February 20, 2023

How to Get Rid of Squatters

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How to Get Rid of Squatters

What Is a Squatter?

For most of us looking to have financial freedom, having rental properties seems to be the answer. Imagine having rent payments credited to your account every month. Money is made without even lifting a finger!

But what if your tenant suddenly decides to stop paying rent but continues to stay in your property? Your dream has now turned into a nightmare, and your tenant is suddenly a squatter!

What Is a Squatter?

According to the American Apartment Owners Association, a squatter is an individual who occupies a piece of real estate that they do not own without permission. They are imbued with squatters rights, and if you're not careful, your property can become the squatter's property before you know it!

How Do Squatters End up Occupying Your Property?

How to Get Rid of Squatters

Squatters gain access to your property in a variety of ways such as:

Illegal Tenant

Some tenants refuse to leave the property even when their lease is up--also known as a holdover tenant. You can either renew their lease, or petition the court to remove them by starting the eviction process.

Another case of an illegal tenant is when your original tenant whose name is on the lease, sublets your property without your knowledge. When their lease terminates, this subletter-turned-squatter refuses to vacate the property.

Rental Scam

Rental Scam

A person posturing as a "landlord" may con people into signing a fake lease agreement and making rent payments although they are not the rental property owner. These "tenants" inadvertently become squatters unfortunately.

Vacant Property

Uninhabited or seemingly abandoned property attracts trespassers and squatters. They may switch on utilities, getting bills and mail in your address, and even start paying taxes in order to build their "finders keepers" claim.

Incorrect Deed

In very rare cases, a squatter may have been unintentionally occupying your land because of an invalid or incorrect deed.

Is There a Difference Between Trespassing and Squatting?

Trespassers and squatters are actually very similar: both refer to individuals who are illegally inside a property that belongs to someone else. However, they are treated very differently in the legal sense.

Trespassing

Trespassing

Breaking and entering into a property, vacant or otherwise, with no intention of staying there for the long term is usually classified as trespassing. Trespassing is considered a criminal offense and criminal trespassers can be prosecuted under the law.

Squatting

On the other hand, squatters claim ownership over a property even if said property belongs to someone else. They claim the address as their own, sometimes even going so far as paying property taxes! These are professional squatters whose main intention is to live rent-free for as long as they can.

Unlike trespassing, squatting is considered a civil matter and it takes much more than calling the local police to evict squatters.

This is because...

There Is Such a Thing as Squatters’ Rights!

The right to property ownership is one of the basic rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But what happens when a squatter occupies your property, refusing you access and infringing on your right to enjoy this piece of real estate you've worked so hard for?

Can you remove them?

The short answer is: Yes, you can.

However, you can't just simply evict a squatter forcibly. You have to go through certain legal procedures to properly initiate the eviction process.

Hate to break it to you but when it comes to squatters, a property title does not a legal claim make because of a strange legal doctrine known as...

Adverse Possession Claim

Adverse possession is a legal concept dating back to the time of the Romans, wherein a person can gain legal ownership of a property simply by staying in the land if the property owners don't show up after a certain amount of time.

Adverse possession laws are also known as squatter's rights. It is recognized across the country, although the length of time before squatters can claim ownership varies between 7 and 30 years, depending on the state you live in.

Fortunately for property owners, losing ownership of your property this way rarely happens as 5 elements of adverse possession must be present:

Actual Possession

If the squatter made efforts to improve the land, such as building a house, erecting a fence, and keeping a manicured lawn, the court may look at it favorably as it shows the squatter treats the property as his own.

Hostile Possession

Hostile in this context is not necessarily aggressive. As long as the individual is living in the property that is not theirs without lawful permission and without paying rent, it is already considered hostile in this sense.

Exclusive Possession

To be considered a property owner, the squatter must have the sole use and access to the real estate during the prescribed period of time. They must also maintain the property and ensure that it is in good condition. Therefore, if the squatters render the property uninhabitable by turning it into a hoarder house, this element is automatically invalidated.

Open & Notorious Possession

This means that the squatter occupies the property openly, such that a random passerby would assume that the squatter is the true property owner.

Continuous Possession

To be able to stake a strong adverse possession claim and eventually gain legal title over the lot, the squatter must live in the property uninterrupted throughout the prescribed period of time.

Are There Exceptions to Adverse Possession Law?

Even if all elements above are fulfilled, adverse possession may not be granted if the original property owner is underage, incompetent, disabled, deployed in the military, or imprisoned. Nevertheless, you need a real estate attorney by your side to be able to claim this exception.

