As a landlord, understanding squatters’ rights and regulations is crucial to protecting your property and ensuring a smooth tenancy. Squatting is an often misunderstood property ownership aspect, but in this guide, I provide a roadmap for landlords to safeguard their investments. I delve into why squatters’ rights exist, when they apply, squatters’ rights by state, and how to provide eviction notices for squatters.
What Are Squatters?
A squatter is someone who enters a property they do not own and starts living there without permission. They don’t have a lease, are not tenants, and have no authority to be there. Squatting typically begins when an area of property is vacant and not under the owner’s supervision. Unfortunately, knowledgeable squatters can take advantage of owners and drag them into lengthy, expensive legal battles—sometimes, they can even get paid to leave.
What Are Squatters’ Rights?
Squatters’ rights, typically called “adverse possession,” are laws that allow a squatter to use or occupy someone else’s property provided the rightful owner does not evict them or take other legal action against them. Laws on squatters’ rights usually only come into play after someone occupies a property illegally for a predetermined time.
For instance, in New York or Texas, a squatter who has lived on a property for 10 years or more may be granted “adverse possession” under state law. It’s crucial to remember that every state has its own distinctive laws about this matter. This implies that different states have distinct methods and approaches for squatting.
Why Squatters’ Rights Exist
Squatters’ rights exist to prevent vigilante justice from being used. It is strikingly similar to renters’ rights, which protect tenants from deceitful landlords. The laws establish each party’s rights to maintain real estate markets’ stable and peaceful negotiations.
- Why squatters’ rights exist for landlords: Squatters’ rights exist to prevent property owners from taking issues into their own hands because situations might quickly become hostile if landlords were permitted to act independently.
- Why squatters’ rights exist for tenants/squatters: Squatters’ rights prohibit property owners or landlords from forcibly evicting squatters without a legal eviction notice.
Squatting vs Trespassing
“Squatting” and “trespassing” are related concepts. However, they have different legal implications and connotations. Check out our table below to further understand its definition, intent, and legal consequences:
It is an act of occupying and residing in someone else's property, often without their consent.
It occurs when someone enters or remains on someone else's property without the owner's permission.
To dwell on or use the property as a residence.
It occurs for various reasons, such as curiosity, recreation, or malicious intent. It is not always about building a house on the land.
Squatting's legality varies considerably based on the state's laws. Squatters may obtain legal rights to a property in certain jurisdictions, such as Florida and California, if they occupy the property for five to seven years through adverse possession. However, squatting is illegal, and property owners may take legal action to evict squatters.
Most jurisdictions consider trespassing to be illegal. Property owners have the authority to keep people off their land, and those who trespass may be subject to fines or other penalties. In most cases, property owners or law authorities can remove trespassers right away.
Squatter Rights or Laws per State
Squatters’ rights exist in all 50 states. However, how and when these laws are executed varies substantially by state. According to the squatter laws of the states listed below, the person must have resided on the property in question for the following years:
When Do Squatters’ Rights Apply?
Squatters’ rights require five basic minimum principles to be true. The squatter must:
Nonetheless, the conditions for full adverse possession or fulfilling squatters’ rights will vary from state to state. For instance, in many states, squatters must prove they had good faith that they were, in fact, in possession of the property in question.
How to Evict a Squatter
Now that you know more about squatters and the harm they may cause to your property, you understand how critical it is to act quickly to regain control of your property.
The following are the proper steps to take while evicting squatters:
1. Call the Police
Call the police immediately if you discover someone on your property. The authorities can identify if the individual is a squatter or a trespasser. If they are trespassing, the police will consider it a criminal offense and remove them. If they are squatters, you must proceed to civil court. The police may need to speak with the squatter to confirm their status, and they will probably demand documentation proving your ownership of the property.
2. Provide Formal Eviction Notice & Begin the Eviction Process
Providing a squatter with an eviction is a process that is generally similar to any other eviction procedure. The following steps must be completed in accordance with your state’s timeline and regulations:
- Deliver a notice of eviction.
- Wait for the required time.
- If the squatter refuses to go, file for eviction in your local court.
- Wait for the court to serve the documents.
- Attend the hearing to present and defend your case.
- Receive a judgment.
- Use the judgment to enforce your ownership with the local sheriff.
The eviction proceedings will grant you the legal right to reclaim possession of your property. Send an eviction notice to the squatter immediately. Make the necessary documents as soon as possible to send out your notice. Be sure to adhere to any local requirements regarding the information that must be included in the eviction notice. If the squatter goes, you’re good to go. If not, proceed to the third step below.
3. File an Eviction Lawsuit & Get the Squatter Removed
You can file a lawsuit if the squatter still refuses to leave after being told to. Following this, a hearing date will be scheduled, and both parties must be present. Once you have received a final court ruling following your eviction hearing, if the judge rules in your favor, you can present it to local police to have the squatter officially removed. At this point, you will be permitted to change the locks on your property.
4. Get Rid of Any Squatters’ Belongings Left Behind
It’s time to dispose of whatever possessions the squatters left behind after evicting them from your premises. Although getting rid of the objects or selling them right away can be tempting, you might not be able to do so legally. In several states, landlords must provide squatters formal written notice that specifies when they must pick up their stuff. Prepare this letter and present it to your court hearing to protect yourself, as squatters are frequently hard to contact. You can also specify what you plan to do if the belongings are not picked up by the time specified in the notice.
Pro Tip: Offer Squatters Money
You can also take a monetary approach, also known as cash for keys, if you prefer to avoid the eviction route. Some squatters will leave if you give them a lump sum of money to do so. Although it may be less expensive than filing for eviction, this option is not risk-free. If you try this option, write up clear contracts and consult with local landlord-tenant legal services to ensure your actions are legally binding.
How to Prevent Squatters From Invading Your Property
Screening and selecting the right tenants is the best way to protect your property and keep squatters out. Potential renters with a track record of on-time rent payments and who don’t have any possible red flags, including bad credit or a history of eviction, should be prioritized by landlords. This kind of renter has a significantly lower chance of becoming a squatter or holdover tenant.
However, if your property is vacant, you should keep an eye out for any suspicious activities and put up preventive measures. Some excellent options are:
- Setting up an alarm system.
- Putting up signs saying “No Trespassing.”
- Installing lights on your property that detect motion.
- Hiring a firm that manages properties (this is a great choice if you don’t live near your property to visit it frequently).
By taking these precautions, a landlord can protect the vacant property and keep squatters from moving in and claiming possession of it.
Being well-versed in squatters’ rights is an essential component of effective property management for landlords. Knowing squatters’ rights by state is key in navigating the complex and evolving landscape of squatters’ rights in America. By staying informed and proactive, landlords can mitigate risks, protect their investments, and maintain control over their properties. Remember that knowledge is your best ally in overcoming the obstacles of property management and ensuring a safe and profitable renting experience.