Legal Aspects of Squatters’ Rights in New York State


Squatting, the act of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land or a building that the squatter does not own, rent, or otherwise have lawful permission to use, might seem straightforward on the surface. However, the legal intricacies surrounding […]

Squatting, the act of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land or a building that the squatter does not own, rent, or otherwise have lawful permission to use, might seem straightforward on the surface. However, the legal intricacies surrounding squatters’ rights, especially in a complex jurisdiction like New York State, can be intricate and nuanced. This article delves deep into the legal aspects of new york squatters rights State, shedding light on what property owners and potential squatters need to know.

What Are Squatters’ Rights?

Squatters’ rights, also known as adverse possession, allow a person to claim ownership of land under certain conditions. The concept originates from common law, wherein long-term occupation of a property without the owner’s permission can lead to ownership rights, provided certain legal criteria are met.

The Legal Framework of Adverse Possession in New York State

In New York State, the doctrine of adverse possession is codified in New York Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (RPAPL) Article 5. Under this law, a squatter can gain legal ownership of a property if they meet specific requirements over a continuous period.

Key Requirements for Adverse Possession

For a squatter to claim adverse possession in New York, the following requirements must be met:

  1. Actual Possession: The squatter must physically use the property as a property owner would. This can include activities like planting crops, building fences, or residing on the property.
  2. Open and Notorious Possession: The squatter’s occupation of the property must be visible and obvious, not secretive. It should be apparent to anyone, including the legal owner, that the squatter is claiming ownership.
  3. Exclusive Possession: The squatter must possess the property exclusively, without sharing control with others (including the legal owner).
  4. Hostile Possession: In legal terms, “hostile” means that the squatter’s possession is without the legal owner’s permission. It’s important to note that “hostile” does not imply ill will or hostility.
  5. Continuous Possession: The squatter must occupy the property continuously for a statutory period. In New York, this period is generally 10 years.


In some cases, squatters can “tack” on their time with previous occupants to meet the continuous possession requirement. For tacking to apply, there must be a transfer of possession from one squatter to another through some form of agreement or understanding.

Legal Process for Claiming Adverse Possession

Claiming adverse possession is not merely about meeting the above requirements. The squatter must formalize their claim through the legal system.

Filing a Lawsuit

The squatter must file a lawsuit in a court of law to establish their adverse possession claim. This involves:

  • Filing a Complaint: The squatter, now known as the plaintiff, must file a complaint outlining their claim and demonstrating how they have met the requirements for adverse possession.
  • Serving Notice: The legal owner (defendant) must be served notice of the lawsuit and given an opportunity to respond.
  • Court Proceedings: The case will be heard in court, where the plaintiff must provide evidence supporting their claim. Both parties can present arguments and evidence.

Potential Outcomes

If the court rules in favor of the squatter, they will be granted legal ownership of the property. However, if the court rules against the squatter, they must vacate the property, and their claim to adverse possession will be denied.

Defending Against Adverse Possession Claims

Property owners can take measures to defend against adverse possession claims. Some effective strategies include:

  1. Regular Inspections: Regularly inspecting and maintaining the property can help prevent squatters from establishing a continuous presence.
  2. Posting Notices: Posting “No Trespassing” signs and fencing off the property can demonstrate that the owner does not permit unauthorized use.
  3. Granting Permission: If the property owner discovers a squatter, granting them explicit permission to use the property can undermine the “hostile” requirement of adverse possession.
  4. Legal Action: If a squatter refuses to leave, the property owner can file an ejectment action to remove the squatter from the property.

Notable Cases of Adverse Possession in New York

Several significant cases have shaped the understanding and application of adverse possession laws in New York. Understanding these cases provides insight into how courts interpret and rule on such claims.

Walling v. Przybylo

In the 2006 case Walling v. Przybylo, the New York Court of Appeals ruled that the plaintiff had gained title to a disputed strip of land through adverse possession. Despite the defendant’s claims of permission, the court found that the plaintiff’s use was hostile, open, and notorious, leading to a ruling in favor of the squatter.

Ray v. Beacon Hudson Mtn. Corp.

In the 1998 case Ray v. Beacon Hudson Mtn. Corp., the court ruled in favor of the squatters, who had occupied and maintained a property for over 10 years. The court emphasized the importance of the squatters’ continuous and visible use of the property, leading to a successful adverse possession claim.

Ethical Considerations and Public Policy

While squatters’ rights serve to address issues related to abandoned or underutilized properties, they also raise ethical questions and public policy concerns. Balancing the rights of property owners with the needs of individuals seeking shelter and land use is a complex issue.

Property Owners’ Rights

Property owners have legitimate rights to their property, including the right to exclude others and maintain control over their assets. Adverse possession can be seen as an infringement on these rights, leading to legal and ethical debates.

Social and Economic Factors

In some cases, squatters may occupy properties out of necessity, driven by economic hardship or lack of affordable housing. Addressing these underlying social and economic factors is essential for a comprehensive approach to property rights and land use.


The legal aspects of squatters’ rights in New York State are multifaceted, involving a careful balance of requirements, legal processes, and ethical considerations. For squatters, understanding the legal criteria and pursuing formal claims is essential. For property owners, taking proactive measures to defend against adverse possession can protect their rights.

Ultimately, the doctrine of adverse possession highlights the dynamic nature of property law, where the rights and interests of individuals and society intersect. Whether you are a property owner or a potential squatter, understanding the legal landscape is crucial for navigating the complexities of squatters’ rights in New York State.

If you are involved in a squatting situation or adverse possession claim, seeking legal counsel from a qualified attorney can provide valuable guidance and ensure that your rights and interests are effectively represented.