Don’t Violate Squatters’ Rights: Handle Illegal Occupancy the Lawful Way

Real estate is among the most lucrative investments a person can make. Unfortunately, owning rental or investment properties, especially in the residential sector, comes with risks.

As a property owner, there is one risk that you likely fear most: a squatter. A squatter is an individual who occupies property unlawfully. While you might think you are within your rights to remove the individual, you must proceed with caution.

Acknowledging and Understanding Squatter's Rights

Many states have squatter's rights laws — laws that allow a squatter to inhabit or use another person's property if the legal owner has not evicted or taken action within a set timeframe. Squatter's rights or adverse possession laws exist in all 50 states, but enforcement differs in each.

While a squatter occupies a residence or property illegally, the person is not a trespasser. A squatter can prove they have tenant rights, whether through utility bills, tax documents or an adverse possession claim.

A trespasser has no proof of residency. They typically break in through an illegal entry and can provide no evidence of long-term occupancy. A landlord can contact police to remove a trespasser for violating trespassing or loitering laws.

Protecting Your Property Against Squatters

Ensuring legal occupancy is the most effective way to protect your property against squatters. Offer your rental property at fair market value and screen all tenants before leasing.

You should review the rental histories of all potential tenants. Look for warning signs like evictions and frequency of late payments to weed out troubled applicants.

If you cannot keep your property filled, take precautions to limit the risks of trespassers and squatters. Vacant properties will draw attention. As a landlord, you need to take proactive measures to protect your property, such as:

  • Installing security systems
  • Hiring a property management company
  • Installing motion-activated security lights
  • Setting up "no trespassing" signs

You want to make a home inaccessible to anyone without legitimate permission to be on the grounds. Also, review your state's adverse possession laws to know your legal standing should the worst-case scenario occur.

Evicting Squatters From Your Property

You cannot physically remove a squatter from your property. You do not want to risk injuring yourself or the squatter. As frustrating as it might seem, there is a safe, legal, and effective way to remove a squatter from your property.

First, call the police and file an official report. Filing a report creates a paper trail you can use as evidence if you need to take the squatter to court.

Second, file an official eviction notice. Most states will require a landlord to file an Unlawful Detainer action. You will need to talk to your attorney to learn the exact process.

Third, you will need to sue if the squatter refuses to leave your property after receiving the eviction notice. The judge will grant a police order to remove the squatter if the court rules in your favor at the hearing.

Finally, you can remove belongings the squatter left behind. However, consult a lawyer because some states require owners to provide written notice providing a deadline for the individual to remove their belongings.

Owning a rental property is potentially lucrative, but squatters can make the investment a nightmare. Know the law and your rights before purchasing an investment property.