Twice in the last two months I’ve been contacted from 2 different people dealing with “squatters”. Squatters are people who have somehow taken possession of your property and now have legal tenant rights to the property. There are actually articles describing how to become and be a protected squatter. The actual law is: Adverse Possession. The intention was to allow individuals to take over abandoned property with the intention to own it. That person could pay property taxes, maintain the land and if after 18 years, no other laid claim to the land, that person becomes the official owner of record. That is not the current popular use of the law. Squatting is.
Over my time being a Landlord and property manager, I’ve unfortunately dealt with a couple of squatters and have helped other Landlords deal with squatters. It is not a fun situation. You are loosing income, paying an attorney to process the eviction and who knows what is happening inside your rental unit and what damage is occurring. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts of dealing with squatters.
Here’s What you Can Do
1. Call the Police: If the individual has only been in the property a few days (less than 7 and you can prove it), they are considered a trespasser and do not have squatter rights. Call the police. If the squatter is smart, he or she may keep the door closed and then you will have to begin the eviction process.
2. Post a Demand of Possession. This 3 Day Notice will inform the tenant that they have 3 days to comply with your demand or legal action will be taken. If you’re lucky, the tenant will vacate the premise with all of his/her personal belongings. CAREFUL! A tenant could be baiting you. If they leave their personal property and you change the locks and discard of their belongings you could be held liable for their Grandmothers priceless antique 3 carrot ring that was in the unit. Not to say they will win in court, but don’t expose yourself. If they’ve vacated the unit but left their personal belongings, best practice is to proceed with the eviction.
3. Provide an Opportunity to become a Legal Tenant. Just kidding. Don’t do this. Someone who is willing to violate your trust once is going to do it again.
Here is What you Shouldn’t Do
1. Forcible Entry. We are not Joe Pesci in The Super. Don’t kick down doors or lower yourself to the level of these squatters. It is frustrating, expensive and time consuming, but you got into this business of being a Landlord. This is what you signed up for.
2. Turn off Utilities. Besides potentially harming your own property (Pipes freezing, candle started fires etc), judges will not look kindly at this. It could be seen as a form or intimidation or harassment.
3. Intimidate/Harass. Again, we aren’t Joe Pesci. The best process is to begin the eviction process. Although these squatters probably don’t care about their credit or rentability, take the opportunity to submit the eviction and amounts owed to collections.
Ultimately the best remedy for squatters is to limit your vacant properties. Thoroughly screen your tenants. Have a leak proof lease which outlines subleasing/guests. Secure vacant properties and consider affordable video monitoring solutions for them. If you can catch them quick enough or can deter them altogether, you may avoid dealing with a squatter.