Finding unauthorized occupants in your rental property can be costly and potentially dangerous for landlords. However, even though they entered the property unlawfully, squatters have certain rights. That said, understanding the best way to handle squatters while protecting your property and yourself is crucial if you ever find yourself in this situation. Read along as we go over squatter’s rights and what to do if you find unauthorized occupants in your rental properties.
What Is a Squatter?
When you think of a squatter, you may think of someone breaking into your home. However, there are a few different scenarios in which you may be dealing with an unauthorized tenant. A squatter is someone who unlawfully takes occupancy of an uninhabited residence.
Some common examples of situations that lead to squatters include:
- Anyone who breaks into a vacant property and takes residence
- An authorized tenant who refuses to pay rent or vacate when the lease expires
- The victim of a scammer that posts fraudulent rental ads and collects rent payments
That said, there’s a difference between squatters and trespassers. Trespassers enter the property illegally but typically don’t take occupancy. Additionally, trespassing can result in arrest and a criminal charge. However, it becomes a civil matter when you discover squatters and requires an eviction process.
What Are Squatter’s Rights?
It’s hard to believe that someone who unlawfully occupies your home has rights. But they do. Squatter’s rights allow someone to occupy a property without the owner’s permission if they have not received a formal eviction notice. Furthermore, in several states, a squatter can claim legal possession of a property if they can prove adverse possession.
Squatters must meet several legal requirements to make an adverse possession claim. For instance, the property owner must know about the occupancy. Additionally, the squatter has never signed a lease and has lived there illegally long enough to become the new legal owner.
Generally, the residency must meet these requirements:
- Hostile- The squatter is there without the owner’s permission. However, it doesn’t always mean “hostile” or “violent.” Alternatively, it could be the result of an honest mistake or awareness of the unauthorized tenant.
- Actual- The squatter must be physically present and treat the property as though they own it.
- Continuous- The residency or possession must be ongoing for several years. Typically, 20 years or longer.
- Open and Notorious- The squatter doesn’t live there secretly, and the owner knows about the possession of the property.
- Exclusive- A single person or party held the possession. In other words, the squatter cannot share the property with other tenants, trespassers, or owners.
Unfortunately, if you find someone living in your rental property illegally, you can’t just throw them out. Here’s what to do if you find squatters in your rental property.
What to Do if You Discover a Squatter in Your Rental Property
Finding a squatter in your rental property can be frustrating. Although you may want to take matters into your own hands, you can find yourself in legal trouble. So, here are some of the steps to follow if you discover squatters on your property.
- Call the Authorities- Finding an unauthorized occupant on your property can be dangerous. It’s crucial to determine whether they’re a squatter or a trespasser. As such, calling local law enforcement is the best way to proceed. Then, they can remove any trespassers and inform you of any squatters.
- Serve and Eviction Notice- To remove a squatter, you must serve a formal eviction notice. Serving a notice is the only legally binding way to let squatters know they must leave.
- File a Civil Claim- Requirements for eviction proceedings vary depending on location. That said, it’s crucial for landlords to thoroughly research and comply with local laws. Generally, you’ll need to file a civil claim and attend an eviction hearing to remove the tenant.
- Formal Eviction by Proper Authorities- The judge will decide who wins the case after a court hearing. Typically, squatters will leave without further proceedings. However, authorities can remove the squatter if they don’t. Although it’ll come with a small fee, calling the authorities to remove squatters is the safest option.
What NOT to Do If You Find Squatters
To protect the squatter’s rights, there are certain things you cannot do as a rightful owner. Unfortunately, although the squatter took residency without permission, you cannot remove them on your own. To protect yourself and your property, here are some actions you’ll want to avoid:
- Physical or verbal confrontation
- Cutting off access to utilities
- Changing the locks or installing new locks
- Removing and discarding the squatter’s belongings
Self-help eviction is illegal and potentially dangerous. To avoid fines or litigation, avoid any of the behaviors listed above.
Why It’s Important to Handle Squatters Immediately
Once a squatter takes over your property, it’s only a matter of time for you to act properly. By allowing the squatter to stay, you can potentially damage your property and your rental business. Here’s why it’s crucial to act fast.
- Damages- Since they’re not a paying tenant, a squatter might not care about maintaining the property. If so, they can do more damage the longer they live there.
- Extended Time for Finding a Legal Tenant- You’re losing potential profits without a paying tenant in your property. Additionally, necessary repairs after a squatter leaves can increase vacancy time.
- Difficult Time Claiming Ownership- The longer a squatter is in your property, the more opportunity they have to claim ownership.
- Costs Time and Money- Removing a squatter costs money. After court fees, repairs, and lost rent, landlords can lose a lot of profits if they have squatters.
Now that you know how important it is to get rid of squatters quickly, here’s how to prevent them in the first place.
How Can Landlords Prevent Squatters?
Landlords can’t be at all of their properties simultaneously. Therefore, your property could fall victim to squatters if it’s not monitored carefully. Here are some crucial steps to take to protect your property from squatters.
- Install a security system that allows you to check on the property at any time
- Post “Private Property” or “No Trespassing” signs around any points of entry
- Periodically inspect the property for signs of squatters or trespassers
- Have a trusted neighbor or your Philadelphia property management team check on your property
- Maximize marketing to limit vacancy time
Protect Your Rentals with Property Management
Finding squatters in your rental property is any landlord’s worst nightmare. Anticipating and preventing squatters isn’t easy to do, especially if you own several rentals. However, hiring your local rental property management team is the perfect way to gain some peace of mind. After all, if you discover someone in your rental, it’s crucial to act appropriately and consider the squatter’s rights.
Bay Property Management Group offers comprehensive services to ensure your rental business runs smoothly. With BMG, you can feel rest assured that all tenants are thoroughly screened and only qualified applicants live in your rentals. After all, our goal is to protect your investments while keeping your best interests in mind.
We offer complete rental management services in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Northern Virginia, and Washington, DC. Contact BMG today to learn more.