As a property owner, you have a number of responsibilities that fall on your shoulders. The last thing you want to worry about is dealing with a squatter or someone who is living on your property without paying rent. A squatter could be a former tenant who stopped paying rent but hasn’t vacated, or they could be a stranger who has entered the property and started living there. In order to evict a squatter, you need to follow a few steps to make sure you are in compliance with local laws.
Determine If They Are Living There
You may simply have a trespasser on your hands, which can make it easier to evict them. If you are comfortable asking, you can talk to the person and find out how long they have been there and whether they plan to stay. If not, you can involve the police. A squatter is someone who occupies a property under a claim of ownership even though the owner of that property has not given consent. A trespasser may occupy the property on a temporary basis but doesn’t make a claim of ownership.
It’s also important to understand that not all squatters are trying to steal property from the owner. For example, some squatters are victims of scams in which they are paying a false landlord under a falsified rental agreement. These people believe they are legally authorized to live on the property and don’t realize they are being scammed. Simply talking to the person on your property could be a good first step.
Consider Offering a Rental Agreement
Although it may seem far-fetched, you could consider offering a rental agreement to the people living on your property. If they are taking care of the property and have steady employment, they could end up being good tenants, especially if they have fallen victim to a scam and have already moved a number of their possessions into your rental property. This option can also protect you if they stop paying the rent or otherwise violate the terms of the legal agreement.
Draft and Serve an Eviction Notice
Upon determining that the person is living on your property under a claim of ownership, you can then begin the legal process of eviction. The first step in this process is drafting an eviction notice. Review your local or state laws to determine what information you need to include in the notice. This document will serve as the legal notice that a squatter must leave the property or they will be removed by the police. In most states, the police cannot legally remove someone from a property without proof that the proper procedures have been followed.
After you draft the notice, you will need to serve the notice to the person at the property. You may be able to tape the notice to the door and mail a separate copy via certified mail with a return receipt. However, you should review the service requirements in your area to make sure you are following the correct steps.
Handling Abandoned Items
After serving the eviction notice, ideally, the squatters will vacate the property. This is generally the best-case outcome of this unpleasant situation as it allows you to regain ownership of your property and begin the process of renting it out again. In some cases, the squatters will leave some of their possessions behind. This may occur if they are leaving very quickly or if they have items they don’t want to deal with moving. You must store these items for a period of time depending on the law in the state where your property is located.
If you keep them in a storage facility, document all costs associated with removing and storing them. If the squatters contact you regarding the items, you should provide an itemized list of what you have and what it cost you to move and store the property. Inform them that upon receiving payment, you will release their property. If you do not hear from them in the required timeframe, you can either keep, dispose of, or sell the items, or sell them at public auction depending on the value.
Talk to an Attorney
If the squatter on your property will not leave, you may need to involve an attorney to assist with the eviction process. Certain jurisdictions have laws in place that make it more difficult to evict people from properties. If you do need additional legal support, you can discuss the options available with an experienced attorney. They may recommend filing an unlawful detainer suit, also known as an eviction lawsuit. Although you will have to spend more money to involve an attorney in the process, doing so can alleviate some of the stress and frustration you are likely feeling due to the presence of squatters.
If you do decide to file a lawsuit, you will likely need to file documentation with your local court and arrange for a sheriff or a process server to deliver the notice to the property. Understanding the potential defense a squatter may bring to a court case can also help you and your attorney prepare. In jurisdictions with common laws, squatters may argue that they took adverse possession of the property.
What to Avoid
Squatters do have some rights, which is why it’s so important to follow the legal procedure to avoid breaking any laws yourself. They are also human beings who do deserve respect even though they may be causing you frustration. Avoid taking any physical action against them, such as trying to forcibly remove them or their possessions from your property. You should also steer clear of turning off the utilities, changing the locks, or trying to threaten or intimidate the squatters in an attempt to get them to leave.
Although squatters are challenging to deal with, you can get them to leave by following certain steps and making sure you are in compliance with your local laws and regulations. It is important to protect yourself from the potential legal blowback by acting quickly when you find out you have someone illegally living on your property.