How to Get Rid of Squatters

Written on June 8, 2015 by , updated on December 28, 2015

SquattersWhen your tenant remains on your property without paying rent, he’s called a holdover tenant, also known as a tenancy at sufferance.

But you can also consider him to be a squatter – a person who unlawfully occupies property you own.

Sometimes squatters hold a certain attitude, as if they have rights to your property. And depending on the circumstances, and the local laws, they sometimes do.

That’s right! If a squatter has been allowed to occupy a property for some time, they might have the same landlord-tenant rights as holdover tenants.

Some jurisdictions are friendlier to squatters than others are. San Francisco, for example, has a tenants’ union that helps squatters stay on your property.

A Common Problem

Pay attention to this case, particularly if you live in the California:

What about Trespassers?

Let’s say you have rental property that has been vacant and you haven’t been to visit it for a while. When you do go … surprise! You find some uninvited and unwelcome residents living there. Can you kick them out?

It depends. In some cities, if squatters turned on utilities at that address in their name, they might be able to claim residency. Even though these people are stealing your property, the police consider this a civil, not a criminal, matter.

To get the squatters out, you would need to open a court case. Fun, huh? You probably know that most court systems aren’t exactly the epitome of efficiency. The case could take months or even years to resolve.

This is the dark side of landlording, and it’s a huge flaw in the justice system.

What You Can’t Do

If you find an unwelcome squatter living on your property or if you have a tenant who stopped paying rent, you can’t do the following:

  • Put padlocks on the place to keep him out
  • Shut off utilities
  • Try to intimidate him in any way

Courts could view those acts as self-help, or illegal, and could fine you.

Regarding shutting off utilities, it’s probably better to keep them on anyway. Your squatter might improvise by using candles that could start a fire. He also might continue to use the bathroom facilities … even when they aren’t working. Enough said there.

What You Should Do

Try to avoid a squatter situation from happening. If you plan to leave your property vacant, make sure that it’s secure. You or a property management company should also check on the place regularly.

If you already have a squatter, here’s what you could do:

  1. Call the Police
    Act immediately if you discover a squatter by calling the police. The longer you wait, the more likely it will be for the courts to think you gave this person consent to be there. If the police declare this a civil matter and won’t remove the squatter, start the eviction process.
  2. Give Notice, and then File an Unlawful Detainer action
    Once you serve the eviction notice, you could get lucky, and the squatter might leave. If not, you’ll need to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit, which is the formal way to evict. Make sure you follow your state’s laws.
  3. Hire the Sheriff to Force the Squatter Out
    If the squatter is still sticking around after you’ve won your lawsuit, you’ll need to pay for a sheriff or police officer to get him out.
  4. Legally Handle the Abandoned Personal Property
    Find out what you can and cannot do with any stuff the squatter might have left behind. You probably can’t just get rid of it and would need to follow proper procedure for your jurisdiction. Many times, you can place it in a storage unit at the tenant’s expense. If they don’t pay to remove the items, the storage facility will auction it off.

Conclusion

Property owners need to do what they can to protect themselves against squatters.

Unfortunately, the law favors squatters by treating them as tenants even though this is unfair to owners. It places the hardship on legal owners instead of on wrongful squatters. Until there are laws that give landlords immediate relief and that punish the squatters, we’ll see this problem continue.

Have you ever had a problem with a squatter? If so, share your story in the comments below.

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499 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Joe

    I had a couple renting a unit, the day they moved out, they had a single man move in. As I approached the unit upon the couple leaving, the man opened the door and said he was living there now.

    He informed me that I would have to evict him and that he intended to live there for free until he was evicted. The way he figured it, he said, “it’ll take you about 2 months to get me out”.

    I immediately said I will call the police if you don’t get out.
    He said, “go ahead, I’m calling the police too”.

    This is a real bad feeling, I didn’t leave my property unattended, ever!

    I told the police, ” the renters moved out and a stranger gained entry into my property unknowingly to me”.

    Fortunately, the police gave him 4 hours to move out and he left. Whew!

    In my current lease I added a clause:
    “You may have one overnight guest, 2 nights per month, or you will be evicted”.

    I had others… One single renter moved in 5 people. Evicted and out in 7 weeks via Court.

    Problem free 5 years now

    • Laura Agadoni

      Wow, what a story. Sorry that happened to you! How long did you have that couple as tenants? That was a strange thing to do to you.

