You are asking why squatters have rights in New York. The answer is, it’s because the city has an interest in keeping people off the streets, which the city is arguably trying to do at property owners’ expense.
New York’s laws and jurisprudence state that squatters begin to have rights 30 days after staying in the property. After 30 days of staying in the property, they can only be evicted through judicial process.
Squatters are not limited to persons who occupy abandoned properties without the permission of the owner. A squatter can be someone who was initially given permission to stay in the property, but thereafter refused to leave the property.
For example, if a landlord initially allowed his cousin to stay in his apartment for free for one month, but after one month, the cousin refused to vacate, the cousin can be considered a squatter.
A squatter can also be someone who previously leased the property, but thereafter, refused to pay rent and leave the property. This person is also called a holdover tenant.
As another example, a person leases the apartment from the landlord, and thereafter loses her job and was unable to pay rent, but still refuses to leave the apartment, that person can be considered a squatter. In these cases, one cannot simply just call the sheriff or police to kick out the holdover tenant or the free-loader cousin.
These squatters can only be evicted through judicial process. This costs not only time, but also a lot of money.
What rights to squatters have
After asking why squatters have rights in New York, it is also important to know what rights the squatters have.
Once a squatter has stayed for more than 30 days in the property, he cannot be evicted without judicial process.
The landlord must also serve the squatter with the proper forms, such as a notice of petition, a petition to recover possession of real property, and an affidavit of service (to name a few). Different notices are required for holdover tenants, depending on the factual circumstances of the case (Notice to Cure, Notice to Quit, Notice of Termination).
Prior to the expiration of the initial 30-day period, the squatter is considered a criminal trespasser and can be removed by police officers.
Another right a squatter has in New York (except for holdover tenants) is the right to acquire the property by adverse possession. Adverse possession is a person’s occupation of another person’s real property with or without knowledge of that other person’s superior ownership rights that would give an owner a cause of action for ejectment. Real Property Actions & Proceedings Law (RPAPL) § 501 (1). Under New York jurisprudence, a person can acquire property through adverse possession when such occupation is: (a) hostile and under a claim of right; (b) actual; (c) open and notorious; (d) exclusive; and (e) continuous for the required period – which is 10 years under RPAPL § 501 (2) in relation to Civil Practice Law & Rules § 212. You can learn more about adverse possession here by reading the case Hogan v. Kelly, 86 A.D.3d 590 (2011).
These requirements simply mean that the squatter must occupy the property against all other persons. Such occupation must be actual and continuous for 10 years. There must be no instance of abandonment of the property. And, the occupation must also be made to the exclusion of all other persons.
Moreover, for a squatter to acquire property through adverse possession, there are two additional requirements, aside from above.
First, the squatter must have color of title;
Second, the squatter must have paid property taxes over the property for the 10 continuous years of occupation.
Because of these additional requirements, it’s quite difficult for a squatter to acquire property through adverse possession.
However, even if it is difficult for the squatters to acquire property through adverse possession, it is also difficult and expensive for a landowner to evict them judicially. For these reasons, landlords/landowners prefer to pay the squatters to vacate the property rather than go through the expensive, litigious process of evicting the squatters.
How to prevent squatters from gaining rights
To prevent squatters from developing rights, the landowner must be vigilant with his property. He must enclose his property with fences and ensure that the house’s windows are locked. He must install no trespassing signs. He must constantly keep checking the property to ensure it is free from criminal trespassers. The landowner must remove the trespasser from his property before the 30 days are up.
Otherwise, the squatter becomes a legal tenant, and a legal tenant has certain rights.
If you have are asking why squatters have rights in New York and have problems with squatters, you must seek legal counsel immediately and ensure that you act prior to the expiration of the 30-day period.