In the world of housing, it's common for people to rent their home from a landowner and become a tenant. However, some people, generally known as squatters, occupy a home or other real property without owning or renting it. The laws governing tenants and squatters differ significantly between states, and even cities, so talk to a lawyer if you need legal advice about your rights.
A tenant is someone who rents property from a landowner. People can enter into a landlord-tenant relationship whenever they agree to occupy or rent a property from a landlord, and can do so either verbally or with a lease or other document. If a tenant stays in a property without paying rent or violated the rental agreement, a landlord has the right to evict the tenant and forcibly remove her from the property.
A squatter is someone who occupies or lives on a property without the owner's consent — and sometimes without the owner's knowledge. Squatters typically occupy vacant structures without notifying the owner or entering into a rental agreement and without paying rent, and are typically not considered tenants. However, some cities have laws that grant squatters the same rights as a tenant if the squatter has resided in the property for 30 days, according to the San Francisco Tenant's Union. However, a landlord can still evict a tenant, even if the tenant acquired tenant status through squatting.
The term "squatter's rights," though commonly used, is not really a legal term. When someone talks about squatter's rights, he is referring to the legal concept of "adverse possession." Through adverse possession, a non-land owner can become the legal owner of property that previously belonged to someone else without ever having to pay for it or enter into any kind of contract or sales agreement. Adverse possession is a tough law to meet, typically requiring the claimant to live on or use the land continuously for many years before he can claim the property as his own.
Squatters and Tenanats
A tenant is not a squatter. Even if a tenant has rented a property for enough time to meet her state's adverse possession time requirements, a tenant cannot claim the property as her own through adverse possession. One requirement of an adverse possession claim is that the claimant must have occupied the property without the owner's permission. When you rent a property, the owner grants permission for you to be there and thus eliminates any adverse possession claim you may have.