From Tenant To Squatter: Can a Holdover Tenant Acquire Legal Title in Missouri?

When a lease expires, the tenant is expected to vacate the property. However, if the tenant continues to occupy the premises without the landlord’s consent, they will be classified as a holdover tenant. 

Transitioning from a holdover tenant to a squatter involves several legal and procedural considerations. In Missouri, this transition is complex and not straightforward.

In general, being a holdover tenant does not guarantee the right to acquire legal title as a squatter.

Understanding Holdover Tenants and Squatters

Holdover Tenants: A holdover tenant is an individual who remains on the property after the lease term concludes. Their continued occupancy is usually governed by the terms outlined in the original lease agreement.

Squatters: Squatters are individuals who occupy a property without any legal right or claim. They do not have permission from the property owner and are essentially trespassers. 

The Legal Landscape in Missouri

Missouri’s property laws play a significant role in determining the rights and responsibilities of holdover tenants and squatters. Understanding these laws is essential in comprehending the potential outcomes of a holdover tenant transitioning into a squatter.

One key aspect to consider is adverse possession. Adverse possession is a legal doctrine allowing a person to claim property ownership if certain conditions are met over a specified period. 

Click Here For a Legal Guide About Adverse Possession In Missouri.

Tim’s Legal Tip: In Missouri, a squatter can obtain legal title to real estate if they occupy the property openly, notoriously, and continuously for a minimum of ten years.

Potential Scenarios and Implications

Scenario 1: Holdover Tenant with Landlord’s Consent

If a holdover tenant continues to occupy the property with the landlord’s explicit or implicit consent, they are not transitioning into a squatter. In such cases, the tenant is expected to adhere to the terms of the original lease or negotiate a new lease agreement.

Scenario 2: Holdover Tenant without Landlord’s Consent

If the holdover tenant remains on the property without the landlord’s permission, they could be labeled a squatter. However, Missouri law makes it clear that the occupant must demonstrate exclusive and continuous possession without the owner’s permission for adverse possession claims.

Navigating the Legal Gray Area

The transition from holdover tenant to squatter is not black and white, and several factors can influence the outcome. These factors include the tenant’s intentions, the property owner’s actions, and the duration of occupation.

Missouri courts will evaluate the situation closely to determine whether the tenant’s actions align with the elements required for adverse possession. 

Simply being a holdover tenant does not guarantee the right to acquire legal title as a squatter.

How Can a Landowner Get Rid of Squatters In Missouri?

Here are some steps you can take if you have squatters on your land in Missouri:

  • Start With a Conversation: First, determine if the individuals on your property are indeed squatters or if they claim to have some form of legal right to be there, such as a lease agreement. You’ll need to address the situation differently if they have any legitimate claim to the property.
  • Contact Law Enforcement: If the individuals are squatters and you want them to leave, you can start by contacting local law enforcement. However, law enforcement might consider it a civil matter and might not get directly involved in removing squatters.
  • Serve Notice: To start the legal process, you’ll likely need to serve the squatters with an eviction notice. The type of notice required can depend on the situation. Consult with a lawyer in your area to determine the appropriate notice to use.
  • File for Eviction: If the squatters do not leave voluntarily after being served an eviction notice, you’ll likely need to file for eviction in court. This involves filling out the necessary paperwork and following the legal process for eviction as outlined in Missouri law.
  • Obtain a Court Order: If the court determines that the squatters should be evicted, they will issue a court order requiring the squatters to leave the property within a specified period. If the squatters still do not leave, you may need to involve law enforcement to enforce the court order.
  • Enforce the Court Order: If the squatters do not leave after the court order is issued, you will need to work with law enforcement to physically remove them from the property. It’s essential to follow all legal procedures to avoid any potential legal liabilities.

Practical Considerations for Property Owners

For property owners in Missouri, proactive measures can prevent holdover tenants from becoming squatters. Clearly outlining lease terms, communicating with tenants, and promptly addressing any breaches or unauthorized occupancy can safeguard against adverse possession claims.

Property owners should also be aware of their legal options for eviction if a tenant refuses to vacate the property after the lease has expired. 

Consulting with an experienced in Missouri property law can provide valuable guidance in navigating these situations.


Q: Can a holdover tenant gain ownership through adverse possession in Missouri? 

Yes, but the tenant must occupy the property continuously and openly for at least ten years, meeting specific legal requirements.

Q: Can a property owner evict a holdover tenant without legal action? 

No, property owners must follow legal eviction procedures even if the tenant is a holdover.

Q: What if a squatter improves the property during occupancy? 

Making improvements does not automatically grant ownership rights. Adverse possession requirements must still be met.

Q: Can a tenant claim adverse possession if they pay property taxes? 

While paying property taxes might be a factor, it does not guarantee adverse possession rights. Other criteria must be fulfilled.

Q: What is the importance of written communication with holdover tenants? 

Written communication helps establish a clear record of interactions and can be valuable evidence if legal action becomes necessary.

Q: Can adverse possession apply to commercial properties in Missouri? 

Yes, adverse possession laws can apply to both residential and commercial properties.


I strongly recommend seeking legal advice from an experienced real estate attorney in Missouri if you have concerns about holdover tenants, squatters, or adverse possession. An attorney’s expertise will clarify local laws, the feasibility of your claim, and the potential risks involved.

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Tim McDuffey is a practicing attorney in the State of Missouri. Tim is a licensed member of the Missouri Bar and Missouri Bar Association.

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