Every landlord aims to secure quality tenants to occupy their rental properties. However, that’s not always the case. In fact, there are a few scenarios that can put a huge roadblock in finding new tenants. One of the worst-case scenarios is discovering squatters in a rental home.
A squatter could be a tenant who refused to move out or someone who secretly moved into your vacant property. Unfortunately, even if they occupy the property illegally, squatters still have some rights. Let’s discuss what their rights are and how landlords can prevent squatters.
What is a Squatter?
A squatter is someone who lives in a rental property unlawfully. Now, the first thing you may think of is someone breaking into a vacant rental and living there without anyone noticing. While this is one squatter situation, several other scenarios involve squatters. For example, a squatter could be:
- An authorized tenant that stops paying rent and refuses to move out
- A tenant that doesn’t move out once the lease expires
- Someone unknowingly paying a rental scammer that posts fake listings and collects the monthly rent
There is a distinct difference between squatters and trespassers, although many people consider them to be the same. A squatter can be anyone that illegally takes residence at a rental property and doesn’t pay the proper owner.
On the other hand, a trespasser is someone who illegally enters a property to steal or cause damage. This is considered a criminal matter and requires landlords to contact authorities immediately.
What Rights Do Squatters Have?
Even though squatters are living in rentals illegally, they still have rights. In fact, a squatter can claim rights to a property in Maryland if they continuously reside there for 20 years without being removed by a landlord. Then, when they file an adverse possession claim, they can gain ownership of the property.
That said, squatters must meet several legal requirements before making an adverse possession claim. Their residency must be:
- Actual- The possession cannot be imagined or planned possession of land; it must exist and currently take place.
- Open and Notorious- The residency is not done in secret, and the possession of the property is known.
- Continuous- The residency or possession of the property has been ongoing for 20 years or longer.
- Hostile- The occupancy is against the legal interests of the landlord or property owner.
- Exclusive- A single person or legal party held the possession.
Although it’s true that squatters can eventually gain control of your property, it’s doubtful. So next, let’s go over how landlords can prevent a complicated legal situation with squatters by following some essential tips.
How Can Landlords Prevent Squatters?
After learning the rights that squatters have, landlords will want to prevent dealing with them at all costs. Unfortunately, it can be harder to stop squatters if you have extended vacancy periods. Luckily, there are several steps you can take to protect your property from squatters and trespassers. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Invest in a home security system that allows you to view the property at all times.
- Avoid applicants with poor rental histories.
- Have your Washington DC property management company regularly inspect the property.
- Post “No trespassing” or “Private Property” signs around your property.
- Market your rental to avoid extended vacancies.
Although you can’t always avoid squatter situations, you can use these prevention methods at any time to limit trespassers and squatters.
What to Do When You Have a Squatter in Your Rental
While you may want to react and attempt to kick out a squatter immediately, it’s crucial not to take matters into your own hands. Instead, you must contact authorities to remove unauthorized people from the premises. Here is a list of some steps to take once you discover a squatter on your property.
- Contact the Authorities- Although you may be tempted to kick out an unauthorized person from your property, you must contact the police. After all, they could be a squatter or a trespasser wanting to cause harm. However, if they are a squatter, the police will turn it over to you to file the proper claims.
- Serve an Eviction Notice- When you get word that squatters live in your rental, it’s time to take action by serving an eviction notice. Sometimes, squatters will vacate the property once you file an eviction notice. However, if they don’t, landlords should take the following steps.
- File a Civil Claim- It varies depending on local laws, so landlords must study and comply with all eviction regulations. Additionally, landlords must file a civil claim to remove the tenant legally.
- Authorities Evict Squatters- Once the claim has gone to court and you win the eviction case, the court will issue an eviction order. Typically, squatters will vacate the premises. However, if necessary, authorities will help remove squatters.
What NOT to Do if You Have a Squatter
Since squatters still have certain rights, there are several things landlords should avoid if they discover a squatter. For example, landlords cannot attempt to remove the squatter themselves. This may lead to a violation of their rights and legal trouble for landlords.
Additionally, landlords or property managers cannot change the property locks, turn off utilities, or remove a squatter’s property from the premises. Although it’s tempting to clear out a property once the squatter leaves, landlords must wait until legal proceedings are done, and the eviction is finalized.
Finally, landlords cannot threaten squatters with physical or verbal attacks. Although it can be difficult, it’s best to hand over the situation to authorities and stay calm throughout the process to ensure the smooth removal of unauthorized tenants. You could face fines or litigation if you let your emotions take over and decide to confront a squatter.
Why Is It Crucial to Handle Squatters Right Away?
Landlords or property managers should take action immediately if they’ve discovered squatters in a rental property. If you let the squatter continue to live there, you’re allowing more wear and tear on your property and potentially other damages. Additionally, you aren’t making money since they aren’t paying rent. That said, acting quickly can help landlords minimize the following scenarios:
- Additional or worse property damage
- Extended vacancy periods while searching for another tenant
- Added costs such as court fees, property repairs, and vacancies
- Trouble claiming ownership of the property
Unfortunately, discovering squatters in your rental property can be costly and potentially dangerous. However, when you handle matters quickly, you can speed up legal processes and remove squatters as soon as possible. If you’re not sure how to handle a proper eviction, you can always reach out to your local property management team for help.
How Property Management Can Help Prevent Squatters
Landlords can’t prevent every unfavorable situation, but they can take precautionary steps to minimize damages and legal proceedings. Hiring a trusted property management team in Howard County is one great way landlords can improve their rental business.
Bay Property Management Group can help with several services, including:
- Tenant screenings
- Move-in/move out reports
- Rental registration
- Maintenance requests
- Rent collection
- Eviction services
- And more!
Contact Bay Property Management Group today if you need rental management help in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, Washington DC, and other surrounding counties.