Squatters Rights Massachusetts: What To Know About Squatters & Holdover Tenants

by | Apr 12, 2024

You’ve probably seen the media brouhaha about squatters taking over rental properties and living rent-free. Evidently, they’re living rent-free in our heads to, as we all wonder:

  • Is that even legal?
  • Can that happen to me?

This guide dissects squatters’ rights in Massachusetts, a critical issue for landlords and property owners dealing with unauthorized tenants and claims of ownership. It outlines the legal language, eviction process, and how to avoid this issue in the first place.

Key Takeaways:

  • The term squatter is often used for what is actually a holdover tenant. Squatters rights allow someone to claim ownership of a property after conditions are met. A holdover tenant, the more common circumstance, remains in a rental property after their lease has expired.
  • When encountering a trespasser on your property, the first step is to call the police. If they’ve been there a while and claim tenancy, you’ll have to move them through the formal eviction process.
  • Changing the locks or forcibly removing a squatter or holdover tenant could land you in legal trouble.

Note: If you’re dealing with a squatter, you should contact an attorney. Any information you read online (here or elsewhere) should be vetted by legal representation before making any decisions.

What Are Squatters Rights?

Squatters’ rights, also known as adverse possession, are laws that allow a person to claim property ownership under certain conditions, even if they are not the legal owner. In Massachusetts, as in other states, these laws have a long history and are designed to encourage the productive use of land and resolve disputes over property ownership.

These laws deal with two different situations/issues:

  1. Someone making a claim of ownership over your property.
  2. Someone claiming that they’re a tenant of your property.

We’ll dissect both.

Definitions: Squatter, Trespassers, Adverse Possession & Holdover Tenants

Criminal trespassers are people who enter a property without the owner’s permission. A squatter stays at a property for an extended period and even attempts to make it a home. For trespassing, think along the lines of breaking and entering. Duration matters when considering the difference between a squatter and a trespasser.

Squatting & Adverse Possession Are Not The Same Thing!

A squatter is someone who stays in a place without permission. In some jurisdictions, a squatter can gain actual possession of the property if they openly reside on it long enough.

A squatter is someone who allegedly is not permitted to stay somewhere. Adverse possession is a doctrine under which a person possessing land owned by someone else may acquire a valid title.

In Massachusetts, the requirements for a squatter to claim adverse possession are stringent. The squatter must demonstrate:

  • Actual Possession: The squatter must physically use the land, such as by building a structure, planting crops, or making other improvements.
  • Open and Notorious Possession: The squatter’s use of the land must be visible and apparent so the rightful owner can notice and take action.
  • Exclusive Possession: The squatter must possess the land without sharing it with the public or the rightful owner.
  • Adverse and Hostile Possession: The squatter must occupy the land without the owner’s permission.
  • Continuous Possession for a Statutory Period: In Massachusetts, the squatter must continuously possess the land for 20 years.

Squatters claiming adverse possession are less common than landlords encountering holdover tenants in rental properties.

What Is A Holdover Tenant?

A holdover tenant remains in a rental property after their lease has expired without the landlord’s consent to extend the lease. If a tenant stays beyond the lease term without a formal agreement, the landlord can either accept rent, create a new tenancy (often month-to-month), or take steps to evict the tenant.

If the individual is not a current or former tenant in a legal despite, they’re trespassing. In this case, law enforcement may decide to arrest and remove them from the property. The trickiness of this situation is that law enforcement has to KNOW this to be the case. Otherwise, they”ll just refer you to the eviction process.

The eviction process involves serving a notice to quit and filing an eviction case if the tenant does not leave voluntarily.

Why The Long Drawn Out Process?

The news stories you see are of people who are said to reside somewhere without permission. The authorities were then unable to determine whether or not they were lawful tenants.

Why can’t the police just kick someone out if they’re accused of squatting?

Because if law enforcement kicked people out without evidence, unscrupulous landlords would remove unwanted tenants to circumvent the legal process.

Some states require squatters to pay property taxes and have color of title before making a claim to gain legal ownership. Massachusetts does not have such requirements, but either would strengthen a squatters case.

Evicting Holdover Tenants: The Process

When encountering a trespasser on your property, the first step is to call the police. If they’ve been there a while and claim tenancy, you’ll have to move them through the formal eviction process.

In this case, the first step is to serve a notice to the person occupying the property and wait until the notice period ends. A 14-day notice to quit is for non-payment of rent only, which can be cured. 30-day notices are when you just want someone out for good. If someone is trespassing, your attorney may be able to reduce the notice period to as short as 72 hours.

Then, the property owner will have to serve the person with a summons and file it with the appropriate court to set up a mediation. On the hearing date, you can explain the details of the case. If your eviction request is granted, the trespasser will get a “Writ of Execution,” which gives them 48 hours to leave.

Protecting Your Property From Adverse Possession

The idea behind adverse possession is to encourage landowners to monitor and use their property actively. If a landowner neglects their property, and someone else takes care of it and uses it openly for a long time, the law might reward the squatter with ownership.

Property owners can take several steps to prevent adverse possession claims:

  • Regular Inspections: Frequently check the property for signs of unauthorized use or occupation.
  • Fencing and Signage: Clearly mark property boundaries with fences and signs to deter trespassers.
  • Leases or Permissions: If allowing someone to use the land, formalize the arrangement with a lease or written permission to negate the “adverse and hostile” requirement.
  • Legal Action: If squatters are found, take prompt legal action to remove them from the property.

Protecting Your Rental From Holdover Tenants

You may find the idea of dealing with the issue yourself appealing. However, using brute force or tricks like changing the locks is likely illegal, and law enforcement may arrest you, as this NYC landlady found out.

Instead, hire an attorney and go through the legal process. We get it. When you’re paying a mortgage and property taxes, the months-long process is a drag.

  1. Ensure your lease agreements clearly outline the consequences of holding over, including potential legal actions and financial penalties.
  2. Regularly communicating with tenants as their lease end approaches can prevent misunderstandings about move-out dates
  3. If a tenant shows signs of becoming a holdover, initiate dialogue early to address the situation. Legal advice is crucial if an agreement cannot be reached.
  4. Promptly enforcing lease terms and utilizing legal resources can safeguard your property and minimize costly disputes with holdover tenants.

Squatters Rights in Massachusetts

As a landlord, you need to understand the complexities of squatters’ rights and holdover tenants in Massachusetts is essential for landlords and property owners. Remember, while the information provided here is a helpful starting point, specific cases can have unique challenges. Thus, consulting with a qualified attorney remains the best course to ensure your decisions are legally sound and tailored to your situation.

If you’re tired of dealing with holdover tenants and squatters, that may be a sign to sell your property. The only issue is that few people want to buy a property with unwelcomed tenants. Would you? Luckily, we’re one of those few people. New England Home Buyers will buy your home, removing the stress from your life with our efficient 3-step house-selling process.

Get One-on-One Guidance

Contact us below or call (978) 228-1068 to speak with us about selling your home fast.

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Elie Deglaoui - Author


Elie Deglaoui

Elie is our office admin who handles all our day-to-day tasks and makes sure we always stay on track. He brings his love of music and sports into the office everyday to always liven up the environment. His outgoing personality makes it easy and fun for him to talk to homeowners, homebuyers, and everyone in between.

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