    • Lisa Parker

      Your story is a really good illustration of why landlords are often very harsh and intrusive even about dictating rules for overnight guests. I suspect you may not feel so “mean” about , say, elderly parents visiting for two weeks. BUT, if you ARE amenable to that kind of situation, I would actually draft paperwork for all parties to sign, setting out the limits of relaxing your rules. Of course, if you are NOT amenable to such things, when renting your place don’t be afraid to say, “NEXT”!! Don’t ever give unwarranted license to someone else over YOUR property. It is SAD, but it seems you cannot trust people like you could in times past.

  • Gene Kamarasy

    Illinois: Own property next to a subdivision.
    We checked the property and noticed junk cars, (valuable antiques) stored there.
    The lot owner next to it told us to get off his property.
    We were incredulous.

    He told us that he went to property records archives and found proof that he owns the property and that the property line is wrong.

    This is BS, since his lot is on a recent subdivision which was platted in the 70’s, not 1940.

    I am stuck wasting money on lawyers to prove that I own my property. (Title insurance has nothing to do with this.) My lawyer tells me that boundary disputes are age old ways to waste money.

    Property is only worth $10,000/acre, but stuck in a pickle.
    Filed with Sherriff about illegal trespass, but it was thrown out in court.

    No solution to this one yet. In year 3 of squatting.

    • joh richards

      hire a biker-type from the local bar. about $500 and problem solved. a landlord friend of mine has used this method to great success.

      • Lisa Parker

        I like the way you think, Joh. Doing it “your way” requires a lot of planning and “finesse” though. Just Be Aware!

    • Lisa Parker

      Oh boy oh boy, you need a COMPETENT real estate attorney NOW . And be prepared to be unhappy with any answers you receive. It is very sad that legal thievery is condoned in many states I wish you the best of luck!

    • Lisa Parker

      BTW, after 3 years, it LEGALLY SPEAKING is not squatting, most likely . It is Adverse Ownership. Revolting.

  • sharon r bower

    Thanks for the great articles. They have given me a heads up on many things. This is my 1st rental. It came with the house I bought. I rented it to a single person who attempted to move his new dog, then his girlfriend, and more dogs and a cat in after and not discussing this with me. I got them all evicted a few days ago. But what a nightmare. Now to move his junk to storage and clean up a month and a half of filth, trash, cigarettes and rotten clothes and rotting food. He just walked and left the toilet running full on.
    I know people are going to say that I’m a tough landlord after this, but enough. No more breaks for anyone.
    “My rental. My rules. Dont like it you can leave. “

  • spingus

    Can’t shut off utilities or change locks, but how about removing the door to the room? Doors are nice and all, but I’ve never seen them as a basic right. Also, if these people want to live in your house, go overboard. Invite them to dine with you, invite yourself to hang out in “their” room (unthreateningly of course), and definitely share your love of recorded political speeches from Eastern Europe in the 20’s and 30’s. High volume to get the full effect.

  • teresa

    We live in a small rural area in the country. Rented to 23 y.o with wife and 2 small children.
    They paid deposit and first months rent. After that— late rent …then no rent…made false claims of electricial not working well. (elec must work well they stayed an additional 7 mo without paying rent).
    Filed proper paperwork- still the law is for the tenant (use this term loosely)…
    finally won case, however will probably never see any money due because people like this
    know how to work the system. This guy works (under the table or 1099) paid with cash .
    no trails. Unsure how to get my rent due…

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Teresa,
      I’m researching ways for landlords to find tenants and get back rent now. I should post something this month. Please check back at Landlordology.

      • Tom

        I always write it off. There are a million ways to beat or stall court judgements, and people who don’t pay rent don’t have any deep pockets anywhere. It’s good enough just to finally get them out.

        I always expect to lose some money when they leave, and no matter how clean they are, the whole place always needs deep cleaned, painted and many things redone.

        I have always made a modest profit, but is it worth it? I’ve been physically assaulted by two different tenants, both big young guys, and put up with being called every name in the book by the women.

        After 18 years of it, with laws now so unfavorable to landlords, I’ve pretty much had enough.

  • Diana

    PA: Have a home that I ‘allowed’ a relative to live, just to keep the property in order, $100 whopping bucks a month! Well, one year in the place is trashed. He moved a family of five in without my knowledge, 5 weeks of verbal requests for the family to leave and now two weeks of requests for all to leave. They stated “I know the law I have kids I can stay 5 more months if I want”!!!! … Finally called the State Police, they say call the magistrate, they said to have a witness that I handed them eviction notice. They have five more days, no sign of packing, the saga continues. My question is, how do these people, who I do not know, just found out their real name, have a RIGHT to stay on my property and the burden and cost is on me?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Diana,

      Sorry that happened to you.

