Prompted by this question.

As per the title: is there any lawful reason preventing a former tenant from playing the long-game to obtain adverse possession via squatters' rights?

3 Answers 3


As noted in another answer, during the term of the lease, possession is permissive and therefore not adverse, and the time does not being to run. Typically, the required time period is very long (ten to twenty years depending upon the jurisdiction), in the absence of color of title, which the tenant lacks.

Also, there is a common law presumption in most states that a tenant who holds over beyond the lease term becomes a month to month tenant on the same terms of the original lease, rather than a trespasser. So, during the term of the month to month lease holdover period, the tenant is also permissive in occupancy and not adverse. The tenant is not really adverse until the landlord obtains an order of possession and/or writ of restitution in an eviction proceeding, which is generally followed promptly by an eviction under the supervision of the relevant government official pursuant to court order.

It would be exceedingly rare for the landlord not to seek an eviction in the requisite time period.

Even if the landlord does not take action to evict, the signature of the lease may estop the tenant from claiming adverse possession, since it is an express acknowledgement of the landlord's title.

The tenant's signature on the lease is also inconsistent with the requirement of good faith present in adverse possession statutes in many states.

  • 1
    This hits the nail on the head for me: it is an express acknowledgement of the landlord's title
    – user35069
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 8:19
  • 1
    In typical cases, the landlord has died, the heirs (if they exist) are unaware of the property and the city starts collecting taxes from the tenants, which roughly at the same time stop paying rent and take over maintenance of the building. If that situation remains unchallenged for thirty years, it absolutely makes sense to transfer the title, and this is what the law is about. It requires significant inaction on the side of the owner over decades. Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 9:42
  • Is it possible for a renter to ever gain color of title, while the landlord is the title holder on paper? If they gain that does the clock start ticking when the rental agreement began?
    – ZeroPhase
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 6:36
  • @ZeroPhase "Is it possible for a renter to ever gain color of title, while the landlord is the title holder on paper?" No. A renter is estopped from doing so by the lease which makes possession permissive even if the lease is overstayed.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 13:49

The possession is not adverse during the tenancy, so the clock does not run.

If the tenancy contract ends or is violated for [appropriate length depending on location] with no reaction from the landlord, that is grounds for adverse possession.

  • In many jurisdictions, as noted in another answer, the end of the tenancy contract without any action from the landlord or tenant results in a statutory tenancy that requires some explicit action to terminate.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 0:09
  • @phoog, yes, although in typical adverse possession cases, that statutory tenancy would have long been terminated as neither party had fulfilled their obligations. Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 9:52
  • Right, but the last paragraph says "with no reaction from the landlord." If the lease ends, the tenant remains without paying rent, and the landlord takes no action, then the statutory tenancy would persist, wouldn't it, while the tenant becomes increasingly indebted to the landlord.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 13:42
  • @phoog, the non-payment would terminate the statutory tenancy, since it is month-to-month and the tenant's behavior indicates that they wish to terminate the contract (in the absence of a statement otherwise). No action from the landlord is required for this, as the statutory tenancy only extends if neither party indicates a desire to dissolve the contract, but non-payment is interpreted that way. Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 13:55
  • in what jurisdiction? That is certainly not how it works in New York City.
    – phoog
    Commented Aug 4, 2021 at 15:33


The landlord will seek a court order to evict them.

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