1. Is “squatting” illegal in Nevada?
NRS 205.0817 is the Nevada code section that prohibits squatting. Also called unlawful occupancy, squatting is defined as living in another person’s empty home (dwelling) without permission of the owner or his/her representative.
Example: Jeff hires a housekeeper to clean his Las Vegas house while he is abroad for several months. The housekeeper moves into the house after her lease ends. Here, the housekeeper is committing unlawful occupancy because Jeff never gave the housekeeper permission to live there.
Nevada squatting laws have no “breaking and entering” requirement. People who lawfully go on private property become squatters if they move in without permission. NRS 205.0817 states:
“A person who takes up residence in an uninhabited or vacant dwelling and knows or has reason to believe that such residency is without permission of the owner of the dwelling or an authorized representative of the owner is guilty of unlawful occupancy.”
Nevada squatting laws presume suspected squatters do not have the owner’s permission. This is unless the suspected squatter has a rental agreement. And this agreement must both:
- Be notarized or signed by the owner or authorized representative; and
- Include the current address and phone number of the owner or authorized representative
Note that NRS 205.0817 does not pertain to people who squat in commercial buildings or cars, only dwellings. People who live in non-dwellings may face other charges, such as trespass or burglary (discussed below in section 7).1
Squatting is a gross misdemeanor in Nevada. The punishment is:
- Up to 364 days in jail, and/or
- Up to $2,000 in fines
But violating Nevada squatting laws becomes a category D felony if the defendant has three or more prior NRS 205.0817 convictions. The sentence is:
- 1 – 4 years in Nevada State Prison, and/or
- Up to $5,000 in fines (at the judge’s discretion)2
The best defense turns on the facts of the case. Three typical defense strategies to Nevada squatting charges are:
- The defendant had the owner’s permission to live in the dwelling;
- The defendant reasonably believed he/she had the owner’s permission to live in the dwelling;
- The defendant spent time in the dwelling but did not live there; or
- The location was not a “dwelling.”
Another possible defense to unlawful occupancy charges is that the police committed an illegal search of the dwelling. Then the defendant can ask the court to disregard (“suppress“) any evidence they found. If the judge agrees, the D.A. could drop the case for lack of proof.
Potential evidence in NRS 205.0817 cases include:
- Recorded phone calls, emails, or texts between the property owner and alleged squatter;
- Eyewitness accounts; and
- Video surveillance footage
It is now a misdemeanor to camp or sleep on downtown Las Vegas streets. The only exception is if there are no available shelter beds. The penalties for camping on the street are:
- Up to 6 months in jail, and/or
- Up to $1,000 in fines3
Camping or sleeping on streets is technically not “squatting.” This is because streets are not a “dwelling.”
However, this controversial homeless ban may have the effect of encouraging more squatting. If homeless people can no longer sleep on the streets, they may feel forced to find a vacant home to take refuge in.
Homeless people in Las Vegas can find available shelter beds here.
Nevada squatting convictions are sealable. But there is a waiting period depending on the charge:
Unlawful occupancy conviction in Nevada
Waiting period to get a record sealed
|Gross misdemeanor||2 years after the case ends|
|Category D felony||5 years after the case ends|
|Dismissal (no conviction)||Immediately4|
The law is unclear about whether squatting is deportable. Therefore, non-citizens charged with unlawful occupancy should seek an attorney.
An attorney can evaluate whether the case threatens the defendant’s resident status. And if so, the attorney may be able to persuade the D.A. to dismiss or reduce the charge to a non-deportable offense.
Depending on the circumstances of the case, Nevada prosecutors may also bring the following charges against suspected squatters:
Housebreaking (NRS 205.0813) is forcibly entering an uninhabited or vacant dwelling. The intruder knows he/she does not have the owner’s permission. And the intruder intends for the dwelling to be a residence.
A first-time offense is a gross misdemeanor. Any successive offense is a category D felony.
7.2. Unlawful reentry
Unlawful reentry (NRS 205.082) occurs when:
- A property owner has lawfully recovered possession of the property from the defendant; and
- The defendant goes back onto the property without permission
Unlawful reentry is a gross misdemeanor.
Trespass (NRS 207.200) is defined as either:
- Going on another’s property with the intent to annoy or commit a crime; or
- Willfully going on or remaining on another’s property after having been warned to stay away
Trespass is a misdemeanor.
Squatters in Nevada can lawfully claim ownership of the property they are squatting on if they live there uninterrupted for five years and have proof of paying property taxes the entire time. This process is called obtaining property by adverse possession.
Predictably, it is rare for squatters to gain title to property by adverse possession. Landowners typically keep tabs on their property and usually find and eject squatters well within the five-year time period.5
In California? Learn about Penal Code 647e PC.
- NRS 205.0817.
- Las Vegas Municipal Ordinance 2019-36; “Las Vegas City Council approves homeless ban ordinance,” Las Vegas Review-Journal (November 9, 2019).
- NRS 179.245; NRS 179.255.
- NRS 11.070, NRS 11.110, NRS 11.150 (“In no case shall adverse possession be considered established unless it be shown, in addition to the requirements of NRS 11.120 or 11.140, that the land has been occupied and claimed for the period of 5 years, continuously, and that the party or persons, their predecessors and grantors have paid all taxes, state, county and municipal, which may have been levied and assessed against the land for the period mentioned, or have tendered payment thereof.“), NRS 11.180.