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What rights do squatters have in New York?

  • Cases of true squatters—those who break into properties to live there—are rare in NYC
  • To establish ownership, a squatter would have to live and care for a property for at least 10 years
Celia Young Headshot
By Celia Young  |
April 8, 2024 - 10:30AM
Close-up view of New York City style apartment buildings with emergency stairs along Mott Street in Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan, New York, United States. stock photo

There have been a handful of shocking news stories about squatters recently, including three cases in Queens.


I’ve seen a lot of headlines about squatters taking over properties and refusing to leave. What rights do squatters have in NYC? Do I need to be worried about this?

No, it’s not “squatter season” in New York City, according to our experts, even though there have been a few cases involving squatters in the news. If you're concerned, you should be aware New York state law enables you to remove a squatter from your property.

Cases of true squatters—individuals who break into a property and set up camp there—are very rare in NYC, says Sam Himmelstein, a partner at Himmelstein McConnell Gribben & Joseph (and a Brick sponsor FYI). 

“I’ve been practicing for 44 years,” Himmelstein says. “I can count on two hands—maybe one—how many actual squatter cases I’ve had.”

There have been a handful of eye-catching stories about squatters recently, including three cases in Queens. In one example, police arrested the owner of a Queens home after she attempted to evict alleged squatters. In another, the caretaker of a Queens property’s former owner refused to leave after the owner died and the property was sold.

But both landlord and tenant attorneys in the borough said cases of squatters who break into a home and refuse to leave are very unusual, Gothamist reported. And it’s quite difficult for a squatter to claim ownership over a property they do not own in NYC.

“There is no crisis,” says Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney at the Legal Aid Society. “There isn’t a rise in squatting.”

What rights do squatters have in New York?

Those who do break into a property and squat on it need to prove they’ve lived there for at least 10 years before they can try to claim that they own it under state law. A squat-to-own scheme is known more commonly as adverse possession.

Squatters also don’t get special rights to a rental property unless they have a landlord-tenant relationship with the owner. Under state law, an owner can evict a person “who has intruded into or squatted upon [a] property without the permission of” the rightful owner after giving them 10-days' notice. That eviction is what’s known as a holdover proceeding. 

There have also been court cases in the past that support an owner’s right to call the police on squatters who break into a home, Davidson adds.

“If you're a homeowner, and someone breaks into your house and starts living there, you can change the locks [and] you can call the police to get them arrested,” Davidson says. 

That also applies to squatters who’ve been living at a property for more than 30 days, Davidson says. (Under state law, renters are entitled to tenant protections if they’ve lived at a property for more than 30 days.) 

Himmelstein adds that most landlords would go through the court and file an eviction lawsuit, rather than simply give notice.

“Most landlord lawyers will advise their clients to be cautious because there's a slim possibility even someone who's a squatter might turn out to be someone who has protection,” Himmelstein says. “If they've been in possession for more than 30 days, arguably, they have to be brought into court before they could be evicted.”

Going to court can take months, due to a backlog of cases, Gothamist reported.

What about roommates, relatives, or guests that refuse to leave?

The process to evict an invited guest who’s overstayed their welcome is more complicated if they’ve resided at a property for more than 30 days. 

For example, if a tenant stops paying rent but keeps living at the property, defaults on rent, or breaks the law, a landlord would have to go to housing court to evict them under state law. 

Or, if you have a guest, relative, or roommate who isn’t on your lease but has lived with you for more than a month and then refuses to leave after you move out, they would be considered a licensee of the apartment, Himmelstein says. Because they were invited into your home and have resided there for more than 30 days, they receive the same protections that tenants get in NYC.

Even hotel guests who rent a hotel room for more than 30 days also become tenants in NYC, Himmelstein says. (In one case, a guest at the New Yorker Hotel overstayed his welcome by five years). But those individuals didn't start as squatters—they were invited guests, he added.

“That person was not a squatter to begin with either. They were a hotel guest,” Himmelstein says. “If you've ever tried to stay in a hotel room for more than 30 days in New York, they will switch your room on the 29th day.”

Could the law on squatting change?

New York State Representative Jake Blumencranz introduced a bill that would change the amount of time it takes for a person to gain tenant protections under the law from 30 days to 45 days. It would also specify that a tenant cannot be a person who enters a property with the intent to squat on it, or occupies a property without the permission of the rightful owner or payment of rent. 

“I think that 45 [days] is a good start to at least take an entire [set] of these scans that we see off the table,” Blumencranz says. “We [also] need to make sure the courts have what they need to move these cases along.”

The republican assemblymember says he’s seen a handful of cases since he was sworn in last year. He’s said one of his co-sponsors has seen more, though he did not specify who.

To Himmelstein, the bill would not substantively change existing laws on squatters.

“In my mind, you already have this provision in the law that says that a squatter is not a tenant, and that you can and that you can evict them,” Himmelstein says. “So this seems unnecessary to me.”

Davidson raises concerns that the law would expand the definition of squatter to include a person who defaulted on rent, or a roommate not listed on the lease, though she says she did not expect the bill to pass. A nearly identical bill introduced in 2021 failed to come to a vote in the state senate. 

Blumencranz said it would ultimately be up to a judge to look at the factors outlined in the bill—the intent to squat, whether a person has not paid rent, or does not have permission from the owner—to decide whether someone was a legal tenant or not. 

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Celia Young Headshot

Celia Young

Senior Writer

Celia Young is a senior writer at Brick Underground where she covers New York City residential real estate. She graduated from Brandeis University and previously covered local business at the Milwaukee Business Journal, entertainment at Madison Magazine, and commercial real estate at Commercial Observer. She currently resides in Brooklyn.

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