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Do you live in Canada and have a squatter in your home? Here is a quick article on what to do if you discover a squatter in your home.

Understanding Squatting Rights in Canada

Introduction: Understanding Squatter Rights in Canada

What do you do if you one day come home to find squatters in your beloved home?Picture this: you've returned from a long stay at the cottage, only to discover unexpected guests living in your property. It sounds like a plot twist you’d rather avoid, right? Across Canada, the concept of squatter's rights—more formally known as adverse possession—can seem like a legal loophole turned nightmare for property owners. But fear not! This guide is designed to navigate the provincial nuances of squatter's rights, this can be a headache and difficult to navigate.

What is a Squatter Exactly?

A squatter is someone who occupies land or a building without the legal right to do so. Unlike tenants who have formal agreements or leases with property owners, squatters do not have permission from the owner to be on the property. Squatting can range from someone living in an abandoned or unoccupied building to someone using land that they don't own. While squatting is often viewed negatively due to the lack of legal entitlement, in some cases, squatters may attempt to claim rights to the property they occupy through a legal principle known as "adverse possession," depending on the laws of the specific jurisdiction. This requires the squatter to occupy the property openly, continuously, and without the owner's permission for a certain period, among other conditions.

Squatter's Rights Across Canada

Squatter law can be complicated and, squatter's rights are a patchwork of provincial statutes and common law. Before we dive into provincial specifics, let's debunk a common myth: squatters can't simply walk into a property and claim ownership overnight. The process involves years of uninterrupted occupancy and, in many cases, requires the squatter to act as if they are the rightful owner. Province to province the laws and requirements will vary, here are some examples of the squatter laws in some of our provinces and how they differ:

Squatters Rights in British Columbia

In British Columbia (BC), the concept of squatter's rights is rooted in the legal principle of adverse possession. However, the ability to claim land through adverse possession has been significantly restricted. According to Section 28 of the British Columbia Limitations Act, it is no longer possible to acquire land through adverse possession unless the squatter’s right to the land was established before July 1, 1975. This means that most claims of adverse possession are no longer valid for land registered under the Land Title Act, which covers the vast majority of properties in BC.

To claim adverse possession in BC, a squatter must have occupied the land openly, notoriously, and continuously for at least 10 years, acting as if they were the rightful owner. Despite these requirements, successful claims are rare due to the comprehensive land registration system in place​ (Nanaimo Law)​​ (Bella Virtual Staging)​​ (Vancouver Magazine)​.

    How to Deal with Squatters in BC:

    1. Immediate Action: If you discover a squatter, act quickly. The longer you allow the squatter to stay, the more challenging it can become to remove them.
    2. Legal Notice: Provide the squatter with a formal eviction notice. If they do not leave, you may need to pursue a legal eviction through the courts.
    3. Involve Law Enforcement: If squatters are engaging in illegal activities or if there is an immediate risk to property, involving the police might be necessary.
    4. Secure the Property: Once squatters are removed, secure your property to prevent future instances. This can include improving fences, gates, and locks, and regularly inspecting the property.
    5. Seek Legal Advice: Given the complexities around land ownership and rights, consulting with a lawyer who specializes in real estate or property law is advisable. They can provide guidance specific to your situation and help navigate the legal process if required.
    For homeowners, it's crucial to maintain regular oversight of your property and address any unauthorized use promptly to safeguard your ownership rights. If you suspect adverse possession or have concerns about squatters, a legal expert can provide the necessary guidance and action step

    Squatters Rights in Alberta

    In Alberta, squatter's rights also follow the principle of adverse possession, requiring a person to occupy the land continuously and openly for at least 10 years. The occupation must be notorious, actual, and exclusive, meaning the squatter must act as if they are the owner without sharing possession with others, including the legal owner.

    However, Alberta’s Land Titles Act offers strong protection against adverse possession claims for registered lands, making it difficult for squatters to claim ownership of such properties. As a result, while adverse possession is theoretically possible, practical enforcement is limited due to these protective measures​ (Bella Virtual Staging)​.

    Understanding Squatter Rights in Alberta:

    1. Adverse Possession: This is a legal principle that allows a person to claim ownership of land under specific conditions. In Alberta, the squatter must have possessed the land continuously and openly for at least 10 years.

    2. Requirements: The possession must be notorious (known by others), actual (exercising control over the land), and exclusive (without sharing possession with others, including the legal owner).

    3. Land Titles Act Protection: Alberta's Land Titles Act provides strong protection against adverse possession claims for registered lands. This act makes it very difficult for squatters to claim adverse possession if the land is registered, which is typically the case.

    Dealing with Squatters in Alberta:

    1. Early Intervention: Address the presence of squatters as soon as possible. The longer squatters occupy land, the more complicated it can become to remove them.

    2. Legal Notices: Provide squatters with a formal notice to vacate. If this is ineffective, legal action may be necessary.

    3. Police Involvement: If squatters are suspected of illegal activities or refuse to leave after being ordered, contact the police.

    4. Secure Your Property: After removing squatters, take steps to secure the property to prevent future occurrences. This might include improving physical barriers such as fences and locks.

    5. Consult a Lawyer: Given the complexities of property laws and the potential for legal disputes, consulting with a lawyer who specializes in real estate or property law is recommended. They can provide guidance tailored to your specific situation.

