Landlords & Squatters: The Ultimate Battle

January 18, 2023 0 comment

Written by: Eric Davis

The definition of squatting is when someone occupies an empty or abandoned property they don’t own or rent without the owner’s permission, often without the owner’s knowledge and legal right to do so. This activity is also known as ‘adverse possession.’.

The most prevalent type of squatting in the US is when past occupants who once legitimately leased or rented a home fail to pay or break their lease. After the property manager takes the appropriate actions, this individual can be named a squatter. However, a rental home that sat empty for a significant time is powerless against squatters if they’re not as maintained and cared for by the legitimate owner.

This photo shows a house with squatters.

What’s the difference between squatting and trespassing?
A trespasser is someone who intentionally enters private property without the owner’s consent.

On the other hand, a squatter intentionally occupies someone else’s property without consent.

Squatters are trespassers who take it one step further. They violate your property’s privacy and your right to ownership as they steal your right to decide who gets to live in your home exclusively, and it may even cause you to lose your property legally.

This process is legally known as “adverse possession.” If the squatter satisfies every prerequisite set by the state, they might have the option to obtain a title to the land lawfully.

Squatters frequently pick properties that are vacant and or abandoned. That is because satisfying the prerequisites of owning these properties is simpler. Unfortunately, these legal loopholes put a target on rental units that have been empty for an extensive period.

What is adverse possession?

Adverse possession is a legal process allowing an illegal settler to own the property they are staying in. One of the main prerequisites for this process is to remain on the property for a certain timeframe. Most of the claims filed for this process are for land ownership.
A squatter will file for adverse possession to guarantee they are given ownership of the property they are staying in. When a settler has petitioned for adverse possession, the real landowner might lose the title to the property if they don’t protest in 65 days or less.

Is a holdover tenant a squatter?

A holdover tenant is a renter who stays in the property and refuses to leave after the lapse of the lease. If the landowner keeps accepting rent payments, the tenant can remain in the property legitimately, and state regulations and court decisions decide the length of the renter’s new lease. However, if the landowner refuses to accept rent or the tenant fails to pay rent, then the owner can legally remove the former tenant by filing for eviction.

Why would a tenant choose to stay in a property with a lapsed lease?

  • They leased the spot previously.
  • The property is accessible.
  • The trespasser was a survivor of rental misrepresentation.

What are squatter’s rights?
Through the doctrine of adverse possession, an individual might secure the land/title already owned by another person as long as they follow several prerequisites. Each state has different regulations and provisions concerning squatters’ rights. Every state also has a different timeframe before adverse possession can be claimed, between 5-20 years. They should live on the property to guarantee it. Moreover, settlers should comply with the common laws of the process. They are as per the following:

1. Squatters must have continuous possession of the land/property.
2. Hostile possession: the squatter did not gain possession of the property.
3. Open possession that is not in secret.
4. Actual possession: the landlord has cause for trespass
5. Exclusive ownership: the squatter acts if the property is their own.

Squatters’ rights are triggered if they openly take residency on your property without consent and payment on the land.

How to get rid of and avoid squatters?

This photo shows no entry sign.

Removing Squatter

If you find a squatter on your empty property, the initial step is to call your nearby police. They can create a police report documenting that you are making a move to remove the squatters from your property legally. Remember that the police cannot make a move to remove the settlers immediately.

The American Apartment Owners Association (AAOA) recommends following these steps when evicting squatters:
1. Call the local police and file an official police report; the sooner, the better. You can use the police report if you have to pursue an eviction in court as proof that you used a good-faith effort to remove the squatter from your property.
2. Serve the squatter with a formal eviction notice after you’ve filed a police report. An eviction notice is also known as an ‘Unlawful Detainer’ action in some states, which is a legal way to evict the squatter.
3. File a lawsuit if the squatter refuses to leave. You can use a real estate attorney specializing in residential evictions to ensure that you follow the correct legal process. After the hearing is scheduled and you receive a judgment in your favor, local law enforcement will be used to remove the squatter.
4. Remove any possessions left behind by the squatter. Unfortunately, you can’t just throw the squatter’s possessions away. Most states require a property owner to serve the settler with a written notice stating the deadline to collect their belongings. Since the squatter will probably be difficult to find, you can ask the court to record the notice to the squatter as part of your official eviction documents.

What not to do?
The general rules apply to removing a tenant who doesn’t pay the lease and likewise apply to squatters. Things that a landowner shouldn’t do while disposing of a squatter include:

  • Putting latches on the entryways or changing the locks.
  • Stopping the utilities trying to make the property dreadful.
  • Endeavoring to threaten the squatter in any capacity.
  • Gathering a gathering of “companions” and endeavoring to eliminate the squatter all alone.

Avoiding Squatter

When your squatter issues are gone, do whatever it takes to guarantee it doesn’t repeat by securing your property. Go on property lockdown. If you can’t routinely monitor the land, recruit a property management agency that can give week-by-week or month-to-month drop-ins.

This photo shows no trespassing sign.

Ways of keeping squatters from possessing your property include:

  • Post “No Trespassing” signs on entryways and doors.
  • Ensure entryways and windows are locked consistently.
  • Check the property regularly for indications of squatters.
  • Ask your neighbors to advise you, assuming anything appears out of order.
  • Screen possible renters by requesting personal and criminal reports and checking their rental history.
  • Fill rental opportunities rapidly by utilizing the web rental posting sites to reach however many qualified occupants as expected under the circumstances in the most limited time.

To properly avoid getting squatters, it’s essential that legitimate technique is followed and that no regulations are coincidentally broken to recapture ownership of your property.
While squatters have freedoms, as a landowner, you ought to do all you can to keep a squatter from acquiring the right to your property.
Let’s say your place is empty because you are between renters or remodeling; regularly visit to ensure that a squatter hasn’t moved in. If you see a squatter, act proactively to eliminate it by calling the police and starting eviction.

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