It has been in the news a lot lately — squatters have been moving into homes and the legal owners of those dwellings can't do anything about it.

The stories that have been on TV lately are almost too numerous to mention, but one of the more infuriating ones recently involved a homeowner in Queens, NY, that confronted squatters, tried to remove them herself, and then she was the one who got arrested for trying to evict them.

So, can something like that happen in New Jersey? Yes, but...

What Exactly is a "Squatter" in New Jersey?

A squatter is defined as a person who occupies a building or land that he/she does not own, hold a lease to, or otherwise have lawful permission to use.

Squatters' Rights in New Jersey

There's good news and bad news regarding the ability for a squatter to take over your home or land in the Garden State.

Can they? Yes.

It is easy for them to do so? Well, not really.

Panuwat Dangsungnoen
Panuwat Dangsungnoen

Simply put, in New Jersey, if you go on vacation for a few days and you return to find someone living in your house, you can kick them out. However, before going further, three important things to note.

#1 — I just used the phrase "kick them out." That is not a literal term. You cannot physically assault someone found squatting as a means of removing them. In fact, it's best not to do anything yourself.

#2 — Removing a squatter is a legal process in New Jersey with lots of nuances. Yes, you must follow that process. If you find yourself in that situation, you will likely need to find a lawyer. The purpose of this writing is just to give you a general overview of what will/could happen.

#3 — If the squatter has just moved in, their occupation could be considered trespassing, not squatting. However, states the following:

More often than not, though, if the squatter has established any possessory claim to the property, which can be as simple as having slept there for a few nights, the police will not remove the squatter, and instead, advise that you file an Ejectment.

An "ejectment" is that legal process we just mentioned in the second point. That involves a formal eviction notice, court proceedings, etc.

Judge gavel, scales of justice and law books in court

Squatters vs. Homeowners in New Jersey

We surveyed numerous legal websites that tackle this subject relative to the laws of New Jersey and here's how a squatter can take what is otherwise yours and what you can do about it.

In lawyer-speak, squatting is known as "adverse possession." For someone to claim adverse possession, they must establish the following items, according to

  • The squatter must reside on the property for 30 years (60 years for uncultivated land)
  • Their occupation of the property must be obvious to anyone, including the owner
  • The squatter must not share the home/land with strangers or the original owner
  • The squatter must physically reside on the property
  • Their possession is without the owner's permission

For squatting to potentially transition into adverse possession, the occupation must typically be actual, open and notorious, hostile, and exclusive.

Other legal websites also mention that a squatter must pay property taxes on a home for at least five years to give them a leg-up.

Obviously, courts and judges can weigh other factors, but legal property owners in New Jersey seem to have the advantage here in that squatting has to happen for 30 continuous and obvious years before it could become a real headache.


Of course, the headache is, again, going through the legal process to legally evict an illegal squatter. In many cases, you can't just change the locks and throw all of their stuff away.

In summary, New Jersey's laws seem to support legal home and land owners while also protecting squatters to a degree (much to the dismay of those legal owners).

Like many things, it's a very complicated legal process and should you find yourself in this situation, the best things you can do are (1) contact your local police department as soon as humanly possible (i.e. trespassing vs. squatting), and (2) retain the services of a lawyer who can help you with the eviction process.

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