by William Bronchick, Real Estate Coach & Attorney
In real estate investing, you would think that somebody that trespasses onto one of your investment properties is violating the law big-time. Trespassing is illegal, but if a trespasser continues to live there, they may be considered a squatter. Removing squatters from your property can be a time-consuming, potentially expensive, complicated, and energy-sucking endeavor! Although we are all about helping the less fortunate, to us it doesn’t make a lot of sense that squatters have rights!
Before we go any further, each state and some counties have specific laws regarding trespassing and squatting. All we are trying to do is give you some basic information, but you must comply with local laws so please check with your local laws and authorities about the proper and legal steps to handle these issues. You may have to consult with an attorney also!
So, who is considered a squatter? These folks can be identified in a variety of ways but it could be a tenant who stops paying their rent or has an expired lease and keeps living on your property, (or one of their roommates) or someone who breaks into your property and starts living there. They are only considered a trespasser if it is someone who enters the property illegally whereas a squatter is someone who enters the property and then stays there.
As if that isn’t bad enough, in this day and age of rental scams, if someone is fooled by an imposter posing as a landlord, but isn’t the owner of the property or a manager, and moves into your property and then starts paying the imposter rent, they are also considered to be squatters. Both squatting and trespassing are illegal, but trespassing violates criminal law, and squatting violates civil law. Trespassing can result in an arrest but squatting often must be handled by an eviction- because in this country- squatters have rights, if you can believe it!
Proactive prevention is always the best cure whenever possible, so a few things one might do in advance might be:
- Checking out your property regularly. Leave your contact info with neighbors and have them call you if the property is vacant but someone seems to be staying there. Believe me, the neighbors won’t like squatters and more than you do.
- Drive-by the property periodically yourself, have a friend do it, or better yet a property manager, if you have one.
- Post” No Trespassing” signs on all gates and home entries.
- Screen potential tenants thoroughly and try to fill vacancies quickly- that is just good business.
- Regularly check online rental sites such as Craigslist, Zillow, and others to make sure your property isn’t listed on the site by an impostor.
Evicting a squatter in some areas can be like an eviction, so make sure you comply with local laws. It’s important to take action as soon as you discover a squatter on your property as the longer, they stay, the more “rights’ they seem to have. The first step would be to always call the police. They may be able to remove the squatters right away. Depending on circumstances, this may be all that needs to be done, especially if the squatter just moved in. Other actions might include serving an eviction notice and/or filing a civil suit. If there are belongings left by the squatters in the property, check your local laws in how you must handle these. The longer you delay, the more income you lose from lost rents to a bona fide tenant, and the more that the squatter’s rights will apply. In addition, the longer a squatter stays, the more damage they may inflict on the property. Finally, it’s probably a great idea to check for rodents, make needed repairs, and have the property cleaned. The longer you delay, the more it
Believe it or not, depending on local laws, some things you may not be able to do if you have a squatter are changing the locks or locking them out, shutting off utilities (if they have been on), or intimidating the squatters. It’s a crazy world we live in, isn’t it? Having a great real estate mentor or real estate coach can help you in this regard, along with a real estate attorney.