As a landlord in Illinois, it’s always a good idea to get familiar with squatter’s rights to prevent someone else from claiming ownership of your property. A squatter is a person who occupies a property or part of land without the owner’s permission and often claims legal ownership. 

Not only is squatting legal in states like Illinois, but squatters also have their own set of rights. If they meet all requirements under Illinois’ Adverse Possession Laws, including occupying a property for at least 20 years, a squatter can actually be legally entitled to the property without paying anything to the owner.

The last thing a landlord needs is to have a stranger take over their land or property, that’s why it’s so important to be informed about squatter’s rights and protections. Here’s what you need to know about adverse possession and how to prevent squatters on your land.

Understanding Illinois’s Squatter Rights

In Illinois, squatting can happen for many reasons, such as a person occupying an abandoned property or moving into a foreclosed home. Other common reasons include:

  • A person taking shelter in your home due to an emergency or unforeseen circumstance
  • The occupants were not aware that the property was yours or that they needed your permission
  • A neighbor assumes part of your land accidentally by maintaining it, putting their property on it, or paying taxes on it
  • A misunderstanding with the title deed or having some or partial documents but not the full title to the land

No matter the reasons a squatter ended up on the property, Illinois law states that they may be able to gain title and ownership of the property after residing for 20 years. Property taxes and a color of title are usually also required to make an adverse possession claim. 

The only way landlords can legally remove a squatter from the property is to follow standard Illinois eviction laws.

What’s the Difference Between Squatting and Trespassing?

It’s important to understand the difference between squatting and trespassing, as one may be considered a criminal offense while others are not. There are three common types of unwanted occupants, each of which will determine the appropriate action to take as a landlord:

  • Squatting: Remember that a squatter lives on the property without permission and is usually taking advantage of a vacant, foreclosed, or otherwise abandoned property. Squatters do not make rent payments.
  • Trespassing: Trespassing is a criminal offense because the person who enters the property knows they are entering without permission. Often, trespassers are breaking and entering, hiding, or ignoring trespasser warnings.
  • Holdover Tenants: The last type of occupant is a holdover tenant. This is where a person was a tenant on the property at some point, but the lease agreement ended, and the tenant should have moved out but didn’t. A tenant may remain on the property because they’re unable to find another place to live, have frustrations with the landlord, or in cases like a recession or pandemic.

Illinois Adverse Possession Claims

In order for a squatter to make a claim on a property in Illinois, several conditions must be met. These conditions are known as adverse possession laws and govern how squatters can prove legal claim over a property as well as how the owner of a property can evict a squatter if necessary.

Is a Color of Title Needed for Adverse Possession in Illinois?

No, a color of title (a document that appears to be a legitimate claim to the land but is not) may be a requirement for filing an Adverse Possession Claim in many states, but not Illinois. However, having one may be helpful and even expedite the process. 

Possession Claim Requirements

If a squatter decides to claim adverse possession of the property they are inhabiting, they must meet all of these requirements. Missing even one of these claims will result in a denial of possession, which can be a relief for landlords worried about losing their property. These claims include the following: 

  1. Hostility: Hostility, in this case, does not mean a violent takeover. Instead, it means the possessor (or squatter) must either have made a genuine, good-faith mistake and did not realize they were trespassing until after a long time passed, or were aware of their illegal trespassing.
  2. Actual Possession: The person must live physically on the land and maintain and treat the property as if it were their own.
  3. Open and Notorious Possession: The squatter must be open and obvious about their occupancy and cannot hide out of sight. The person must live as if they were rightfully living on the property.
  4. Exclusive and Continuous: To qualify for squatters’ rights in Illinois, a person must not share their possession with others and must be solely occupying the property for twenty years. If they leave and return at a later date, the time starts over.

Squatter’s rights are only applicable in Illinois if a person can clearly demonstrate that they have been on the property for more than 20 years, fit all requirements listed above, did not use the property for illegal activities, and can show that they pay property taxes.

Eviction Process for Property Owners

What if someone has already taken up residence on your property? Whether it was intentional or not, there are steps you can take to regain your possession. First, do not try to remove them yourself. Here’s how to properly evict a squatter while abiding by Illinois laws:

  1. Call the Police: You’ll need a good paper trail to start, and calling the police will allow you to get a report issued and give you protection.
  2. Serve an Eviction Notice: Serve the squatter with an eviction notice stating that, as the owner, you are asking them to leave the premises by a certain date to risk further legal action.
  3. Continue with the Eviction Process: If the squatters refuse to leave, ask an attorney in Illinois or a sheriff to start filing for eviction. You may need to attend court proceedings and present your case, depending on the situation. If the sheriff or court rules in your favor, the sheriff's department will assist in physically removing the squatters from the property. 

Visit our blog for more details on the laws and rules regarding the Illinois eviction process.

How to Prevent Squatters on Your Property

When it comes to squatters, prevention is crucial. As a landlord, there are measures you can take to protect your properties, potentially saving you time and money in the long run. Take these steps to protect your property:

  • Pay Property Taxes: If you want to secure your ownership, make sure to pay property taxes each year.
  • Install a Security System: A good security system can protect a vacant or foreclosed home from squatters trying to move in. If someone attempts to break in, you can get notified immediately and act before they have a chance to settle. The initial setup can be expensive, but it’s worth it considering the alternative.
  • Carefully Screen Tenants: Screen each tenant before they move into your property. This can help you avoid renting to someone previously involved in criminal activity. Try our tenant screening tools in TenantCloud, which include a background check, credit check, and financial summary.
  • Visit the Property Often: Check your property often or have a neighbor or other professional perform regular check-ins for you. If you’re far away from the property, a property management company might be a worthy investment. Frequent visits will help deter anyone trying to squat.
  • Keep a Lived-in Presence: Store items in or outside of the home to make it look like someone lives there, even if it’s empty. Stay on top of landscaping, get the mail, and clean it regularly.
  • Address Lease Violations: If you suspect you have an occupant overstaying their welcome, take immediate action. Issue a proper warning and initiate the eviction process as soon as possible.
  • No Trespassing Signs: Putting up “No Trespassing” signs will make it more difficult for a squatter to claim they did not know they were occupying the home illegally.


Illinois’s squatter rights law can be a nightmare for a landlord. However, the more you understand the laws, take preventive measures, and trust in the eviction process, the more you can protect your property. Seek legal advice and consult with local authorities if you find yourself in this situation.

Your property is an investment, and by taking the proper course of action, you can safeguard it from unwanted intruders.

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Do squatters need to pay property taxes to claim my property?

Yes, in Illinois, paying property taxes shows that you own the property and remain in control even if squatters currently occupy it.

Can landlords in Illinois remove squatters?

No, Illinois landlords do not have the right to remove people from their property outside of the legal system. The only way to evict a squatter in Illinois is to talk to a sheriff or follow the legal eviction process.

Is it a good idea to let squatters pay rent?

If a squatter pays rent, they will become tenants, and if you’d like to evict them, it may make the eviction process more difficult. In some cases, letting them pay rent may be beneficial, but you’ll want to consult with a legal professional before choosing to let occupants stay.

What properties are more likely to attract squatters?

A vacant, abandoned, or otherwise empty home is an easy target for squatters.