      It gets kind of messy when you allow someone to live in your house with no lease. Even messier when more people come in. And verbal requests are difficult to enforce. It’s important to have a lease for everyone, including family and friends.

      You might need to consult a lawyer to find out what to do now. I think when people live in a place without receiving a formal eviction notice, they gain the status of being tenants. Giving them a formal eviction notice is probably the best thing to do. I hope you get good tenants in next time!

  • Rudduck

    Guest-House: Never rented before, always let family stay – never asked for money. Husbands business slowed down, decided to rent the Guesthouse. Big Mistake. We were sitting ducks for a professional squatter. Even running the $50 background check, found that I should’ve have run the $100 background check. After day Five the signs were clear as to her intention – We gave a 30-day notice on a Month-to-Month Rent agreement, I contacted a lawyer and returned the rent and security deposit to Squatter. We are in the process of filing a UD; but she continues to threaten us legally and basically feel like hostages on our own property. It’s a bitter day when you realize the laws made to protect people can also be leveraged to exploit.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Rudduck,

      I hoped you checked with your jurisdiction to determine whether you could legally rent out your guest house. If not, you’ll probably need to go through the eviction process if the tenant won’t leave on her own. You’ve already determined from your lawyer that you can’t keep the rent she owes you for living in your property, but besides that, you could be fined. I don’t know whether your guest house is legal to rent out or not, but if it isn’t, it might be possible to take steps to bring it up to code so that you can legally rent it.

  • Meme

    My unemployed sister & her alcoholic husband are leaving NYC (where they have squatted in an apartment for over a year) They are moving to TN, near my elderly parents & I’m so worried they will try to get into my parents house. Is there any advice you have to keep these freeloaders away? My Mom told them they are not allowed to stay at the house! Any advice is welcome, thanks!

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Meme,
      I’m not clear from your question whether your parents are still in the house or whether they’ve moved out and the house is now vacant. Squatting would apply only if your sister and her husband took up residence in your parents’ unoccupied house. If your parents are still in it, that’s a different issue. But if the house is vacant, there are security measures your parents could take to ensure no one decides to take up residence there. They can install security cameras. They can have someone make periodic visits to the home, or if there is no one available to do that, they could hire a company to perform that duty. And if the house is vacant, your parents might want to consider renting it out.

  • Susan

    My daughter and her husband bought a farm in the country two hours from their city home. They have used it as a vacation home and allowed her sister and husband to stay there and pay a nominal rent. However, the husband was inviting young people to stay there and formed a cult. My daughter was regularly being abused by this man until she escaped from him a month ago-filing for divorce. He has refused to move m has not paid rent. They posted an eviction notice-informed them they’d b conductng an inspection When they went to do so- “husband” locked the gate with bike locks- refused to let them on their property n the cult members were loading up all of my daughter’s furniture and possessions. Police were called- but they did nothing. Help!

    • Laura Agadoni

      Wow Susan, What a story. I’m sorry all that happened. At this point, I believe all you can do is go through the eviction process. And if people steal from your daughter, she would need to file a police report or sue them.

      • Susan

        Thank you. I had I no idea until now how criminals are protected and law abiding citizens have little rights. It is a tragedy and very discouraging to know that the criminals occupying my daughters property can take whatever they want from homeowners- and all they are permitted to do is just “watch” Is there any recourse? Does anyone really care?

  • June Sylvester

    My daughter rented a home in CA to my son’s friend and wife and their 5 children. Now the friend moved out and let the wife and 5 kids and his in laws and total strangers in my daughters house and I think they have no intention of paying any more rent, the total stanger mentioned they are squatters and they have more rights than my daughter to live in her home without paying rent. The total stranger answered the phone that was my son’s friend and impersonated him with texts.What can my daughter do? The name on the rental agreement was for my son’s friend and wife and 5 children. Not all these other people.

  • Josseline

    My daughter is renting a house in Sonoma County, she lost her job and in order to help make ends meet allowed one of her boyfriend’s friend rent one of the bedrooms…3 months later she found another job. 2 months ago the police were called because this guy stole her work laptop and some other things, when the police opened up his trunk they found the stuff in there, although he denied it. He was arrested, released and then came back to the house. He’s refusing to move, she filed an eviction notice and he still won’t move, so now she has to spend $250 to file an UD. The cops and the DA say its a civil matter, really? I think if more squatters were carried out by the cops, we wouldn’t have any issues. Laws need to be changed!

