Limited and Open Government

Do Squatters Have Rights in Utah?

Squatting, the act of occupying land by a person not legally entitled or authorized to be there, has a history that dates back centuries. For example, in medieval England, there were times where commoners could grow crops on common land and erect a cottage and live on large properties they didn’t own.

Here in the United States, we inherited some of the legal framework on squatting that stemmed from the English practices. From legal questions about settlers beyond state or territorial boundaries to those settling on federally owned public lands, the topic of what to do about squatters was not cut and dry.

Squatting in Today’s United States

In regards to property ownership questions, today’s world is nothing like medieval England or the early United States. With every border and square inch of land accounted for in sophisticated electronic systems, questions about who is the rightful owner of a property are extraordinarily rare.

So why do we still have issues with squatters in the modern United States? The answer is that people are willing to essentially steal other people’s property. This sometimes occurs when someone sees a dilapidated property and temporarily uses it for shelter. More alarmingly, though, is a squatter who finds a home where the owner is on vacation or who otherwise isn’t in the home 24/7 and tries to take possession of it.

False Claims of a Lease

One might wonder how a squatter gets to stay in a home any longer than the moment the rightful owner calls the police. The key to their scam is falsely claiming they have a lease and therefore have a right to stay in the home. This could result in situations like we’ve seen recently reported, where it takes many months to resolve — all because the laws in the particular city and state are written to vastly favor the “tenant”.  

Tenant Laws in Utah

In Utah, the aforementioned squatter scam would be much harder to pull off. Utilities can be shut off and the laws of Utah and its cities don’t automatically favor the tenant. Even in an ambiguous situation, the legal system would work to get a scamming squatter off the premises relatively quickly.

What Utah does have, however, are adverse possession laws. These laws enable someone who, after occupying and paying property taxes on a property for seven years, to take legal ownership. While this particular law resembles squatting in some ways, there is a large difference between what a person could conceivably do in Utah compared to other states.

In short, the answer to the question of, “do squatters have rights in Utah?” is essentially no.