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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614 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Rod Frary

    I live in California. In August of 2014 a couple from Arizona, living in their motorhome broke down in my driveway. After listening to theirstory of hardships I felt sorry for them and agreed to allow them to park on my property to make repairs to their motorhome. In exchange for misc. yard work (mowing the lawn, etc.). This included letting them run an extension cord to my electric. Here I am almost six years later and I still can’t get them to leave. I’m trying to use the UD100 unlawful detainer form from my county (Sonoma)to evict them, but there is no place to explain that it’s just a parking spot and it’s their motorhome that I want gone. I’m so confused. Am I on the right track or is there a specific form for space rentals?

  • Chuck Schroeder

    I had a couple that broke into a motorhome stored in my back yard. It was getting cold out and just before Christmas. I thought I would let them stay until it warmed up again. By then he had a fight with her & she moved out. So now he thinks he owns my place although I never got as much as a penny for my thoughts. Now he wants to claim he owns my land because he mowed the grass 2 or 3 times.

    • Sunny

      Go to your clerk of court and ask for Unlawful Detainer paperwork. Do all the steps the paperwork instructs you to do.

  • Viola King

    The legal tenant in our property died in early March. We were notified by the Housing Authority of New Orleans that rent would no longer be paid. When we learned about the tenant’s demise, we contacted his relative who was his caretaker and asked her to let us know when she could remove the tenant’s belongings so we could prepare the property for a new tenant.
    On March 31 we went to the property for the final inspection, obtain the keys and change the locks. The caregiver had changed the locks. She also called the police, claiming that we were trying to evict her in violation of the new regulations related to the Coronavirus. The police took her side and refused to understand that she was trespassing on our property.
    No response from HANO.

  • Melissa Ingram

    In Alabama, my parents provide a home for my brother who has been deemed mentally incapacitated by the probate judge. He allowed a girl who was down on her luck to move in. She’s a meth addict who manipulates and exploits him, and won’t leave. She’s already been evicted once, but my brother let her back in. Currently, my brother has a harassment order against him for fighting with her. So, he’s out of his residence while she is there, inviting more people in.
    The eviction is in process, but delayed due to Covid19.
    It is truly a nightmare.

    • LillyK

      My parents allowed my brother to stay in their home because he Has had issues that run the gamut of possible u diagnosed mental health and addictions abuse. My parent wanted to sell their home and use that as their retirement. Low and behold he has held them hostage in a ways because he would not leave and the sale fell through. One year later he has called the police on myself and siblings because he Has time to learn tenNt laws but won’t find a job. My parents are stuck paying a mortgage and a rent for their new place. The insanity!!

  • Shari

    I have rental property with two houseies the main house and a small rental my daughter and son in law and grand son live in the main house I rented the smaller rental to a cupal that went to school with my yongest son the cupals mother and her boyfriend talked me in to letting them put there trailers on my property for two or three months and that kinda wormed there way in that drilled a hole in the side of the little house where her daughter and husband where living and weird an extinction cord directly in to the sub panel box I paid a friend to disconnect it about fourty minute later he had went through the sliding door an rewired the extinion cord back in to the sub panel box we disconnected it again thay now have a restraining order onm

  • Shari

    I have rental property with two houseies the main house and a small rental my daughter and son in law and grand son live in the main house I rented the smaller rental to a cupal that went to school with my yongest son the cupals mother and her boyfriend talked me in to letting them put there trailers on my property for two or three months and that kinda wormed there way in thay drilled a hole in the side of the little house where her daughter and husband where living and weird an extinction cord directly in to the sub panel box I paid a friend to disconnect it about fourty minute later he had went through the sliding door an rewired the extinion cord back in to the sub panel box we disconnected it again thay now have a restraining order onm

  • Terri Woods

    My mom died of cancer and before that she let my step sister and her drug dealing boyfriend live with us My mom told them that they could stay until she died and unfortunately she succumbed to the cancer on may 22 2020. My older sister and I were left her mobile home . The four homeless druggys decided not to leave knowing I lost my job when my mom died and my older sister is disabled so we cant afford to pay the space rent for them to live there . They aren’t even renters ti in it so they figure if they cant have the place we cant either. We filed a unlawful detainer .

  • Rich

    M y tenant moved out and abandoned the property.. After 2 months she notified ot the property being abandoned. When I went to the property I found a family not only lving there but had the electric put in heir name. I questioned them and they stated they ere rent to he previous tenant.icontacted he previous tenant and was told that the squatters never paid her anything. She stated she new her lease didn’t allow subleasing. The squatters refuse to get out.

  • coleena clark

    My ex-husband past away about the time covid shut everything down. He had allowed someone to stay at the house a few months prior. As soon as he past, she has had many people there but she won’t respond to calls nor will she allow his mom (executor) on the property. She is acting as thoe it belongs to her. He passed away in March and we still don’t have the letter saying that she has the legal right to do anything. The courts are back logged and with the no eviction order in place, we haven’t even been able to assess the damage let alone protect the assets. This is very distressing and it seems like a hopeless situation. His mother shouldn’t have to go through this on top of losing her son.

  • Judy Wickham

    I allowed a co-worker to move in with me in exchange for helping organized while I was going through such a depression with my husband in end-stage kidney disease he passed away December 2019 she helped me with that she helped me move into my new place she’s stayed at the old place just so somebody was there because I could not sell it at that time she has never paid one lot rent utility anything June 15th she was to put money into a bank account of mine never did came up missing 2 days later filed a restraining order against me based on lies a week later we were supposed to go to court to get that thrown out she claimed she was exposed to the coronavirus and needed to be quarantine for 14 days the same day she was outside driving around.

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