Is Squatting Legal In Iowa? It’s Complicated
It's cold outside and many people across Iowa are seeking shelter in abandoned buildings...but is it legal?
Many of us have driven by an old building and seen a likely homeless person there and assumed that we're looking at a squatter. In the current season, shelter is particularly essential. This week, the Quad Cities is expected to see lows in the single digits and even though it looks like the snow has moved out for now, people still need a place--any place--to snuggle up to stay warm.
What Actually Defines A Squatter?
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a squatter is defined as: "one that settles on property without right or title or payment of rent" or "one that settles on public land under government regulation with the purpose of acquiring title".
Are Squatters Legal In Iowa?
The answer to that question isn't all that simple. Adverse Possession is basically squatting, it occurs when someone starts using land that they do not own. But Iowa's adverse possession law is exactly what squatters try to exploit to gain ownership of the land.
According to law firm O'Flaherty Law, a squatter needs to be living somewhere for five years to be able to claim the title via adverse possession.
Even then, it isn't always 'poof, the title is yours'. There are conditions that must be met for adverse possession to go into effect.
Basically, this means that the owner didn't know that the party was there, didn't give permission, and it isn't a case where the squatter has good faith that they are legally entitled to be there.
The adverse possession must be actual, meaning that the squatter needs to treat the property as their own. That includes things like putting up a fence or painting the building. It's treating the property as if they are the rightful owner.
That sounds weird but it basically means that you should be able to just walk into the house and find the squatter there. They're not lurking in the basement until after dark or only visible at certain times of day.
Meaning, only one squatter at the property. They cannot share it with anyone else.
The statutory period for a squatter to get adverse possession on a property is a minimum 5 years, and only if they can meet these requirements. An example that the law firm gives is that if the property's owner got wind of a squatter traveling for six months. The squatter couldn't come back and claim that they had continuous adverse possession.
If you need to prevent squatters in the first place, you should monitor the properties that you own. If they pop up and you need to get rid of them, report the criminal trespass to the police.