    For landowners in Alberta, it's crucial to monitor your property regularly and address any unauthorized uses promptly to protect your property rights. Legal professionals can offer the necessary legal framework and procedures to effectively deal with squatters under Alberta's laws.

    Squatters Rights in Ontario

    The End of Squatter's Rights?: Ontario has made moves to eliminate squatter's rights on registered land through the Land Titles Act, aligning with a more modern approach to property ownership and registration. Historical claims might still exist under certain conditions, but they are increasingly rare. 

    In Ontario, the concept of "squatter rights" refers to adverse possession, where someone other than the landowner occupies the land without permission and can potentially acquire legal ownership if certain conditions are met. Here’s how adverse possession works in Ontario and how you can deal with it:

    Understanding Squatter Rights in Ontario:

    1. Adverse Possession Requirements: For a squatter to claim adverse possession in Ontario, they must have exclusive possession for a continuous period of 10 years, use the land openly, notoriously, and without the legal owner's permission.

    2. Legal Framework: Ontario's legal system requires clear evidence of the squatter's continuous and uninterrupted possession. The squatter must also show that they acted as the landowners would, such as maintaining or improving the property.

    3. Changes in Law: Recent changes in Ontario's property laws, particularly with the transition to the Land Titles system, have made it much more difficult to claim adverse possession. Most new properties and properties that have been sold after the mid-2000s are under this system, which essentially eliminates the possibility of adverse possession claims.

    How to Deal with Squatters in Ontario:

    1. Early Action: If you suspect that squatters are occupying your land, it's crucial to act quickly. The longer they remain, the more complex it could be to remove them.

    2. Legal Notices and Eviction: Start by issuing a formal notice for them to vacate the property. If they do not comply, legal action may be required, typically starting with an application to the court.

    3. Documentation and Surveillance: Keep thorough documentation of any interactions and the state of the property. Consider surveillance or regular visits to ensure there is evidence that counters any claims of exclusive possession.

    4. Physical Security: Improve the physical security of the property. This may involve installing fences, locks, and security cameras to prevent unauthorized access.

    5. Legal Assistance: Consult with a lawyer experienced in real estate law to navigate the complexities of property rights and adverse possession claims in Ontario. This is particularly important if the squatter attempts to claim adverse possession.

    For property owners in Ontario, understanding the legal rights and processes surrounding adverse possession is crucial. By taking proactive measures and seeking legal advice when necessary, landowners can effectively manage and resolve issues related to squatters.

    Squatters Rights in Quebec

    A Civil Law Perspective: Quebec, with its unique civil law system, handles adverse possession differently. The concept exists under the term "acquisitive prescription," requiring 10 years of possession for movable property and 30 years for immovable property, with specific conditions attached.

    In Quebec, the concept of "squatter rights" relates to the legal doctrine known as "acquisitive prescription" (prescription acquisitive), which allows a person to become the owner of a property after possessing it continuously, openly, and without permission for a certain period of time.

    Understanding Squatter Rights in Quebec:

    1. Acquisitive Prescription: In Quebec, a squatter must possess the property continuously for at least 10 years if the true owner is present in Quebec, and 30 years if the owner is not present. This possession must be peaceful, public, continuous, and as an owner.

    2. Registration System: Quebec operates under a civil law system, which is different from the common law system used in most of Canada. Properties are registered in the land registry, and this system helps to prevent unauthorized adverse possession claims because property rights are well-documented and protected.

    How to Deal with Squatters in Quebec:

    1. Immediate Action: If you discover a squatter, it's crucial to act quickly. Delaying action can complicate the process of removing them.

    2. Legal Notice: Issue a formal eviction notice. If the squatter does not comply, legal proceedings may be necessary.

    3. Involve Authorities: In cases where squatters refuse to leave or there are concerns about illegal activities, contacting local law enforcement is advisable.

    4. Secure the Property: After removing squatters, ensure that the property is secured. This can involve installing new locks, security systems, or physical barriers.

    5. Legal Assistance: Consulting with a lawyer who specializes in real estate or property law in Quebec is critical. They can offer guidance specific to Quebec's legal context and help ensure that your property rights are upheld.

    For property owners in Quebec, understanding local laws concerning property rights and squatter claims is essential. Proactive management and legal guidance are key to effectively resolving issues related to squatters.

    Legal and Preventive Measures

    Across all provinces, the key to preventing adverse possession is vigilance and active property management. Regular inspections, proper fencing, clear signage, and up-to-date registrations are your best defenses against unwanted occupancies.

    Expert Advice: Navigating Squatter Situations

    Consulting with Legal Experts: The diversity in provincial laws means that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Consulting a legal expert knowledgeable about your province’s laws is crucial when facing a potential squatter situation.

    Community and Law Enforcement Engagement: Sometimes, a community approach works best. Engaging with neighbours and local law enforcement can help deter squatters and assist in resolving situations amicably.

    Final Words on Dealing with Squatter

    Navigating squatter's rights in Canada doesn't have to be a daunting task. With a solid understanding of your province's laws and proactive property management, you can protect your property from unwanted claims. Remember, when in doubt, consulting a legal professional is always the best course of action.

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