  • Angela

    I was renting a room to a man. I was recieving rent through the mail. I did not know that he was not living there any more, but his ex girl friend was. He was paying for her until 4 months ago. I just recently found out about the girl living there. No one payed any rent for 4 months. I never had a agreement of any sort with the girl. She has caused problems for my other tenants. Is she considered a tresspasser because I never agreed to let her stay? Is that my best way to get her out asap? I’m in California.

  • Matt

    If a squatter leaves for a whole week or some one who hasn’t paid in over 3 months.. Can they still come back or can I refuse there entry into my house and finally have the law on my side..???

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Matt,
      I’m not sure what you’re asking. I think that you’re saying that your tenant stopped paying rent 3 months ago, and has now been gone a week? Check with a lawyer. You can probably change the locks at this point. Does your lease say something about how long a tenant can be absent from the property? Have you started eviction after the tenant didn’t pay rent? Is there still property left behind? All these things make a difference.

  • Jan McDaniel

    My brother passed away 10/09/15. His girlfriend whom he did not live with was not in his will. The family felt sorry for her so we gave her permission to stay at his resident for a couple of weeks to grieve.
    This home was bought from our Mother. We have found out that my brother never finished this purchase with a quick deed. So this residence is legally my Mothers. As of today 01/17/16 the girlfriend/squatter is and will not move for this home. Mother is 92 and partially blind. She is a very sweet lady and has as her several times to move out. We have contacted an attorney with an eviction notice, which gives her 30 more days. Mom has not had her chance to grieve. She wants so badly to get into her sons home. This really just stinks.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Jan,
      I’m sorry for your loss, and I’m sorry to hear that you have this added stress. You did the right thing in going through the eviction process. It’s a shame doing something nice for someone led to this.

    • "Gave her permisison to stay" = not a squatter

      “so we gave her permission to stay ” then she isn’t a squatter.

      • Tom

        Your unsavory post left a crucial part of it out: how long she was allowed to stay.

        “gave her permission to stay at his resident for a couple of weeks to grieve.”

        She is a squatter. And a sociopath.

  • Richard H

    My father passed away two years ago. He left me a Resturant which is on 3 acres. I recently found out about a week ago that I I have a squatter in a house that is about 5 acers away from the Resturant. It is a delapated studio style home. What can I do? He’s only been there for 3 weeks

  • Richard H

    13 acres sorry!

  • Tammy

    I had an employee who was being abused by her boyfriend ask me if she could stay temporarily in an apartment that I had that was sitting vacant. Feeling sorry for her situation I agreed letting her know it would only be for a short time and asking that she cover the cost of the utilities. Several months later and nothing received for utilities and frankly hasn’t even said thank you. No lease, no security deposit. Is she a squatter legally? Can I enter the apt and act like she doesn’t live there as a means to drive her out? Does she have a legal right to a locked door? Privacy? Can I send someone else to start spending the night there too? You know, make her uncomfortable and want to leave. Apt is in CA.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Tammy,
      Follow the steps under “What You Should Do” in the above post. Also, read the gray box about California. Don’t resort to intimidation methods, such as the ones you mentioned, or it might backfire on you. Just stick with the steps outlined. Good luck!

  • Pat

    I live in an old family house that is not in great shape, but livable. I have two men staying here. I met them a year ago and they were homeless, although one of them has a decent job and the other collects social security. I asked them to contribute money to help with property tax and utilities. In October they started to complain about the cold weather and not help out, though I had the heat at 71 F and they were running space heaters. Now the end of January and they have not helped, refuse to leave. I also recently lost my job and am having trouble paying the bills. I am working on an eviction, in the meantime, is it ok for me to demand the space heaters (which belong to me)? They’ve issued threats of reporting illegal renting.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Pat,
      The best thing to do is something you’ve already done: start eviction proceedings. The threat of illegal renting is pretty nervy: It was good enough for them when they needed a place. Anyway, just go through the eviction process. I’m not sure about the space heaters. If I were you, I’d just ask for them back. As long as you are providing heat in the house, you don’t have to provide space heaters, too.

  • Milad Guirgus

    I found a family in my vacant home last week, I called the police and thanks God the police moved them out in 2 hours, we need to change the squatters’s right law in California otherwise this will happen again and again, they law should protect us, I purchased the home, I had mortgage and easily someone can take it without punishment, it should be criminal exactly as the home is not vacant.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Milad,
      It’s good the police acted right away! This is the reason it’s not a good idea to leave a house vacant without at least having someone check on it regularly or hiring a management company to do so.

