Evicting At-Will Tenancies and Squatters

Every eviction case is different. They each have their own set of circumstances, court rulings, and resolutions. The laws concerning evictions can vary greatly too, depending on the type of tenancy you’re dealing with. Here’s a look at two unique types of eviction: squatters and at-will tenants.

What’s a Tenancy At-Will?

Evicting at-will tenancies

A tenancy at-will is a resident who lives on the rental property without a lease. Often, they’ve lived at the property for so long that the original lease has either been lost or was never renewed. At-will tenants are typically discovered when landlords are thinking about eviction or lease renewal, or when the property is being managed by a new property management company.  

In most states, an individual who resides at a property and pays rent has rights as a tenant. As long as the landlord or property manager has been accepting their rent payments, they’ll often be considered an “at-will” tenant. If you end up with an at-will tenant, you’ll need to follow your state and local standard eviction laws. Eviction laws vary from state to state, and some cities even have their own ordinances in place, so you’ll want to read up on your state and local laws. For example, in Texas, an at-will tenancy eviction follows the same process as a month-to-month eviction. The landlord must give the tenant a 30-day notice before officially filing for eviction with the courts.

What’s a Squatter?

A squatter differs from an at-will tenant in that they don’t have previous permission to be at the property and the landlord or property manager either hasn’t received rent or hasn’t accepted it. Typically, squatters are a surprise to the landlord or property manager. They can be:

  • Someone who breaks into the property or enters it while vacant and begins living there
  • A roommate or subletter who lives on the property illegally past the agreed rental period
  • Someone who believes they have the right to live at a property that isn’t currently titled to them

Sometimes residents who have stopped paying their rent are referred to as squatters, but they are still legally considered tenants and retain their tenant’s rights.

The process for evicting squatters isn’t as standardized as at-will tenancies. The legal definition of a squatter and squatter’s rights can vary greatly from state to state, county to county, and city to city. In Virginia, for example, a squatter must live on the property for 15 years to claim adverse possession rights to the property. They must also provide proof of residency and retain residency publicly. In contrast, squatters in Texas need to live on a property for 30 years before they have rights to it.

If you have a squatter on your property, it’s essential to review your local laws to make sure you’re taking the appropriate legal steps to have them removed. Checking your local laws will also help you determine whether the individual is considered a trespasser or someone with squatter’s rights. Typically, individuals need to provide a utility bill in their name and addressed to the property to be considered a squatter. Depending on the situation, you may be able to save time and money if the police determine the individual to be a trespasser.

A Well-Written Lease is the Best Protection

Regardless of what type of tenant issue you’re dealing with, a well-written lease is the most important document you have. A good lease will detail everything from rent due dates to damage and security deposit clauses. Leases are useful for day to day rule enforcement as well as when you’re considering an eviction.

After evicting a squatter or at-will tenant, it’s a good idea to review your lease and rental criteria. Make sure you have standardized guidelines that you apply to all applicants, such as income and credit score requirements. You should also review fair housing guidelines to make sure that none of the language in your rental criteria, lease, or advertisements could cause potential liabilities.

Evictions can be a long, drawn-out process that can take a toll on your finances, time, and mental health. By ensuring that you have well-written rental criteria, an iron-clad lease, and a thorough screening of applicants, you’ll be more likely to prevent problems that can occur due to at-will tenants and squatters.

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