If you are moderately familiar with renting or buying real estate, you may have heard of squatters. Squatters are individuals who gain access to a vacant or unoccupied property and reside in an empty dwelling without permission. In Nevada, squatters may attempt to legally gain the rights to the property through an adverse possession claim if a property owner does not take immediate action.
Nevada has strict laws against squatting, also known as unlawful occupancy, which can complicate your life and lead to jail time and fines. At De Castroverde Criminal & Immigration, we understand people’s challenges in this tough economy. The rising cost of living in Nevada and the lack of seemingly affordable housing make it challenging to get by, and squatting may look like a viable housing option. However, squatters also have legal rights to help combat the use of vigilante justice by property owners.
Our legal team wants to help you understand squatters’ rights in Nevada and the potential consequences individuals may face if they suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of the law.
What Are Squatter Rights?
What is a squatter, and do they have rights? Technically, in Nevada, squatting or unlawful occupancy is a crime against property. The state defines unlawful occupancy as living in another person’s empty home without the property owner’s permission. In Nevada, people are squatters if they do not have the property owner’s permission to live at the residence. To prove they’re not illegally squatting, tenants of a property must provide a rental agreement or lease notarized or signed by the property owner, which includes the owner’s current address and phone number or their authorized representative.
Recently, Nevada made removing squatters from a property easier for property owners by allowing police to charge squatters with a gross misdemeanor for squatting, making it a criminal offense instead of a civil matter. Nevada squatting laws only pertain to residential properties and do not apply to individuals residing in commercial buildings or cars. However, people caught unlawfully living in non-dwellings can face trespass or burglary charges.
If squatting is unlawful, what are squatter’s rights? Squatters can lawfully claim ownership of a property they are squatting in through an adverse possession claim. To start the process, they must prove they have lived there for five uninterrupted years. However, they must make their presence at the property known, treat the property as their own by being good stewards, and prove they paid property taxes on the residence the entire time.
Additionally, the adverse possession claim must be hostile. What does that mean? In legal terms, hostile means that the squatter must either:
- Be aware of their illegal actions in occupying the property
- Occupy the property with or without knowledge it is private property
- Make an honest or good faith mistake like relying on an incorrect deed
Although squatting or unlawful entry is now a potentially criminal offense, property owners must still utilize the legal system to remove unlawful occupants from a residence. Often, that means notifying the police, serving the squatter with a 4-day Notice to Surrender, or filing a Changing of Locks & Submission of Posted Notice.
Are Squatter Rights Different in Nevada?
Squatter’s rights are different across the nation. Each state has unique laws and procedures for handling squatter complaints. Until recently, squatting in Nevada was treated as a civil matter between parties. However, Nevada now prohibits unlawful occupancy. Those arrested for unlawful occupancy can face gross misdemeanor charges. Conviction of a gross misdemeanor offense can result in up to 364 days in jail and up to $2,000 in fines. It also means the individual now has a criminal record, potentially making securing housing or a career even more challenging.
Other charges a squatter can face depending on the circumstances of the case and how they gained entrance to the property. Sometimes, a squatter can also be charged with housebreaking, unlawful reentry, burglary, trespass, and unlawful occupancy. If an individual has three or more prior convictions for the offense, they can face category D felony charges. A category D felony conviction can lead to one to four years in Nevada State Prison and up to $5,000 in fines.
There are defense strategies that can help individuals fight back against squatting charges. Common tactics a criminal defense lawyer may use to beat unlawful occupancy charges depend on the circumstances of the case but may include:
- The individual had the owner’s permission
- The individual reasonably believed they could lawfully occupy the residence
- The individual spent time in the dwelling but did not live in it
- The residence is not technically considered a dwelling
Squatters should not try to defend themselves against unlawful occupancy charges alone. They should turn to an experienced criminal defense lawyer for help protecting their legal rights. Unlawful occupancy is no longer a civil matter. It can be a criminal matter. A conviction could jeopardize the things important to you, such as your freedom, reputation, and ability to secure gainful employment.
Changes in Nevada law and the difference between Nevada law and the laws of other states can make it confusing for squatters trying to understand their legal rights. If you are facing unlawful occupancy charges in Nevada, consult a skilled criminal defense attorney for help immediately. Property owners act to protect their investments. You need to act quickly to protect your rights.
Contact a Knowledgeable Nevada Squatter Rights Attorney Today
Are you concerned about how Nevada’s squatting laws may impact you? Remember, you have legal rights. Protect those rights by seeking immediate representation from an experienced Las Vegas criminal defense lawyer. At De Castroverde Criminal & Immigration, our skilled attorneys want to help you navigate this challenging and frightening situation. Don’t wait for the property owner to act. Get a knowledgeable attorney on your side now. Contact our Las Vegas office today for a confidential consultation. Our award-winning attorneys want to help you achieve the best resolution possible in your circumstances.