How to Remove Squatters

How to Remove Squatters

Original Article can be found here.

What is a squatter?

A squatter is a person who unlawfully occupies an uninhabited property. A squatter may be:

  • A person who breaks into your property and starts living there.
  • A tenant who stops paying rent or their lease expires, but they keep living on the property.
  • A roommate or subletter of a property who doesn’t leave when their lease is up.
  • A victim of a fraudulent rental ad who signs a lease and pays rent to a scammer posing as the property’s landlord.

How are squatters different from trespassers?

A trespasser is someone who enters a property illegally. If the trespasser openly starts living there without permission, they become a squatter. Both squatting and trespassing are illegal — in most cases, trespassing is a criminal offense and squatting is a civil matter. Trespassing typically results in arrest, whereas squatting is often handled with an eviction.

Wondering how to get rid of squatters? Although they are not paying tenants, they do have some rights.

What are squatters’ rights?

Squatters’ rights are legal allowances to occupy a property without the owner’s permission, as long as they haven’t been served an eviction notice. A squatter’s rights may vary by state — but in many areas, a squatter can take legal possession of the property after a certain amount of time if they prove adverse possession (meaning they are open about living there without the owner’s permission, haven’t signed a lease and have lived there illegally for long enough that they become the new legal owner).

How to evict a squatter

Squatters can be evicted, but you must comply with local laws. If you end up in a situation where evicting squatters is your only option, check with a legal professional in your area to find out what rights they have and what rules you need to follow.

Here’s what you should do if you discover squatters on your property:

  1. Immediately call the police: Further action may be avoided by simply calling local law enforcement. They will be able to determine if the person is a trespasser or a squatter, and they will either remove them or inform you that a civil suit is necessary.
  2. Serve an eviction notice: Serving an eviction notice for squatters is a legally binding way to inform them that they must vacate the property. Some squatters may even leave right after they’re served the notice.
  3. File a civil lawsuit for the squatter’s illegal use of your property: The details of the suit vary by location, so check your local laws, but typically you’ll need to attend an eviction court hearing.
  4. Have the squatters removed by local authorities: Once you win your case, you may be able to have the squatters removed by law enforcement officers. You may be charged a small fee, but it’s a safe option for removing squatters from private property.
  5. Legally handle any belongings squatters leave behind: After a successful eviction of squatters, there may be some personal items left behind — check with a legal professional before removing any of their belongings. You may have to hire a cleaning service if they created a mess.

Actions you should avoid when getting rid of squatters

Once you find out there’s a squatter on your property, it’s crucial to comply with state and local laws. Removing squatters by force is dangerous and may result in criminal charges against you. In addition, you should avoid:

  • Locking them out by installing additional locks or changing the locks
  • Shutting off the utilities
  • Intimidating the squatter verbally or physically — this can be an action as simple as picking up or moving their belongings

Courts may view any of the above acts as taking matters into your own hands and avoiding the legal process, which could result in a fine — or worse — and make it even more difficult to remove the squatter.

How to prevent squatters

As a landlord, you should take active measures to prevent squatters on your property — especially if it’s vacant. Preventing squatters can be done in many ways:

  • Post “No Trespassing” signs on all doors and gates.
  • Check your property regularly for signs of squatters and trespassers.
  • Have a friend, neighbor or property manager check the property regularly if you don’t live nearby.
  • Screen applicants before accepting them to verify their rental history.
  • Fill vacancies quickly — post listings online to the largest rental network with Zillow Rental Manager.

Why you should deal with squatters immediately

Allowing a squatter to occupy your property uncontested may mean that your property legally becomes theirs after a period of time — and you won’t have any say about it after the fact. Removing squatters may also become harder the longer they live on your property. Aside from simply living on your property, a squatter might:

Make it more difficult for you to claim ownership: The longer you wait, the more likely their squatters’ rights will apply.

Take up your time and money: An eviction process can take months and be costly.

Restrict your ability to rent: You will be unable to rent your property until the squatter is gone and the property is cleaned up.

Cause damage: Squatters may damage structures or landscaping, especially if they’re reluctant to leave.

How long does it take to evict squatters?

Removing squatters can take anywhere from days to months — and maybe even years in rare circumstances. However, the legal eviction process typically only takes 4-5 weeks depending on what’s involved.