How To Get Rid of Squatters
If you have a tenant who has stayed on without paying rent, they’re what’s known as a holdover tenant. This is often called “tenancy at sufferance” in the legal profession.
You might, however, consider them a squatter. A Squatter is defined as:
a person who settles on land or occupies property without title, right, or payment of rent
In other words, a squatter is someone who lives in your rental unit, but does not have the legal right to be there. The worst thing about squatters, is that in some more “enlightened states”, it can be almost impossible to get them removed from your property. California – we’re looking at you!
The rise of house sharing platforms like AirBNB or VRBO has created a huge rise in squatters, or previously paying tenants who now have stopped paying the rent. Why, you ask? California, and many other states, have laws that define tenants as anyone who has lived in a property for 30 days.
If you rent out your AirBNB for more then 30 days, in those states, your “guests” would become tenants. If they stopped paying, that means you’re going to need to evict them.
Hopefully you don’t have rental units just lying vacant. But if you do, you may end up with the worst kind of Squatters – the kind that trespass and refuse to leave. As a law abiding landlord, is the law on your side?
It depends, as always, on the city and state you live in. If your squatters manage to fulfill certain requirements, the law might recognize them as lawful residents. For example, in some states, just getting utilities hooked up under the squatter’s name can be considered residency!
If the squatters establish this important distinction, then the police are not going to help. You’re going to turn to the civil courts, a process that may take months or years. In the meanwhile, you’re up the creek while your unit is in limbo.
Warning! Don’t Do These Things To Your Squatters!
If you end up with either illegal squatters or tenants requiring an eviction, then it’s important not to do things that may harm your cause later in the eyes of the law. In other words, don’t shoot yourself in the foot.
- Lock the tenant out, put padlocks up or change the locks
- Attempt to shut off the utilities
- Intimidate the tenant/squatter physically or verbally
Help! I have a squatter, what should I do?
If your vacant rental unit ends up being squatted, here’s what you should do right away:
- Call the cops. Let the police know immediately that you have a trespassing problem. If they consider the matter a civil issue, it’s time to start eviction right away.
- Start the eviction process. You can find more details in our eviction guide.
- Call the Bailiff. The squatter probably won’t move when served with an eviction notice. The law is now on your side – have the local sheriff proceed with the actual eviction.
You need to be careful with your rental property, and protect yourself at all times against squatters. If you do end up with them, make sure you know exactly how to handle them according to your state and local laws before going forward.