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How to Get Rid of Squatters
Pests, mold, and repairs are no longer the only problems homeowners and landlords face when they leave their property empty for long. These days, they also have to deal with squatters or people who take over empty properties without permission.
In getting rid of squatters, the first thing a landlord or homeowner should do is notify the local law enforcement. After which, they should serve a formal eviction notice to the squatter. If the squatter still refuses to leave the property, an eviction lawsuit should be filed and the homeowner should remove the personal belongings of the squatter from the property.
While these actions may seem easy, there are stubborn squatters who won't budge no matter what strategy you use. If this is the case, it may be better to sell your house to a cash buyer and let them handle the squatters for you...
What is a Squatter?
A squatter is someone who lives on someone else's property for a continuous period. He doesn't have a lease and is not paying rent in any form, so he cannot be called a tenant.
Usually, squatting begins when a property wasn't monitored or has been unoccupied for quite some time. These people may break into the property and use the utilities, and pay for it as if they really live there. Some of these professional squatters are even paying property taxes.
This sounds bizarre, but squatters know the states that are squatter-friendly, areas with a lot of vacant homes, etc.
Getting rid of squatters can be very complicated. To begin with, the squatters have their own rights. You can't simply throw their belongings away when you see them occupying your uninhabited property. There is a process you must follow, which includes sending an eviction notice and many more.
How Do Squatters Gain Access to Your Property?
There are several different reasons why your property may be occupied by squatters...
Believe it or not, some people don't have any idea that they are squatting until the real owner of the property visits the house. These people are usually victims of a rental scam.
A rental property scam works like this: someone pretends to be a landlord and rents out a vacant property. They draft a fake lease agreement and once they get the deposit and the tenants pay rent, they disappear.
The "tenants" deceived in the rental scam will then occupy the property thinking that they are staying there legally when in reality, they are squatters with no rental agreement protecting them.
When a property has been vacant or abandoned, a squatter occupies it thinking they won't get caught.
Unlike those who fall victim to a rental property scam, these professional squatters are fully aware of what they are doing. In fact, they may have even planned their move to ensure that the local authorities don't find out that the property belongs to someone else.
Squatting on vacant property usually happens when the owner is living out of state or the property is inherited by someone who isn't interested. In both cases, no one is managing the property that's why it is targeted by squatters.
When your tenant lets in someone who isn't in the rental agreement and goes against the rule to live in the property exclusively, this may pose a great problem when you ask the tenant to move out. That individual may refuse to leave and take over your property.
There are tenants who refuse to leave the property after a lease agreement expires or when they are evicted. When they stay despite the owner's wishes, they are considered squatters in the legal sense.
Squatting vs. Trespassing
Squatting and trespassing are two different things, although the latter can lead to the former.
When someone trespasses, they don't usually stay long on the property. Trespassers are often looking for something to steal, a place to vandalize, etc. They do not intend to stay but are committing a criminal offense.
Meanwhile, a squatter enters a property with the intent of finding a dwelling. They stay there for as long as the real owner doesn't notice.
Both offenses can be dealt with by the local police department or sheriff. However, it is suggested to file a lawsuit in order to get rid of professional squatters because it is a civil matter.
Squatter's Rights You Should Know as a Property Owner
Although technically, squatters are doing an act against the law, they actually have the right to stay in a property if the legal owner doesn't claim ownership and evict them legally.
Many states grant "adverse possession" to squatters if they have been living illegitimately in a property for a certain period of time. This is if they have exclusive possession of the property.
An adverse possession claim prohibits the landlord or the actual property owner to evict a squatter once they find out that they're occupying your property. They have to take the proper legal action to deal with the illegal occupant.
Of course, the laws governing squatters rights, adverse possession, and actual possession of property depend on state by state rules, so you have to check with your local government.
Why You Should Evict or Remove Squatters Immediately
While many homeowners evict squatters right when they find out about their illegal stay, there are a few who delay the eviction for fear of dealing with hostile squatters. This is understandable; however, it also has its consequences.
For starters, when a squatter has occupied the property for many years, they can be awarded adverse possession. As discussed earlier, the adverse possession claim allows the squatter to gain legal title to a property.
Aside from the difficulty of asserting legal ownership of the property, the eviction process also becomes longer and more expensive if you don't do it immediately. This is often the case when a professional squatter files a legal claim in court.
Moreover, squatters are notorious for damaging properties. If they have stayed on your property for years, chances are, they already made your property uninhabitable once you finally evict them. This can put you in financial distress.
Squatter Eviction Process
The American Apartment Owners Association outlined four steps in evicting squatters. They also reiterated that a property owner should be well aware of the current laws and regulations of the local government regarding professional squatters since this is crucial in defending their ownership of the property.
That said, the four steps they shared below can only serve as a general guide, not as the sole basis of a landlord or the actual property owner when dealing with squatters.
Notify the Authorities
The first step in removing squatters is to call the police. This serves two purposes. One is to protect you when you need to talk to the squatter physically, and the second is for documentation.
When you notify the police regarding the presence of an illegal occupant in your investment property, they will file an official police report that can be useful to you when pursuing an eviction through court.
Evidence and documentation (such as the official police report) proving your efforts in evicting the squatters can strengthen your case.
File an Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit and Serve an Eviction Notice
When the proper authorities are notified, you should file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to start the eviction process.
Note that the process of filing an unlawful detainer lawsuit may vary based on location; thus, it is recommended that you contact your local court office or consult with a real estate attorney specializing in residential evictions regarding the steps you need to take. This is also to avoid doing actions against the squatters rights.
File an Eviction Lawsuit or Civil Suit
In case the squatter refuses to vacate your property, you should then file an eviction lawsuit. Once filed, a litigation will occur where you and the squatter should attend.
