In most cases, the residents who live the properties you manage will be paying tenants. They were selected to live there, have signed a lease or rental agreement, and pay their monthly rent. In rare cases, however, you may encounter squatters. These are individuals or groups of people who haven’t signed a legal contract allowing them to take up residence at the property. This can be a frustrating and sometimes complicated situation for property owners and managers alike.
So how should you handle the situation? Here’s a brief overview of what property managers should know about squatter’s rights and how to prevent them from taking up residence at one of your vacant properties. Please note this is for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice.
What You Should Know About Squatter’s Rights
Even though squatters haven’t signed a contract or paid to live at the property, some laws require property managers to go through the eviction process to get the unauthorized tenants to move. They must be treated just like any renter who’s fallen behind on rent: the eviction notices must be delivered through the local police department or by mail. You’re not allowed to just kick them out.
Nearly every state has laws pertaining to squatter’s rights. California, for example, allows squatters to lay claim to a building or unit after establishing residency. Establishing residency isn’t difficult to do; they need to come and go through the front door, have their mail and bills sent to the address, and pay property taxes for at least five years.
However, if the squatter doesn’t pay property taxes, or the property manager or owner catches them living at the property without consent, the squatter can be arrested for trespassing and evicted.
Prevent Squatters by Keeping an Eye on Vacant Properties
Most property managers will have vacancies from time to time, so it’s important to visit these properties frequently to ensure no one has taken up unauthorized residence. The easiest way to do this may be hiring a full-time security guard. If this isn’t an option, make sure to stop by to perform routine maintenance and safety checks. It’s common for squatters to keep watch on vacant buildings to make sure no one is coming and going before they move in, so frequent comings and goings are a good way to deter them.
It’s also important to know that in most states, you’re not allowed to add padlocks, barricades, or other types of physical deterrents to keep squatters out. This also includes shutting off utilities. Intimidation isn’t an option, either. The best thing to do when you discover a squatter is to contact your local law enforcement agency and ask for assistance. If you come across a squatter at one of your properties, don’t wait to get law enforcement involved. The longer the squatter lives there, the more likely the court will believe they were living at the property with consent.
If law enforcement decides the situation is a civil matter, you’ll need to move onto the eviction process. The first step you should take is to provide notice to the squatter. The squatter may decide to vacate on their own, but if they don’t, you’ll need to pursue an unlawful detainer lawsuit to help with the eviction. It’s also recommended that you research your local laws surrounding squatters so you know how to handle removing them legally and don’t run into legal issues. If in doubt, consult legal counsel to determine your best course of action. Click here for more information on squatter’s rights.