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In rare scenarios, people may occupy your property without your permission or knowledge. This can be devastating for landlords, as it means you cannot search for paying tenants until the occupiers leave or are removed. Plus, there may be a risk of damage to your property.

Squatters though, have rights – you can’t simply force them to leave. Instead, you need to follow the property protocol to resolve the issue with respect to the regulations that protect tenants’ rights.

What Are Squatters Rights?

In many ways, squatter’s rights are similar to the rights of renters, as they are essentially unauthorized tenants. Squatters are individuals or groups occupying a property they don’t own and are not paying rent.

Despite the fact that these “tenants” don’t have permission to occupy the premises, you can’t simply kick them out. Generally speaking, the rules regarding squatters include the occupant’s right not to be displaced from the property without notice. Most regulations dictate that unauthorized tenants must receive an eviction notice that must be delivered either by mail or via the local police department.

Regulations around squatter’s rights tend to treat the unauthorized occupants as tenants that have failed to pay rent. You should not directly contact the people living in your property, instead, follow regulations to remove squatters legally.

It’s important to also note that squatters should be dealt with quickly. Adverse possession laws may allow squatters to take possession of your property after a period of 7 (under color of title) to 20 years (not under color of title). Depending on your location there may be additional conditions required for them to take possession of the property such as paying some of the costs associated with the property.

Why Do Squatters Have Rights?

The main goal of squatter’s rights is to discourage property owners from taking matters into their own hands. If landlords were allowed to take action themselves, the situation could quickly escalate to violent confrontations. Squatters have rights to facilitate a system of justice. The law defines the rights of each involved party to reach a peaceful resolution as quickly as possible.

Which States Have Squatters Rights?

Almost every state has regulations regarding squatter’s rights, though these laws vary from state to state. Housing regulations set by states and municipalities typically govern how landlords must handle evictions, especially the eviction of squatters.

What’s the Difference Between Squatting and Trespassing?

Whilst squatting is technically a type of trespassing, there is a clear delineation between the two. Trespassing involves entering a property unlawfully; squatters take this one step further: they have the intention of taking ownership or of making the property their permanent residence.

Generally, squatters will take possession of unattended real estate, such as vacant buildings, as these are only loosely monitored. However, tenants whose lease has expired or are no longer paying rent may also be classified as squatters.

If either the owner or a resident is occupying the property, a trespasser generally won’t be covered by squatter’s rights. In some states, the use of force to remove trespassers from an owner-occupied property is a protected right.

How to Remove a Squatter

Most states and municipalities have specific regulations regarding the handling of unauthorized occupants in your property. It’s always a good idea to get legal advice from a licensed professional when looking to pursue an eviction process.

There are a few things you need to know before evicting squatters:

  • Are they squatting or trespassing? An effective way to determine this is to consider the length of time the individuals have been occupying your property. A short period of time could be classified as a criminal breaking and entering situation. In this scenario, you may not be required to follow an eviction process; rather you should call the police and report the break-in. If however, they’ve occupied the property over a longer period, they are more likely to be squatters and have the associated rights.
  • It’s best to call local law enforcement first. Keep in mind that the police will not be able to evict the squatters right away, but they will be able to accompany you to the property to ask the squatter to leave. You will also be able to file a police report that you can later use in court to demonstrate that you took action against the squatters.
  • The next step is to file an Unlawful Detainer Action. The process varies from state to state, so it’s best to solicit the services of an attorney. This action will trigger the process of serving the squatters with a formal eviction notice, which is most often delivered by the local sheriff. The sooner you start this process, the sooner you’ll be able to remove the squatters. If they do not leave after the eviction has gone through the courts, you’ll likely need to go to the police station or sheriff’s office to ask for assistance removing the squatters from your property.
  • If the squatters do not vacate the premises by the date specified on the eviction notice, you can file a lawsuit. In most states, this is referred to as an unlawful detainer lawsuit. Both parties are required to appear in court. If the squatters do not show, the judge will most likely rule in your favor, in which case the police will forcibly evict the squatters from the premises.
  • Once the squatters have left your property, you may still not be allowed to remove any belongings they’ve left behind. Make sure to check the laws for your state.
  • Keep adverse possession laws in mind. Don’t wait too long to remove squatters as they may be able to claim ownership of the property.

Squatter evictions typically occur when larger real estate firms purchase distressed properties or foreclosed properties. In contrast, squatter evictions are rarely necessary for independent landlords because these landlords tend to have a better knowledge of the status of their tenants and properties.

Keep an Eye on Your Property

Property owners need to be familiar with squatter’s rights and the legal processes and documentation required to handle this situation efficiently should it ever occur to them.

The best way to keep squatters out of your property is to regularly visit and maintain it.

Beyond monitoring who’s in your property, it’s also essential for landlords to find quality tenants in the first place and communicate with them throughout their stay. Landlord Studio can help you find and thoroughly screen potential tenants so you can be confident that you’re signing the lease with tenants who will pay rent on time and uphold their responsibilities.

landlord lawsReal Estate Investing

Ben Luxon

Ben is the editor and lead writer for Landlord Studio. He has worked with real estate professionals all over the world and written educational articles on tech, real estate, and financial growth for sites such as Forbes, TechBullion, and Business Magazine.

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