Often, the actual property owner wins the case and the judge orders the local law enforcement to escort or forcibly remove the squatter from your property. You'll then be allowed to change all the locks of your house.
Remove Squatter's Personal Possessions
If the squatter refuses to leave your property and the police forcibly escort them out, their personal belongings are probably left on your private property.
Unfortunately, you can't just discard their things as they still have their legal rights.
To avoid this frustrating scenario, you should prepare for it in advance as part of the eviction process.
Make a written notice stating when the squatter can collect their stuff from your house and what you will do if they fail to do this. Bring this to court, so you are protected in case the worst happens.
What to Avoid When Evicting Squatters
Our anger and frustration often get the better of us. To avoid this when evicting squatters, take note of the following:
- Don't try to evict the squatters on your own. This may violate their legal rights (especially if they are awarded adverse possession) and you'll be at risk of jail time or large fines. Moreover, if you visit and evict a squatter alone, it can lead to disaster, especially if they are violent.
- Don't change the locks, put large padlocks on the doors of your property, or do anything that will make the house uninhabitable for the squatters. Again, you could be violating their rights.
- Don't intimidate or threaten the squatter verbally or physically, as this may lead to violence and other issues.
The best way to evict the squatters from your property is through court. Sure it is more expensive and stressful, but it is better than handling everything independently with all the nuances of squatter's rights.
How to Prevent Squatting
Surely, nobody wants to deal with squatters on their property as it can be extremely stressful. To ensure that this won't be your problem, here are five ways to prevent squatters from breaking in and taking over your rental property.
Don't Leave Your Property Unoccupied for Long
Many squatters observe rental properties and study how often its owner visits or how often the tenants leave. If you own a rental property, make sure that the time between the renters is short. Meanwhile, if you own an unoccupied house and you live far away, hire a property manager to check on it regularly.
Visit the Property from Time to Time
Visiting your property regularly and having someone look after it not onlywill ensure it remains in great condition but also will prevent squatters from living in it.
Moreover, if you do this with your rental properties occupied by tenants, they won't risk hosting an illegal roommate and you won't have to evict a squatter in the future. If you live out of state, a property management company can check in.
Change the Locks After a Lease Expires and a Tenant Moves Out
This practice should be done for two reasons: to protect your future tenants and to prevent your old tenant from entering your property without lawful permission.
Even though your former tenant surrendered the keys to the rental property, they may have a copy of it that they can use to enter. This breaking and entering is highly possible if the tenant is evicted for some reason and they have nowhere else to go.
Install Security Cameras
When a property has a security system installed, squatters avoid it. This is because they know someone's watching and they can be identified in case they try to do something against the law.
Important note: Inform your future tenants regarding the purpose of the security cameras so they won't feel as if you are violating their privacy.
Choose Your Tenants Carefully
A large number of squatters are actually tenants that were evicted but won't leave the property. So to prevent possible squatters in the future, choose the best tenants from the get-go.
Do employment and income verification of the tenant applicant as well as a credit score check. You may also want to check their background, especially for rental history, to see if the tenant pays rent on time.
Can You Sell Your House with Squatters in it?
Yes. You can sell a house with squatters in it; however, do not expect that a retail buyer would take interest or even pay you a generous amount given the baggage you're passing onto them. In most cases, houses occupied by squatters are bought as-is by cash buyers.
While it is suggested to get rid of squatters and then proceed to sell your house, there are stubborn squatters that won't move despite all the legal actions you've made. In this case, your only option is to sell to a cash buyer and let them handle the squatter for you.
Selling to a cash buyer is pretty simple, but you have to ensure that the squatter isn't granted adverse possession since this will cause major problems.
You can contact a cash buyer to check if your house is eligible for purchase. If it is, you may proceed to request a cash offer and get rid of squatters all at once. Expect the cash buyer to visit the property to check its state and to formulate an accurate offer.
Of course, this process may not be the same for all cash buyers since we're talking about a house occupied by squatters. Some cash buyers prefer to buy houses as-is, but only after you get rid of their unwelcome occupants and the legal title is clear of clouds.
Frequently Asked Questions About Squatters
How Long Does it Take to Evict Squatters?
Typically, the squatter eviction process can take one to two months, but some take longer due to state and local laws or if the squatter claims ownership of your private property through adverse possession. Seek a legal resource, such as an attorney.
Can You Ask a Squatter to Sign a Lease?
Yes. Property owners can ask a squatter to sign a lease agreement if they would cooperate. This is especially true for squatters who were victims of rental property scams. In fact, these squatters may even turn out as great tenants to provide you with rental income.
Can You Turn Off Utilities on a Squatter
Technically, property owners can turn off the utilities on a squatter; however, it isn't suggested to do so since the squatters have their rights. Doing this may cause further trouble on your part, especially if you are in the rental business and the squatter filed for adverse possession.
Final Thoughts: How to Get Rid of Squatters
The squatter eviction process can be long and stressful, but it's something you shouldn't delay unless you want them to take legal possession of your property.
Once you discover that squatters are living in your house, notify the authorities right away and serve the squatter a legal eviction notice. If they won't move, that's when you file an eviction lawsuit.
Alternatively, you can sell your house with squatters living in it. This is the fastest and easiest answer on how to get rid of squatters. Many cash buyers still take an interest in rental properties with unwelcome occupants.
If you're ready to sell your house with squatters, reach out to us at Sell My House Fast. We'll take the baggage of dealing with squatters off your shoulder and pay you with cash fast.
Fill out our form below or contact us at (844) 207-0788 to start selling your home and get rid of squatters.