It might come as a surprise to many, but a random individual who establishes a residence on your unoccupied land or property without your permission, for a statutory period, may have a claim to the title of the property through adverse possession.  Such a random individual is called a squatter and it’s important to note that, legally, a squatter is not the same as a trespasser.

Oklahoma Landlord and Tenant Act doesn’t speak directly on the squatter eviction process, however, the process is similar to the tenant eviction process. To evict a squatter from your property, you must act quickly and legally by: (1) serving a notice to quit on the squatter (optional), (2) filing the forcible entry and detainer action, (3) attending the eviction hearing, and (3) obtaining a Sheriff’s Writ of Execution.

Who is considered a squatter in Oklahoma?

A squatter is a person who resides on an unoccupied piece of property or land, in which he has no property interest, meaning that he is not an owner or a renter, and does so without the permission of the owner.  Foreclosed homes, unoccupied land, or any other property that is currently not in use or is not occupied by the owner are common targets for squatters.

What is the difference between a squatter and a trespasser in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, a trespasser is a person who willfully enters the land of another, after being expressly forbidden or without the owner’s permission.  This is a criminal matter.

On the other hand, a squatter is a person who enters an unoccupied or foreclosed property without the legal rights to do so but with an intention to live there.  This is a civil matter.

Although a squatter and a trespasser seem to be very similar at a first glance, the fundamental difference between them is that the squatter usually enters an unoccupied property to reside on it, while a trespasser‘s entry is short-term and is without an intent to live in the property.  The major difference comes down to their intention.

A person may avoid prosecution for trespass by asserting themselves as a squatter through actions such as making improvements to unoccupied or abandoned property — such as cleaning up, maintaining a yard, fixing and repairing, etc. — and residing on it for a specific duration.  Furthermore, while trespass constitutes a criminal offense, squatting typically falls under civil jurisdiction.  This distinction holds significance because squatters are granted certain rights under the law, whereas trespassers aren’t.

What is adverse possession under Oklahoma law?

Adverse possession is often misunderstood because the doctrine itself seems counterintuitive — the notion that an individual without any property rights can eventually obtain legal ownership of a property.  However, this is indeed true.

In Oklahoma, a squatter occupying another person’s land without permission may establish a rightful title to the property by meeting specific possessory criteria: (1) the possession must be open and notorious, (2) continuous for the statutory period of fifteen (15) years, (3) actual, (4) hostile, and (5) exclusive, and with some color of title.  Simply put, it means that the possession must be continuous for the specified duration, cannot be hidden from the public, must be without the permission of the owner, and with some claim of right.

In essence, a person who openly inhabits a land or a property of another holding himself out as the owner, without the actual owner’s permission, continuously for at least 15 years, and without sharing the premises with the actual owner, may establish a legitimate claim to the title and ownership of the property.

How do I keep my property safe from squatters?

At its heart, the adverse possession doctrine stems from the idea that the person who nurtures, maintains, or otherwise makes better use of the land for example by establishing a residence has a better claim to its ownership than the titleholder who has effectively neglected the property.  Therefore, an owner of the land or the property must take relevant steps to make sure the property is adequately taken care of and thus provided with reasonable protection from trespassers and squatters.

All landowners, especially the ones who live out of state and are unable to frequently visit the vacant property in Oklahoma should post a “No Trespassing” sign, hire a property manager or a neighbor to frequently inspect the property, build a fence, make sure all the entrances are locked and property taxes paid when due.  Such precautionary measures will put any trespasser or a squatter on notice that the property is being regularly watched and is taken care of, therefore not abandoned or neglected – in effect deterring any ill-will person from setting up a residence on the property.

Old abandoned home

What are landowners’ right against squatters in Oklahoma?

Oklahoma property owners have the right to take legal action to evict squatters and regain possession of their property.  Under 41 O.S. §111-G, a property owner has the right to demand the occupant to vacate the premises.  The demand may be in the form of a 30-day notice to quit.  If the occupant fails to comply within that time, then upon conviction will be guilty of a trespass.

However, if the Sheriff determines the occupation to be a civil matter, then you may have to file a Forcible Entry and Detainer suit (eviction) with the court.

What should I do if I find squatters on my property?

If you still find that a squatter has been residing on your property, you must act quickly, but not hastily – self-help measures like using force to remove the person, locking out, and cutting off utilities are not recommended.

Instead, you must first contact the Sheriff’s office and see if they can accompany you to the property, ensuring your safety while you request the person to vacate the property.  Or, you may request the Sheriff to escort them off the property.

However, if the Sheriff determines this to be a civil matter, then they might not want to get involved.

If the person still refuses to move out, then there is not much you can do, except to file an Forcible Entry and Detainer (FED) – also called eviction – suit with the court.  Under 41 O.S. §111-G, squatters are not tenants and no form of tenancy exists.  Therefore, a property owner is not required to serve a notice on a squatter, you may file an FED action immediately.  If you still prefer to serve a notice to quit, you may do so.  A 30-day notice to quit may suffice.

Oftentimes, landowners encounter situations where they must address squatters whose identities are unknown.  In such a case, you may file an FED (eviction) action by naming John/Jane Doe as the defendants. But, you must still serve the lawsuit upon the squatter in-person or by posting the summons at the property AND certified mailing it.

If you choose to serve a 30-day notice to quit, then you must wait for 30 days to commence eviction proceeding.  After the eviction order is granted in your favor, you may obtain a Writ of Execution.  The Writ gives Sheriff the authority to post the eviction notice on the property and forcibly remove the squatter from the property after 48 hours.

The process is pretty quick in Oklahoma, the entire process typically taking two weeks or less from the initial filing of the FED suit to obtaining a Writ of Execution.

What are squatters’ rights in Oklahoma?

In Oklahoma, a squatter’s right does not ripe into ownership of the property unless all elements of adverse possession have been met including an open and notorious occupancy of the property for 15 continuous years.

If the squatter successfully inhabits a land or a property of another holding himself out as the owner, without the actual owner’s permission, continuously for at least 15 years, and without sharing the premises with the actual owner, he or she may have a claim to legal title. Therefore, if the squatter rights ripe into a successful adverse possession claim, he or she may eventually acquire the ownership and title to the land by filing a quite title action.

OKC Eviction Attorney serving Landlords in Oklahoma, Logan, Cleveland, and Grady County

If you believe that a squatter has inhabited your land or property, it’s important to move quickly and take careful legal steps, ensuring you get the squatter out and get your property back.  Vivid Niroula is a real estate attorney based in OKC, with a solid understanding of Oklahoma eviction laws.  If you have a squatter problem and would like us to help you reclaim your property get in touch with us immediately by calling (405) 456-9250 or filling out the Contact Us Form.