  • Lauren Vollmer

    I have a family renting my home and are now refusing to pay rent but not giving any reason as to why, refusing my calls and texts. Gave them a 60 day notice per the lease to move out last month before any of this even happened. What happens if they don’t comply with the notice?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Lauren,
      It’s too bad your tenants stopped communicating with you. However, there is no reason for not paying rent if they are still living there (check your state law on this). Also check your state law on when you can give an eviction notice. You can do this the first day a tenant is late in some states, or you might need to wait a certain number of days. You might want to start eviction proceedings as soon as you can instead of hoping they’ll move out on time and having to do it then if they don’t.

    • Tom

      “What happens if they don’t comply with the notice?”

      If that happens, then you file an unlawful detainer lawsuit, usually through an attorney, and legally evict them.

      I notice that about one out of every three evictions actually gets contested and goes to court.

  • Milad Guirgus

    Hi Laura,
    This squatters stayed in home for few hours only, I was going almost every day, the best thing to do is to tell the neighbors and install alarm system, we need also to work on changing California’s law so these people should be punished as they invade occupant house which is crime, the scammers take advantage of this because no punishment, so what they lose, nothing and they might weeks or even months.

  • Milad Guirgus

    Hi Lauren,
    This is bad if the tenant refuses to leave and stop paying the rent, you need to start eviction process, for this reason I do my best to check everything and also personnel judgment before I accept new tenant at least to decrease the risk of such this situation even I leave the home 2 o 3 months vacant better than accept not qualified tenant, best luck and God bless you.

  • Gina

    We had a extended family member who had moved in last yr knowing he was going to pull a scam and not use tenant laws to stay and not pay rent. He finally moved out willingly in Jan but then came back saying he is still a tenant because a eviction wasn’t filed. He was gone a month but the police said I have to let him come back. How long does someone have to be gone to stop being considered a tenant? He had made threats and has a history of mental disease (which I found out after). What happens if I refuse to let him in? They arrested him for comments made but I am worried he will come back. He has a backpack he gave another family member here.

  • Dan

    Have a friend in CA. Her Mom passed away 9 years ago (she was a homeowner). She has 2 siblings. One of the siblings (both are brothers) was the executor of the estate. He has done nothing. Seems like he is trying to live there for free (sans paying the property taxes and utilities). The other brother’s wife moved in 2 years ago (never asked my friend if she could do this; just moved in). She is not legally separated nor divorced from that brother (lady that moved in; is a dysfunctional family situation). My friend now is dealing with a lawyer (not sure why it has taken 9 years in the 1st place to get the home sold and distribute the sales proceeds to all heirs). My question is what rights does the ‘squatting’ wife have to live in this house

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Dan,
      I’m with you regarding questioning why it has taken 9 years to sell the house! Since your friend has a lawyer, this question is best reserved for them. It’s difficult for me to comment on individual squatter situations more than the generalities I gave in the article.

  • Danielle

    My father is a renter in California. My sister became ill and my dad stayed with her for a few weeks to take care of her while paying rent at his rental. Unfortunately while he was away his ex wife and her boyfriend broke into the garage and moved their belongings in. Once my dad found out he gave them time to find a new place to avoid conflict with the kids. Needless to say they never moved out. Things have gotten worse and his ex wife and her boyfriend have started using drugs. CPS was called out and toured the home. They informed my dad that his ex wife and her husband are not to be living with him and the children due to their lifestyle. My dad has called the police for help but was told he had to evict them. How do we do this?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Danielle,

      If the police would not help you, nor CPS, then the only other option is to talk to a lawyer. Since your dad is not the landlord, he can’t really evict another tenant in court. He could change the locks on them, but then he risks having the police called on him.

      • Laura Agadoni

        Hi Danielle,
        I just wanted to add that tenants, per many lease agreements, need to inform the landlord if they will be away from the property for extended periods, say 7 days or more. This is so the landlord can take steps to secure the property and to check on it regularly. Not sure whether your dad told your landlord or not, but when you say that your dad gave the ex and bf time to move out, that wasn’t your dad’s place to do that. The ex and bf were not on the lease, meaning your dad has now breached the lease. Bottom line: it’s never a good idea if you’re a tenant to leave for a few weeks w/o telling the landlord or to allow others to stay in the property for an extended time.

      • Tom

        “Since your dad is not the landlord, he can’t really evict another tenant in court. ”

        In California, that is not true at all. A tenant in California is in legal possession of the property, which means that they can legally evict any subtenant roommates or squatters just like a landlord can. Attorney fee lists often show a separate price for this type of eviction service.

    • Chuck

      i suggest that he quit paying rent and move to a new residence, without them…

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