Have you ever dealt with unwanted guests?
In any scenario, there is nothing more frustrating than those who overstay their welcome long after the scheduled time to leave and those that even show up unannounced. This is especially true if you're learning how to be a landlord and discover a squatter camped on your property.
Your first instinct may be to force them out, but that may prove difficult if they have squatters' rights. Without landlord insurance and legal help, you're stuck wondering what your options are.
If squatters are an issue for you, continue reading this guide of everything you need to know on squatter rights and how to protect yourself.
What Is a Squatter? Why Do They Have Rights?
A squatter is someone who moves into land or property that they do not own any deeds to or any legal claims. Squatters have no permission to be there as they are not paying the landlord.
This should not be confused with the term 'trespasser.' Though similar, a trespasser enters a property unlawfully for a brief period. States consider squatting a civic issue, and it's different because they enter but intend on not exiting the premises.
It may seem like a straightforward issue that can be resolved by kicking the person out by physical force and other methods. However, if not handled correctly with proper steps, this situation can lead to the property being stripped from the landlord's possession and into the hands of the squatter.
Some laws protect squatters and thus need to be handled quickly and by the book.
Squatters' rights have claimed properties as far back as the medieval period. In that time, a squatter's claims made on a property gained approval if they built their home within one night. That nightmare scenario no longer exists in the U.S, and policies are in place to allow due process.
The rights deter landlords and owners from taking the law into their own hands. Without these rights, landlords could justify the mistreatment of tenants, and vigilante justice would spill into other parts of society.
What Are Squatter Rights?
Through the doctrine of adverse possession, a person may acquire the land/title owned by someone else as long as they follow specific requirements. Each state has its own laws regarding squatters' rights and the length of time, between 5-20 years, they must reside on the property to claim it. Furthermore, squatters must abide by the common laws of the doctrine. They are as follows:
- Squatters must have continuous possession of the land/property.
- Hostile possession: the squatter did not gain possession of the property.
- Open possession that is not in secret.
- Actual possession: the landlord has cause for trespass
- Exclusive ownership: the squatter acts if the property is their own.
In short, a person can claim squatters' rights if they have openly taken residency on your land without permission and pay taxes on the land. All of these increase their chance of being awarded the land that was once yours.
Note: This does not apply to those who previously rented and refused to leave or pay after lease termination. If this is the case, take a look at local eviction laws.
Squatters' rights do not differentiate if possession was on purpose or accidental. For example, if your neighbor builds a fence and infringes over your property line. If you do not object and a certain amount of time passes, that neighbor could claim that land for themselves.
The most significant aspect of squatters' rights is that they must be given the right to go through an eviction process. Without one, your claim may be weakened in court.
How to Navigate Squatters
If you have a property that a squatter has moved into, time is of the essence to remove them in a legally safe manner. Do not assume the squatter's status or income, as the scenarios for a squatter to obtain property are endless.
Steps to Take Against Squatters
If you found a squatter on your vacant property, the first step is to call your local police department or law enforcement. They can be present when speaking to the squatter and provide police report documentation that you are taking action. Keep in mind that they may not be able to take action to remove them right away.
If they did not leave with police presence, you can then go ahead and file an Unlawful Detainer Action. This will start the process of serving a formal eviction notice. It's best to seek legal advice, as this process varies depending on the state of residence.
This gives you the ability to state your evidence that this person does not have a claim to your property. Both you and the squatter will need to be present for the court hearing. If they do not show, there is a higher chance that the court will rule in your favor. If that happens, the court will order local law enforcement to forcefully remove the squatter from the property. If the squatter does not follow both, and they still will not leave, you can then file an unlawful detainer lawsuit.
Note: Some states require you to wait before touching anything on the property. Removing any of the squatters' possessions before that period may result in further complications. Check your local laws and seek legal advice from an attorney on the next steps.
Steps for Prevention
Once your squatter problems are gone, take the necessary steps to ensure it does not happen again by securing your property. Go on property lockdown. If you cannot regularly check in on the real estate, hire a property management agency that can provide weekly or monthly drop-ins.
Posted signs saying 'No Trespassing' will come in handy in proving future trespassing. You can also secure the perimeter with an alarm system, outdoor lighting, and street cameras so no one can sneak in the night.
Stay up to date with home renovations. By making sure old windows and doors are kept in good condition, you'll save yourself hundreds of dollars on an eviction process if someone decides to call your property home.
Always stay up to date on the tax payments of your property. Cases where squatters are awarded the titles, are primarily due to them paying taxes on the property for an extended period while the owner either ignored tax payments or lacked the proof of tax payments.
Note: Keep in mind that squatters are not always strangers. It can also be people you know. They try to disguise their plan of squatting by agreeing to exchange work they do for a place to stay. This can lead to other problems. In California, for example, if a person can get oral or written proof of such agreement, you could owe them tenant's rights.
Invest in Landlord Insurance
As the landlord of a vulnerable property, it is your responsibility to make sure that your assets are fully covered. More often than not, squatters who lose the right to dwell in your space will not leave peacefully. You must prepare for damage or retaliation on their part. That's why it would be in your best interest to add additional coverage with landlord insurance.
What Is Landlord Insurance?
Landlord insurance is insurance for your home that is being rented to others regularly. Landlord insurance considers the risks associated with having a rental property, including protecting your rental income.
It is different from homeowners insurance because it is only for your primary residence and only covers personal property damage.
Is It Affordable?
The different coverage plans offer flexibility for what you want to cover as well as the price. The deductible ranges are based on the property, the property's occupancy, and the damage type.
While the law does not mandate it, landlord insurance can help you prevent catastrophic losses that can happen while managing a property. By adding landlord insurance to your properties, you'll gain peace of mind knowing that you're covered if something happens. The policy can cover various risks, such as fire, water, theft, and storm damage.
It even offers liability coverage in the event of a lawsuit. Having protection on all fronts can prevent problems before they even begin.
Protect Yourself From a Squatters' Headache
The idea of someone taking land and property that you paid for and own may seem like an unfathomable thought, and you may not think a thing like this can happen to you. Think again! Squatters' rights are real, and there are multiple scenarios where they can be claimed.
When learning how to be a landlord, remember to stay up to date with the local rights of squatters and tenants you acquire.
At Steadily, we want to ensure you have the knowledge you need to protect yourself against unlawful tenants. Our landlord insurance options cover many types of properties and fit in any budget.
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