Have you ever heard of the nightmare scenario where squatters take over your rental property and refuse to leave? Even though squatting is illegal in the United States, squatters’ rights and local and state laws can make it a hassle to regain control of your rental.
The legal process for evicting squatters can be lengthy and costly, leaving landlords feeling helpless and frustrated. However, there are proactive steps you can take to protect your property and your rights.
In this article, you’ll learn how to get rid of squatters, your options for legal recourse, and whether your landlord insurance can cover the associated legal expenses.
Squatting is defined as occupying an abandoned or unoccupied property without the owner's permission. Squatters take up residence in various residential properties, including vacant homes, apartments, and even short-term vacation rentals. It may occur for several reasons, including financial instability, homelessness, or even as a form of protest.
Here are the four legal criteria that define squatting, according Nolo’s legal resources:
It's important to note that squatting is an illegal occupation of a building or land that does not belong to the occupier, while trespassing occurs when a person enters private property temporarily without permission. However, trespassing can turn into squatting if the perpetrator stays on the property for an extended period without permission.
As a landlord, knowing how to identify squatters on your property helps you take quick action and prevent further unauthorized occupancy. Here are some best practices and signs to look for:
Generally, if a squatter is occupying your property without your permission, they are trespassing and have no right to be there. This means you have the right to take legal action to remove them.
You must follow the proper steps to remove squatters legally from your property. This process may involve serving them with a notice to vacate the premises or filing an eviction lawsuit.
However, it's essential to understand that this process may take time and can be complicated if squatters are legally considered tenants.
Moreover, landlords also need to know that the legal rights of squatters may vary depending on the situation and location of the property. For example, if they have been living on the property for a certain amount of time, they may have rights under adverse possession laws, making it more challenging to remove them.
Here are some common steps you can take as a landlord:
Note that landlords cannot forcefully remove squatters. If you do so, you may face legal consequences under both landlord-tenant laws and criminal statutes. You must follow the proper legal steps, regardless of the length of time the squatters have been occupying the property. This is especially crucial because squatters have legal rights that can further complicate the process.
As a property owner, it may seem unfair that squatters could have legal rights, but in some cases, they do. Squatters can gain legal rights through a doctrine called "adverse possession." This doctrine allows a person occupying a property for a specific period without the owner's permission to gain legal ownership of the property.
The time needed to gain legal ownership typically ranges from a few years to 20 years, depending on state law. During this time, a squatter must use the property openly, continuously, and exclusively.
While the requirements for adverse possession vary from state to state, they typically include things like the use of the property, the payment of taxes on the property, payments on utility bills, and more.
An adverse possession claim is difficult to prove and requires clear evidence, and state laws are quite stringent in these circumstances. Nonetheless, if squatters meet the requirements, they may be able to assume legal ownership of the property.
In addition to adverse possession, squatters may have some legal rights under various state laws, such as tenant rights or required procedures for eviction. To ensure you understand the laws governing squatting in your state, you may want to consult an attorney or refer to the American Apartment Owners Association's (AAOA) list of squatters' laws. This database contains information on laws regarding squatting in all 50 states.
Since the eviction process requires several legal steps, squatters can be difficult to remove from your property. As a result, removing squatters may result in significant losses due to the legal costs of the process.
To help cover those costs, some insurance companies have started offering landlords specific coverage for squatting. Generally, this coverage helps cover a landlord's lost rental income; some policies may also cover the legal expense of evicting squatters.
In most cases, this type of coverage must be added as an endorsement to an existing policy and often involves an additional premium. Make sure to read your policy carefully since not all policies cover squatters or provide enough coverage for income loss, property damage, or liabilities caused by squatters.
In addition to understanding whether squatter coverage is included in their policy or is available as an endorsement, landlords must be aware of any restrictions or exclusions related to potential claims regarding squatters. For example, some policies exclude intentional acts committed by their tenants or require specific eviction procedures for the claim to be considered valid.
In addition to knowing your rights as a landlord and the legal rights of squatters, it's critical to avoid the situation in the first place. Here are a few tips to help you prevent squatters from entering your vacant property:
While there are many steps you can take to prevent damages and protect your investment, having landlord insurance can provide an added layer of security. With the right coverage, you can be confident you have protection when unforeseen circumstances arise.
Here are some additional resources to learn more about safeguarding your rental: