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Squatters' rights in Michigan: What homeowners should know

A neat suburban house in Michiga
Squatting is a form of trespassing, but in this case, uninvited visitors begin to live in the home. In Michigan, squatting is a crime that can result in fines or jail time. (Shutterstock)
  • Squatting has become a growing problem for homeowners across the country 
  • In Michigan, a second squatting offense is a felony that can result in jail time and a $10,000 fine 
  • Experts say homeowners can be held responsible for improperly removing a squatter

Lawmakers across the country are cracking down on squatting, or people living in unoccupied properties without permission. 

Michigan has had a law on the books for 10 years that makes squatting a crime, but homeowners can't physically remove unwanted occupants from their property.

State Rep. Ken Borton, R-Gaylord, proposed a bill this month that would make it easier for homeowners to remove squatters from their property. It would allow a county sheriff to order an immediate removal and, if necessary, to arrest squatters if a homeowner files a complaint and verifies that they’ve asked the people to leave.


The homeowner would have to acknowledge that the people are not former tenants and that any documentation the occupants provide is fraudulent.   


“More and more reports of squatters have been popping up across the country, and Michigan is not immune,” Borton said in a press statement. “I refuse to sit by and wait until squatting becomes a larger issue here.”

Borton cited the case of a Lansing homeowner who in 2021 fought a months-long battle to get uninvited occupants to leave his home.

High-profile cases nationwide have brought squatting into the spotlight. In Los Angeles, a group of squatters were accused of living in a multimillion-dollar mansion in Hollywood Hills. Two squatters in New York were accused of murdering a woman who went to prepare a property for a family friend.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a measure allowing law enforcement to immediately remove squatters for refusing to leave the homeowner’s property. 

The law also makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to present false documents claiming the property and a second-degree felony for squatting and causing more than $1,000 in damages. 

What is squatting?

Squatting, also called “illegal occupancy”  is a type of trespassing when someone not only enters another person's property without the owner's permission but begins to take residence on that property.  

In Michigan, a first squatting offense is a misdemeanor punishable by up to $5,000 or 180 days in jail. The second offense is a felony punishable by up to $10,000 or two years in jail. 

Homeowners who are facing foreclosure or tenants fighting eviction who are still living on the property are not considered squatters during the foreclosure or eviction process, according to the Michigan Municipal League

It’s common for people to squat in what some might consider their “vacation home” or a place that is only occupied by the homeowner for part of the year,  said Gerald Fisher, retired municipal attorney for Clarkston. 

I found a squatter on my property, what should I do? 

Although squatting is illegal in Michigan, squatters do have rights and are protected by the law. If a homeowner finds someone squatting on their property the best course of action is to call the local authorities. 

A homeowner can face legal consequences for forcefully removing a squatter from their property, threatening them or starting a violent altercation with them. 

“If the actual owner goes to the door, and the squatter comes out and the actual homeowner starts going after them with a gun … or assaults them,  then it's possible that the homeowner could be held responsible at least on a temporary basis,” Fisher said.

Law enforcement, Fisher said, “may go after the actual owner because they have started the altercation.” 

Homeowners can take other steps to remove squatters from their property, such as asking them to leave within a certain time, changing the locks, or boarding the windows and doors when the squatter is gone, Fisher said. 

The owner can also put fences or other barriers up to prevent the person from entering their property but these tactics should only be used to remove squatters. If the person is a former homeowner or tenant, implementing these tactics is considered illegal, according to the Michigan Municipal League

How do I get a squatter to leave my property? 

If a squatter still refuses to leave, the homeowner can take legal action.

“The first thing might be to go to law enforcement and say, ‘I've got somebody squatting on my property’,” Fisher said. “They would certainly have to do an investigation first and then law enforcement visits the person, or if a prosecutor writes him a letter or something, they may just leave.” 

Homeowners can also file a civil suit, but Fisher said that can end up being even more tiresome for the homeowner. 

“If you want to go to court and evict somebody, number one, it takes a fair amount of time,” he said. “You may feel the necessity of hiring a lawyer, which is paying money in order to get your own property back.” 


Can a squatter claim “squatters’ rights” and refuse to leave? 

On rare occasions, squatters can take the property by “adverse possession.” In order to do so, they must live on the property consecutively for 15 years and maintain the property as if they were the homeowner. 

If the true homeowner made no attempt to remove the squatter during the 15 years the squatter can claim the property. 

In order to do so, the squatter would have to go to court to claim the title of the house, then the court would decide who the true owner is. 

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