What are Virginia squatters rights?

Having a squatter on your unoccupied land can be a significant inconvenience, especially when you aim to preserve the property’s quality for eventual use. It’s important for landowners to note that in Virginia, the concept of squatters rights exists. This means squatters can acquire certain legal rights over a property if they successfully meet the conditions required for a claim under Virginia squatters rights, often referred to as an adverse possession claim.

Still, it takes the squatter to meet several legal requirements to gain legal ownership over someone else’s property, so there’s a wide range of measures to prevent squatters on your vacant property.

Who Is Considered A Squatter

Virginia considers a squatter someone who occupies a property without the owner’s knowledge. More often than not, squatters occupy properties that have been foreclosed, abandoned, or are simply unoccupied. Since they don’t have the owner’s permission, squatters also don’t have any obligation to pay rent.

What is the Difference Between a Squatter and a Trespasser?

As a property owner, knowing that a squatter and a trespasser are not the same thing is essential. A trespasser knowingly enters someone’s house, building, or land without permission or authorization. Trespassing is considered a criminal offense, thus, once it is determined that a person is a trespasser, that person can be removed by the Sheriff’s office.

On the other hand, a squatter has taken up residence on someone else’s property and intends to live there as if they were the owner. A clear example of a squatter who was NOT a trespasser is someone who was once a tenant but failed to pay the rent and is now being evicted. If this person decides to stay in the property and not move out as asked, they are now considered a squatter.

What Are Squatters Rights In Virginia?

A squatter must occupy a property for a specific time to gain squatters rights. The conditions are as follows:

Claim needs to be hostile: In property law, ‘hostile’ differs from the conventional one. It’s defined in three ways: Simple Occupation, Awareness of Trespassing, and Good Faith Mistake. Most states, including Virginia, go with the first definition: Simple Occupation. This means the squatter doesn’t have to know who the land belongs to.

Possession needs to be actual: The squatter needs to have a physical presence on the property. In addition, they need to treat the property like the owner would. Any property improvements, such as landscaping or fencing, can be used to prove actual possession.

The possession must be evident: Under the Open & Notorious doctrine, a squatter must make their occupation evident to anyone. Even the neighbors and the actual property owner should be able to determine that someone is living there.

Possession must be exclusive: The squatter must also possess the property exclusively. They must not share it with other squatters or strangers.

The possession must be continuous: As mentioned, Virginia squatters need to occupy a property for at least 15 years to qualify for an adverse possession claim. Additionally, this period must be uninterrupted.

Tips to Preventing Squatters at Your Rental Property

A property owner or landlord cannot be everywhere all the time. Thus, your vacant property could fall victim to a squatter if not adequately monitored. So, while no one can predict every vulnerability, consider taking the steps below to prevent squatters in your rental.

  • Install a security system with remote viewing capability
  • Post “No Trespassing” or “Private Property” signs
  • Periodically inspect the property for evidence of squatters
  • Entrust a neighbor or local property management firm to check the premises periodically

How to Remove Squatters in Virginia 

It is important to note that squatters rights in Virginia grant them certain rights compared to trespassers, and dealing with a squatter requires caution from the landlord. 

For that reason, when dealing with someone who has taken possession of a property without the owner’s permission, it is recommended to consult a local attorney who specializes in eviction law and has vast knowledge of eviction laws and squatters rights in Virginia.

Although, in most cases, evicting a squatter must be handled through the Virginia court system with judicial action, there are certain avenues a landlord or property manager can take to remove a squatter from their property.

Call the Sheriff

The sheriff’s office may be unable to remove the person from the property if the person taking possession is considered a squatter and not a trespasser. However, calling the sheriff is an excellent initial step because it logs a record of the incident and generates a report that the property owner can then show as evidence if the case escalates to the court system.

Serve an Eviction Notice

During eviction, the property owner or manager must notify the person occupying the property before the sheriff’s office can legally remove them. And even though, at the early stages, you may not be looking at a situation in which you have to involve the court system If the squatter does not have a legal claim to the property through adverse possession or color of title, in Virginia, a landlord can remove a squatter by serving them with an Eviction Notice. There are three types of eviction notices in the state of Virginia.

  •  5-Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit
  •  30-Day Notice to Cure or Quit
  •  30-Day Unconditional Quit Notice

Start the Eviction Proceedings 

Evicting a squatter requires due process from the landlord and a careful approach. If a squatter claims adverse possession and refuses to leave the premises after the time allotted in the Eviction Notice, the next step would be to start proceedings in the county’s court.

This will initiate a hearing process in which the case will be presented before a judge, and a ruling will be made based on the case details.


If you aren’t careful, squatters can gain possession of your property. We hope this blog about squatting laws in Virginia was helpful!  Property neglect to the extent that a squatter could go unnoticed for the required period is rare, emphasizing the importance of vigilance and preventative measures in protecting property rights. 

Paul Johnson

Paul is a reputable local house-buying professional, also a real estate agent (Virginia). Count on his nearly fifteen (15) years of expertise in being part of resolving any issues that may threaten transactions, being accessible, and answering questions, as well as remaining transparent throughout closing transactions. One of Paul's Favorite Quotes: "To Give Anything Less Than Your Best Is To Sacrifice the Gift."

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