Posted in Blog  
  on Aug 18, 2015

What are Squatters Rights in Delaware

Squatter's rights in Delaware are governed under the laws of adverse possession. Decisions are handled by the Court of Chancery and are based on the levels of hostile and adverse possession that squatter's have over a parcel of land. Adverse possession covers registered and unregistered tracts of property. To establish a claim of adverse possession, squatters must also occupy land or structures for a minimum of 20 years. In April 2015, the Court of Chancery ruled that someone who had camped continuously and openly on an unregistered tract of land for hunting purposes for 20 years had met the definitions required of adverse possession. The ownership of the tract was therefore transferred to the claimant. Here are the steps that were followed and what the court evaluated in making this decision.

1. Who Is The Principal User Of The Land?

Even if a land owner is named in the state records, there must also be a clear use of the land that is happening. Property owners who rent property to tenants, for example, are using their property for profit and this eliminates an adverse possession claim. Land owners who are doing nothing with their property, but someone else does for at least 20 continuous years does, establishes the foundation of an adverse possession claim.

2. Is The Property Being Used For The Exclusive Benefit Of The Squatter?

In this case, the individual who was awarded the tract of property went out to the area every weekend to relax and hunt. Continuous use of the property does not mean it must be daily use. As long as the occupation of the land is open and against the wishes of the property owner, another qualification of the adverse possession claim has been met.

3. Has a Quitclaim Deed Been Recorded?

Once a quitclaim deed for a property has been filed, the squatters will begin to pay taxes on the land as if it were their own. This doesn't mean that the property owners can eliminate an adverse possession claim by paying the taxes on their own. Once the quitclaim deed has been filed, the property owners must petition for the quitclaim deed to be removed.

4. Giving Permission To Use The Land May Not Be Enough.

Hostile claims are considered to have legal superiority over all other claims to a property. A property owners who waits more than a decade to grant permission for squatters to be on their property may have already lost their claim to the land unless they begin to use it on their own. Sometime as simple as the posting of a No Trespassing sign or the building of a fence is enough for a squatter to claim ownership over a tract of land that is being used.

5. Land Improvements Are Additional Evidence Of Open And Notorious Ownership.

How land is improved depends on the tract of land that is being squatted on. In this example, the area was wooded, so establishing a camp site, making trails, and improving the usability of the area constituted enough of an improvement in the eyes of the court. If a structure is being inhabited, then maintaining and improving the structure may be considered mandatory to meet this stipulation.

6. Has The Squatting Been Exclusive?

Exclusivity is extremely important in Delaware's adverse possession laws. This means members of the same household must continuously occupy the property in question for a claim to be valid. The household must be established at the time of squatting and cannot evolve over time. A married couple may have children and these children may become part of the claim. A man cannot include his sister, however, after squatting for 5 years and let his sister fulfill the remainder of the 20 year requirement.

7. Is There Evidence That The Squatter Knew What They Were Doing?

In this case, the individual involved believed that there was no ownership of the property because two separate deed checks resulted in an “unknown owner” finding. Squatters must be making an honest mistake, such as using a deed that is incorrect, knowingly occupy private property that is not their own, and have actual possession for an adverse possession claim to be valid. How a property is used is a deciding factor in all adverse possession cases. If it has been more than two decades since a property owner stepped foot on their land, then there is a good chance that if there is a squatter present on that land, they may have a valid adverse possession claim.


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