements. However, if it’s been less than fifteen years, the legal owner gets a day in court.
Squatters must prove all five elements by clear and convincing evidence. That’s a standard just below the level of proof needed in criminal court.
How Do Squatters Rights in Kentucky Work?
What may seem like trespassing to you and me may seem acceptable to squatters. They reason that occupied property is better than abandoned property. Furthermore, according to their way of thinking, if they improve the property, that’s even better. The fact that these efforts trigger legal ownership is icing on the cake.
Some cases are more complex. Many squatters falsify documents to make the property look like their own in an attempt to gain squatter rights in Kentucky. Falsifying documents in this manner is illegal and can get the squatter arrested. That’s a separate legal matter.
Enforcing legal ownership is also a separate matter. Frequently, no court order is necessary. Once record owners assert their rights, many squatters leave on their own, especially if a lawyer is involved.
Other times, owners must take squatters to court. At this point, it may be difficult to convince a court to agree with you that you are the property owner if you’re not the one who is making improvements to the property.
This is why squatters rights in Kentucky were created. Adverse possession puts the burden on property owners to take care of their property. If owners basically abandon property and squatters continually occupy and improve it, legal owners are hard-pressed to convince judges they are better actual owners.
How Do I Evict a Squatter?
Once owners serve squatters with eviction notices, squatters have seven days to pay rent or abandon the property. The property owner determines what amount of rent the squatter must pay. The formal eviction notice will be filed in court, allowing the squatter to challenge the eviction. If the squatter challenges the eviction, they can usually stay until the above-outlined legal process plays out.
Once the eviction notice has been sent to the squatter and eviction proceedings have begun, there’s nothing else a property owner can do. A property owner cannot legally or forcibly remove the squatter at this time. Only the court can place an order to remove the squatter to have the squatter removed.
What You Can Do if You Can’t Evict a Squatter
The adverse possession process in Kentucky is often long, cumbersome, and expensive. Fortunately, legal owners have other options that are faster, easier, and less costly.
An as-is cash sale is a good example. After a brief walk-through inspection, a home investor makes a firm cash offer. These sales usually close quickly, so owners can move on. Once the home investor takes title to the property, squatters’ rights become the home investor’s problem.
How Do I Prevent Squatting?
Another legal aphorism is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. One of the best ways to keep squatters out of buildings is to simply keep all the doors and windows locked. If potential squatters can’t easily access property, they often quickly move on. Furthermore, as soon as a lease ends, change the locks. If you change the locks when the squatter isn’t there, that’s even better.
Additionally, as mentioned, adverse possession is really about who cares about the property more. So, visit your property and make improvements regularly so that it looks like someone is living there. Also, ask neighbors to keep an eye on the property, especially if you must be away for several months.
On a related note, if you must be away for more than a few weeks, consider asking a lawyer to draw up a power of attorney. This document temporarily gives a trusted person temporary authority over property, so this person can take immediate action if needed.
It’s important for every property owner or landlord to know Kentucky squatters rights law in case they are illegally occupying your vacant property. Knowing squatters rights in Kentucky will help you determine the right course of action you can take to reclaim your property.