What Should You Do if You Find an Unlawful Occupant in Your Property?

If you discover squatters living in your property for an extended period of time, you absolutely must not ignore it. You need to start the eviction process as soon as possible because the squatters' adverse possession claim is strengthened the longer you delay taking action.

How to Get Rid of Squatters as Quick as Possible?

File an Official Police Report

File an Official Police Report

When you find unwanted guests in your property, immediately call the police and file a police report. They will determine whether they are merely trespassers or full-fledged squatters.

If they're trespassers, the police will be able to remove them without issue.

If it's the latter, the police won't be able to do anything. In any case, don't be tempted to turn off the utilities in an effort to force them out, as this constitutes trying to evict them on your own. The court may not look at it in a positive light during the eviction lawsuit.

Serve a Formal Eviction Notice

To formally start the eviction process, the squatters must be served an eviction notice (or an unlawful detainer in some states). Real estate attorneys can serve this legal document, or you can choose to do it by yourself.

File a Lawsuit

If the squatter refuses to leave even after being served an eviction notice, you may have no other choice but to file an eviction lawsuit. In this case, you have to lawyer up. Most real estate attorneys charge a fixed fee for this service (up to $500). However, it doesn't include court costs and filing fees, which range between $300-$800.

If you win the case, the other party will be responsible for your legal fees and other costs arising from damage to your property. A local sheriff will then be deployed for the formal eviction.

Remove Squatters’ Personal Belongings

Once you regain possession of your home, you can expect that some of the squatter's property will be left behind. Through a legal resource website, find out your state's laws regarding abandoned property. You may be responsible for keeping it for a certain period of time before you can dump or sell it.

What Not to Do When Evicting Squatters

As the actual property owner, it is understandable that you'd want to get rid of squatters by any means necessary.

However, you have to keep in mind that they have rights too, so you must keep a level head and NOT do the following, otherwise you'd be opening yourself up to additional legal troubles and a much bigger headache:

  • Do not shut off utilities
  • Do not intimidate or threaten the illegal occupant
  • Do not change the locks
  • Do not attempt to evict a squatter on your own

How to Protect Your Property From Squatters

As always, an ounce of prevention is always better than a pound of cure. Checking your property regularly for unusual activity can prevent professional squatters from moving in.

Additionally, to avoid the associated headache and expense of residential evictions, you can take the following steps to prevent squatters from occupying your property:

Secure Your Perimeter

Secure Your Perimeter

Having a fence all around your vacant property not only deters would-be squatters eyeing your property, it also has an added bonus of increasing your home's value! Additionally, you can also take advantage of technology by installing alarm systems, CCTVs, and motion-activated lights on your property.

Install “No Trespassing” Signs

Putting up "No Trespassing" signs is a cheap and easy way to prevent squatters from setting up shop in your land.

Hire a Property Manager

If you live out of state and can't be expected to make frequent visits to your rental property, you can consider getting a property manager to handle everything on your behalf.

They can screen and select the right tenants and ensure that the rental agreement is enforced so you avoid stressful situations down the line which, in worse case scenarios, may even get local law enforcement involved.

Sure, you'd have to give them a share of your rental income, but the peace of mind they afford you is priceless!

Final Thoughts: How to Get Rid of Squatters

When an unlawful occupant refuses to vacate your property, you have a massive problem on your hands. You'll have to serve them an eviction notice, get in touch with a real estate eviction attorney, file an unlawful detainer lawsuit, and hopefully win the case. Needless to say, it takes time and plenty of expense--something which you might not be able to spare.

Maybe you're wondering if there's a way out of this predicament?

The answer is a resounding yes! Here at House Buyer Network, we'll gladly take your problem property off your hands. We buy houses as is--even those with squatters in it--so you won't have to deal with the headaches associated with it! Even better, we'll pay you in cash for a quick and hassle-free transaction.

Just fill in our form below with your details and expect a call from us in 24 hours.

If you have any questions, feel free to call us at (855) 835-2544!

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catherine mack
Author: Catherine Mack

Catherine Mack is a seasoned real estate investor and enjoys sharing her expertise through writing on relevant real estate topics. Catherine aims to educate home sellers, so they can make the best decision for their real estate problems.

She’s been featured on a plethora of publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Acorns, Realtor.com, Apartment Therapy, MSN, Yahoo Finance, HomeLight, and Business.com.

House Buyer Network™ since 2004. We buy houses nationwide. As house buyers, we offer cash for houses to homeowners looking to sell their house fast. Our cash offers are free and come with no obligations. See what we can offer and get cash for your house!

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