The term squatters can send landlords and potential property owners into fits of terror. It conjures up visions of unruly people occupying your house or property without any ability to get rid of them. The truth about squatters can be a little more nuanced than that (although that scenario does exist). If you’re going to rent a property or buy a property that currently has people living in it, you’re going to want to get up to speed on everything you need to know about squatter’s rights and how state and local laws can affect your plans. Let’s discuss what is a squatter and how to remove them.
Definition of a Squatter and their rights
What makes someone a squatter can be a little hard to define sometimes, so let’s get down to the essential definition. Most commonly, a squatter is someone living in someone else’s property without the legal right to do so and who also isn’t providing any kind of financial payment for the right. It could be someone who breaks into a vacant property and starts living there without permission. It would be a tenant who stops paying rent but continues to live in the property. It could be a renter or roommate who stays in the property beyond the terms of their lease without payment. There are many other scenarios that could quality but more than likely a squatter is going to fit in one of those categories.
Should You Just Hope Squatters Leave?
Even if the specifics of your situation are a little hazy, you probably know a squatter when you see one. If you have a tenant who has overstayed their lease or agreement, or strange people take up residence in your property when they shouldn’t, you might feel a desire to avoid confrontation and assume they will pick up and leave soon enough. However, by all accounts, you should never just let a squatter stay in your property uncontested any longer than they already have. In fact, in many states, if they stay there long enough they end up having what is called “squatters rights” and the ability to stay.
What Are Squatter’s Rights?
Squatter’s rights, which can also be known as adverse possession, legally allow someone to use the property of another person if there is no attempt by the owner to force an eviction. If left long enough uncontested, the title to the property can even be converted to the squatter in some states.
That may not sound fair to you as the rightful owner of a property, but the law usually exists to discourage the ownership of property that remains unused. In other words, if you really don’t care about the property and who lives there, you might as well sell it to an investor rather than lose all equity.
There are many details that come with squatter’s rights, including legal possession if the squatter leaves and tries to return, or if the property owner regains control of the property, but most of them vary from state to state and municipality to municipality.
So How Do I Get Rid of Squatters?
Presumably, you don’t want to just the rights to your real estate over to some strangers or trespassers who try to claim it. So you’ll want to know the steps necessary to begin getting rid of squatters as soon as possible.
First thing you should do is call the local police. They will determine if the person is a trespasser or squatter and, if they are a trespasser, will remove them immediately. However, if they identify the person or people as squatters, then they will step away and you will need to begin taking legal action.
If this is the case, you should serve the squatter with eviction notice right away. There will likely be state and local requirements related to the notice that you need to follow, so make sure you follow them accordingly. Chances are, they might leave because of the notice. However, they may not and that’s when you’ll have to bring on a lawyer.
If they refuse to leave, it’s time to file a civil lawsuit over illegal use of the property. Again, check your state and local laws for the specific pieces of information that you’ll need to present. This also means that you will have to attend an eviction court hearing, so make sure you make yourself available for that.
Presuming that you prove ownership and the court awards you the victory, you might still have to make it your business to have the squatter removed. Once the decision has been made, if the squatter still won’t leave, contact the police again to have the squatter removed legally. There may be a fee involved in this service, but at least it can help close the door on the process.
Finally, the problem with squatters is that they often don’t care about the property or stop to take everything with them when they leave. That means that even though they are gone there may still be items of theirs in or on the property. It’s understandable to want to chuck anything in a garbage can and move on but, in fact, there may be state or local laws that prevent you from doing that. If this is the case, double check what is allowed. If you have to hold on to the property for a certain amount of time so it can be claimed, you may have to rent a storage locker of some kind.
What if I Just Don’t Want to Deal With Squatters?
It’s very possible that the entire process of getting rid of squatters is going to take you weeks if not months. There are even instances where it can take years. Once you see things going down that road, you may just want to walk away from the situation as quickly as possible. One way you can do that is to sell your property as-is to a real estate investor.
Often, a real estate investor will purchase a property even if it has trespassers or squatters. They’ll make you a cash offer for the property and you can even close the deal in a matter of days. Then, you get to move on with your life and they will deal with the property and squatters themselves.