As a landlord, you should be aware of legal issues you could potentially encounter regarding your land. One such problem involves unauthorized occupants or squatters.
Since squatters rights can be quite complicated, we’ve compiled this guide to help you prevent the situation from escalating.
Learn the basics of ownership rights, adverse possession laws, and the eviction process to protect your property!
About Squatters Rights
Squatter’s rights are a set of laws that allow an individual or groups of people to use property under someone else’s name, provided that the owner does not initiate any legal action or eviction.
Since squatters can be displaced people or marginalized groups, these laws are meant to provide protection and affordable housing for them, especially when a piece of land is unused or going to waste.
Because of these laws, property owners cannot intimidate, threaten, or forcibly evict a squatter.
Additionally, these landlords are not allowed to cut off the utilities in the home, change the locks, or add extra security.
In fact, depending on where you live, adverse possession laws may kick in after a period of time and allow squatters to claim ownership of the property.
States With Squatter’s Rights
In the United States, all 50 states uphold squatter rights/adverse possession laws. However, the way they work varies per state.
For instance, while Montana and California require the individual to have lived on the property for only 5 years for the rights to come into effect, New Jersey and Louisiana require a longer period of time: 30 years.
Besides the length of occupancy, some states require squatters to possess a deed or title, prove that they’ve been paying taxes, or produce some other sort of formal or informal documentation.
If you have a problem with squatters, make sure to read up on each state’s laws so you know how to protect your rights.
With that said, because these details can get very complicated, it’s best to hire an attorney to handle the next steps and give you advice, especially if you have the means to do so.
Every state has different regulations on adverse possession claim and ownership of properties, so a professional well-versed on the topic will be able to efficiently and effectively find a solution for you.
How To Define A Squatter
Simply put, squatters are people residing on land where they have no legal right to occupy.
A squatter does not pay rent; he does not have legal documentation to prove ownership, and he has no permission from the actual owner to stay in that property.
More often than not, property owners have no knowledge that squatters are living on their land.
Unfortunately, if this continues on for a long period of time, it can become extremely difficult to start the eviction process.
Other Possible Situations
In some cases, an unauthorized occupant cannot be labeled a squatter, nor can he claim rights to the property.
Although these types may present as grey areas, typically, they cannot win the issue using squatter rights.
One possibility is trespassing. Although squatting and trespassing can be considered criminal offenses, the latter usually involves breaking and entering /damage to property, and it’s often temporary.
However, individuals who trespass and take up residence in the house for a long time period may eventually be recognized as squatters with squatter’s rights.
Illegally Extending The Lease
Another possible situation is when a tenant illegally extends his lease by staying in the residence past the terms of his contract.
Since tenants have legal permission from the owner of the property to inhabit the place, the agreement continues until the renters take action.
During this time, however, tenants must meet all other lease conditions, such as paying property taxes and rent.
Sometimes, a neighbor will knowingly or unknowingly encroach on other individuals’ property, especially if there are no clear structures or borders in place to prevent him from extending outside of his property line.
Under continuous possession and use, these individuals may end up being able to claim squatters rights. However, these types of situations are quite rare.
About Adverse Possession
Adverse possession is a legal process that allows an individual to claim legal title to a land they’ve been occupying for an extended amount of time.
Unfortunately, if an occupant can prove adverse possession to the courts, owners may have to give up the home without receiving payment in return.
For a specific situation to be regarded as adverse possession, it has to meet the following conditions:
The person must be living on the property or in the home, acting as the de facto property owner. This space should be occupied by the individual for the period of time set by the state.
This can range from anywhere between 5 to 30 years.
Next, it must be clear to any outsider or third-party that the squatter possesses and uses the property. Occupants should not be hiding their intentions from any casual observer.
New Real Estate Improvements
Another term under adverse possession is that the squatter must have made improvements of some sort to the home or property.
Some examples include new fixtures, outdoor space improvement, and room remodeling, among others.
In court, squatters could argue that these real estate improvements are payments for the right to continue living on the property.
No Prior Action Or Eviction Attempts
Most states also include this important term: Real owners/landlords must not have attempted eviction at any point during the squatters’ possession of the property.
Squatters should also prove they didn’t take the properties by physically forcing or coercing the landlords.
Depending on the individual state laws, squatters may need to fulfill additional requirements to claim adverse possession.
For instance, in some areas, the squatter must have been paying the property taxes, association fees, and other costs for a set period of time.
If no action is taken afterward, the person who pays the properties’ utility bills and succeeding tax amounts may be awarded owners’ rights.
Meanwhile, in other places, squatters must have the deed or some kind of documentation that proves transfer of possession—legal or not.
How To Regain Possession
Given all those complications, how, then, do you prevent successful adverse possession claims and properly evict squatters from your properties?
Involve The Police
As soon as it comes to your knowledge that a squatter has been squatting in your property without permission, you should call local law enforcement like the police.
Because they usually file an official report, you’ll be able to use this documentation when you start the eviction process in court.
Note that while police officials can remove trespassers from your homes, they cannot forcibly evict squatters without successful civil proceedings first.
Settle With The Squatter
Sometimes, instead of spending a lot of time and hard-earned money on a court case, it’s better to settle the squatting problem with cash.
Remember, adverse possession cases could take ages to resolve, plus you’d need to spend on legal fees, so your expenses could add up to an exorbitant amount. As a landlord, you’d also be losing rental income on your property.
By offering someone a cash incentive to leave, you could be saving more and getting your property back quicker.
However, if the man refuses to cooperate, you’ll need to go through the legal eviction procedures and have the courts resolve it for you.
Start The Eviction Process
If all else fails, it’s time to file for eviction.
Remember to avoid doing anything that could be construed as illegal eviction, such as harassment and the use of physical force.
Watch what you say around the illegal tenants as well—even innocent remarks could be interpreted as you giving consent.
Now, evicting a tenant or a squatter from your property follows a similar process.
Prepare The Eviction Notice
As the landlord, you should be aware of the eviction form types:
1) Notice to Pay or Quit – For tenants who fail to pay rent
2) Notice to Comply or Quit – For tenants who violate a term in the lease agreement
3) Notice to Vacate fo Illegal Activity – For tenants who have committed serious violations or illegal actions
Only the third type is an unconditional quit notice; this means the tenant is required to leave without an opportunity to remedy the situation.
Communicate With The Squatter
The landlord must inform the tenant once the notice is ready, so he can take proper action. Ideally, the problem should be resolved by this step.
If the tenant refuses to comply, and both the landlord and the tenant cannot come to an agreement, they have no other choice but to go to court.
Go To Court
Landlords must file the eviction papers. After that, they’ll receive a date for the official court hearing.
Both tenants and landlords must present all the necessary documentation they have to argue their side of the case.
These could include the lease agreement, notice to vacate, and any other correspondence that was exchanged by both parties.
Proceed With Eviction
If landlords win, they’ll get a Judgment and Writ of Possession that will legally require the tenant to move out of the property.
How To Safeguard Your Property
Fortunately, landlords don’t need to go through all this trouble if they take simple precautions:
- Make sure your lease agreements are clear and airtight
- Do a background check on potential tenants
- Inspect your property regularly
- If unoccupied, protect the property by installing security features that’ll prevent someone from entering it
- If you live far away, you’ll need someone to regularly check on your property. Hire a property manager from a reputable property management company to help you with inspection and maintenance.
As someone who owns valuable property, you need to be aware of potential complications and disputes to protect it thoroughly. Always stay informed! –