A very messy business…
Let’s say you’ve got a vacation investment property, and it’s off-season for rentals. Your property would be a good target for a squatter…someone who can move in when you are not servicing the property (like in off-season)…and then attempt to remain there as long as possible. It’s an affront on so many levels. But wait. In this example, aren’t they really trespassers, and not squatters? Well, in general, trespassers enter onto a landowner’s real estate without getting permission from the landowner. And they’d be subject to both criminal and civil liability if they did so.
But trespassers intend to stay on a property only temporarily. The most recent glaring example of this would be the two escaped convicts in upstate New York who took refuge in a vacant camper on a landowner’s property so they could lay low for a few days. Clearly, they had no intention of moving in to the property. So, they were, among a few other criminal deeds of course, trespassing.
Squatters are a special breed: they are usually very savvy parasitic people who intend to occupy, and stay as long as possible – for free – on a property owner’s piece of real estate. These are the ones that know how to game the system, and they know all about squatter’s law available to work in their favor. They are the ones that know all the state and federal laws that protect tenants in this country. Their intent is to live off the largesse of the poor property owner. Until that property owner legally has them evicted. There are many examples of when a squatter will take advantage of an unsuspecting investor of real estate. One example is when a legal tenant, nearing the end of their lease, has a relative come and stay with them. But once the lease ends, the relative decides to stay in the home. No lease, not paying rent…simply occupying the unit without permission.
Help for the landlord
You’d think the property investor would hold all the cards to easily remove the squatter. Think again. Occupancy creates tenancy. And if it happens to you as a landlord, calling the police will do you no good. Not without a court order. The squatter can remain in the unit until evicted. And evictions are time consuming, and very costly for any property investor. It is a rarity for a property investor to know all the local laws and proper procedures for correctly evicting a squatter. Almost always, a landlord is forced to hire a local attorney; one that specializes in eviction law; basically they are no lease eviction (or, squatter eviction) specialists. They will certainly know how to evict a tenant without a lease, using all the proper legal procedures available for your state, whether they specialize in squatters rights in Virginia or squatters rights in Oregon – or any state your property is located.
One of the first steps your attorney will set in motion is the process of serving the squatter. If the squatter occupying your property was never a legal tenant of yours, he can be served with an unconditional notice to quit. The requirements of this notice differ by state. If this doesn’t work, and they still refuse to leave, your attorney will most probably file a wrongful detainer suit against them in court (also known as an unlawful detainer). This will have the effect of removing them by a court order. Unlawful detainer forms for your state are available from several online sources, as well as from legal information web sites for any given state. Again, it may best to hire an attorney to prepare this form, since they know best how to evict squatters.
Of course, a piece of paper isn’t going to make an emboldened squatter quake in their boots and up and leave. Nope. You’ll then most probably need to go to your local sheriff’s office to aid you in enforcing the court order. It would be really foolish of you, as a landlord, to attempt to physically remove a squatter on your own: not only is it potentially physically dangerous to you, it could create legal problems for you as well. Let the sheriff do his job with the court order in hand.
Adverse possession statutes
One of the most important things to remember, is that you should take action very quickly once you learn a squatter is occupying your real estate. In many states, squatters can actually establish ownership of your property, simply by occupying it long enough without you, as the rightful property owner, challenging them. This is known as adverse possession. Under adverse possession statutes, squatters have to be living in the home for at least several years in order to claim it as theirs. Again, this length of time varies by state. So make sure you’re visiting your investment property regularly to check on whether anyone has moved in – unbeknownst to you.
photos courtesy of sksreal.com, permanentculturenow.com, dailymail.co.uk, chipndaleonline.com, dailymail.co.uk