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Squatters’ Rights in Portland: What You Should Know

A long-term vacant property can cause many problems. On top of wasting valuable housing or rental income, empty properties can quickly accumulate serious maintenance issues. Before long, the lack of regular care will likely require expensive repairs. And in addition to a money sink, empty properties may attract squatters. While removing unauthorized people living on your property might seem straightforward, the reality of squatters’ rights in Portland is more complicated. In some circumstances, a squatter may even be able to make a legal claim on the property. Here’s what you need to know about dealing with squatters in Portland, and how to handle your vacant property to keep it protected and in good condition.

Squatters’ Rights in Portland: Are They Squatters or Trespassers?

Oregon law defines a squatter as a person who lives on a vacant or abandoned property without permission from the owner. These people treat the property as their own without paying rent or complying with a lease. The main difference between a squatter and a trespasser is that without being specifically told they are not welcome in an empty unit, squatters may not be committing a crime. And in cases where it is ambiguous whether or not a person has the right to remain on a property, police will often hesitate to remove them.

Several factors determine whether a squatter can be prosecuted as a criminal trespasser. For instance, if a squatter improves or beautifies an abandoned unit through cleaning, maintenance, or landscaping or gains access to the property in a legitimate emergency, they may not have committed a crime.

Squatters vs. Holdover Tenants

Just as there’s a nuanced difference between trespassers and squatters, the same holds for tenants who refuse to leave a property after their lease term ends. If a holdover tenant continues to pay rent under the original conditions established in the lease contract, they are not considered a squatter. If a landlord agrees to allow a tenant to continue staying on a property and paying rent beyond the terms of their lease, they are considered a “tenant at will,” —meaning they can be evicted at any time without an official eviction notice.

However, if a holdover tenant refuses to vacate the property after being told to leave, they may be considered a criminal trespasser and can be legally removed.

What is An Adverse Possession Claim?

One of the most important things to know about squatters’ rights in Portland is the conditions of adverse possession. When a squatter claims adverse possession, they are staking a legal claim to the property they have lived on for a certain amount of time. In Oregon, the timeframe required for adverse possession is 10 years of continuous occupancy.

However, to be successful, an adverse possession claim must meet the following qualifications:

  • A squatter must believe they have the genuine right to live in the unit. One example is that the squatters honestly did not know the property belonged to anyone else.
  • The squatter must have complete control over the unit.
  • They must openly occupy the property and not attempt to hide it.
  • If the squatters do not occupy the unit with strangers, they may be able to file an adverse possession claim. But in Oregon, they may also be eligible to file for “co-tenancy.” If they have lived on the property continuously for 20 years and paid property taxes during that period, they gain ownership without adverse possession.
  • For adverse possession, squatters must have been on the property for at least 10 years. For co-tenancy, that timeframe is 20 years.

What to Know About Removing Squatters

Due to squatters’ rights in Portland, removing unauthorized people from your property can be complicated. As mentioned above, police may not be willing to remove people from your property if there’s any doubt as to whether they have the right to remain there. Here are a few actions you can take as a landlord to address squatters on your property:

72-hour Notice to Pay Rent: This notice must specify the amount owed, fees, and a due date. If the squatter fails to pay, the landlord can file an eviction in court.

24-hour Notice to Quit: If a squatter has committed illegal activity on a property, you can serve a 24-hour notice to quit. This type of notice is also useful when a tenant’s lease is over, and they have not left the property. Depending on the type of tenancy, you may need to serve a 10 or 30-day notice.

After removing a squatter, landlords must store any personal items they left behind. They must also send a notice informing the squatters that they have 15 days to retrieve their personal property.

How To Prevent Squatters

The best way to deal with squatters is to avoid ever having them on your property in the first place. If you have an unoccupied property and aren’t sure what to do with, it can be tempting to throw your hands up and ignore it. However, this often causes many more problems down the line. In cases of adverse possession claims, you could even lose the property.

Regular Property Inspections

By making routine trips to the property, you can determine whether anyone is squatting there and inform them of your legal ownership. In addition, you can check the property for potential repairs or maintenance issues that might have arisen since your last visit. If you find any, be sure to take care of them before they get worse (and more expensive).

Secure Your Property

Locks, fences, and “no trespassing” signs can all help prevent squatters. If a person has to break into a property to occupy it, the law will likely classify them as criminal trespassers rather than squatters. This can simplify the process of removing them.

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