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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511 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • christy

    squatter have been occupying our property for close to 40 years now. we want evict them but the problem is they coming with a defense of a adverse possession. what can we do please?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Christy,
      You might wish to check with an attorney, or just go through eviction proceedings and then deal with the adverse possession if it becomes an issue. 40 years does present an unusual situation.

  • tehuiadoris

    We got freeloader in our parents home over 12months with no help from any advised . So I decide put the house up for sale next two week.
    No more advise, owner had no right no matter what law uses, rule, statute, regulation, under merchants, equity , maritime, all abiut contract law.
    The end.

  • Patty

    Bought a house at courthouse auction. Offered “cash for keys” to old owner who was still living there. No response. Sent all the necessary paperwork. They still wouldn’t leave. Got the court order and hired the sheriff to serve it. Sheriff did, but not until three days later, which allowed the person an extra weekend. Old owner filed bankruptcy (second time this year, first one dismissed) and taped it onto the sheriff’s door at night. Sheriff won’t do anything. We have paid for the house,, are insuring it, followed all the legal channels with no results. Attorney says we have to wait another 12 days. This is just wrong. The old owners are cutting the trees and hauling wood out of there. Anyone have any “legal” ideas?

  • Robert Sanchez

    My daughter, came to stay in my home after her boyfriend lost his home due to nonpayment of mortgage. What I didn’t realize letting her in my home was that she would soon claim squatters rights. Her boyfriend and her came home after I demanded assistance and got in my face,I reacted with wanting to remove the boyfriend from my home and soon found myself in handcuffs and on my way to jail being told that they had tenant rights and I would not be able to return to my home. I struggled with this since I hadn’t been receiving financial support from neither my daughter or her boyfriend and was told they had rights in the home I paid fo I still deal with this situation and want them to move badly. Any suggestions? Not sure what to do at this poin

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Robert,
      If the police won’t remove them from your property, you’ll need to start the eviction process. Read the section in the above post under, “What You Should Do.”

  • Bent

    RV parked on property, couple was doing work for my ex (owner) in the past year or two and since then ex was arrested and is facing a long sentence apparently. Our eldest child together is facing dealing with the property and would like this couple and their RV gone so she can clean the property up and get house rentable, etc. The couple refuses to leave, nor do they pay rent. There is no written agreement. The eviction process was started a month prior by my ex before his arrest but I don’t believe he followed through after filing the 5 day notice and now he is incarcerated. Is there any other possible legal recourse for removing them since it’s an RV not established dwelling and they don’t rent? I was thinking mechanics lein for storage?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Bent,
      I think your best option is to first call the police. If they can’t make the RV people leave, you would then go through the eviction process. But you, unlike your ex, can follow through until they leave. A mechanic’s lien is filed by contractors and laborers who aren’t paid for their work. They put a lien on the house. You can’t charge for storage now if there wasn’t a contract ahead of time that stated what the storage agreement would be.

  • Stacie ng

    I just lost my husband last year and I have a five year old son I have to take care of. So I ask a so call friend to help me out. They don’t pay rent, eat all my food, consistently asking to borrow money, stole my personal positions, cause me and my 5 yr old son so much grieve and hardship and didn’t ask to use my address. I don’t know how to get rid of them. Plus they only been with me for 7 months.

  • James

    A squatter mercifully chose to move out and has been gone for 30 days. I wonder how long a squatter has to be gone for his “squatters rights” to disappear.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi James,
      I’m no lawyer, but I would change the locks now!

      • herbert pondare

        im a caregiver, the owner and the conservator gave us the permission to stay innthe house for eight months now but the lady that im taking care of died 3 days ago and now me and my family wants us out of the house within two weeks, we cannot find a house because its too expensive here in san francisco and we just told them to give us time to look for a cheaper house can anybody help us please

  • Randy

    Our family owns an office building (non live-in), in Los Angeles.
    They evicted a tenant for non-payment.
    In the meantime (during the lease), the former tenant’s homeless nephew began sleeping (living) in the underground parking area because he was homeless.
    Unfortunately, the principle owners of the building (my father) allowed this person to continue sleeping in the parking area.
    But now that the principal tenant has been evicted, his homeless friend/nephew is still sleeping there…..and he refuses to move (he sleeps in an empty parking space, in a sleeping bag, in the car parking garage).
    How can we evict him ?

    • Randy

      Our family owns an office building (non live-in), in Los Angeles.
      They evicted a tenant for non-payment.
      In the meantime (during the lease), the former tenant’s homeless nephew began sleeping (living) in the underground parking area because he was homeless.
      Unfortunately, the principle owners of the building (my father) allowed this person to continue sleeping in the parking area.
      But now that the principal tenant has been evicted, his homeless friend/nephew is still sleeping there…..and he refuses to move (he sleeps in an empty parking space, in a sleeping bag, in the car parking garage).
      How can we evict him , legally ?

  • symea

    my mother ( 93 yrs) let a man stay in her storage shed ( un-permitted apt. has bath and stove) to be kind as he needed help. she asked him to leave after 30 days, he laughed at her. She has since passed and I inherited the home. ( I live in another state) He has been there for a year, rent free. I sold the home and I have started the eviction process, which he knows he can milk for another 8 weeks. since he’s milking it -I have lost the sale of the home as I continue to pay his water, gas and electric, taxes etc…. He has friends over to take showers. The bills are rediculous. Is there a way to sue him for all this money? I really can’t understand how the homeowner has to pay all this money for a con artist. This makes no sense.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Symea,
      I’m sorry to hear you have to go through all this. States handle these situations differently. Call the local courthouse there to find out more information.

  • Alexandria

    We have been renting a home to our family friend that is now 4 month behind on rent. There is no Lease, and We have generously asked for payment or for them to return the keys. I am in Property Management with Apartments. I do know a little with the eviction process but how do i approach leagal advice with no lease? Can I still file Eviction?

  • BreAuna Pontiflet

    My Brother and his family came to “supposidly stay one night” with me and my mom and never left.it has now been 3 months and they have been smoking inside the property and on the patio(there is a no smoking at all rule),fighting and arguing and neibors have been complaining.my mom has been telling them since the day after they got here that they had to leave and they still havent left and now the rental property company has given us a “3 day notice” stating that “the other occupants need to leave” and it states that the only people who can stay there are me and my mom.they still REFUSE to leave and they have never paid rent. What do we do?please help!!!

  • BreAuna Pontiflet

    My Brother and his family came to “supposidly stay one night” with me and my mom and never left.it has now been 3 months and they have been smoking inside the property and on the patio(there is a no smoking at all rule),fighting and arguing and neibors have been complaining.my mom has been telling them since the day after they got here that they had to leave and they still havent left and now the rental property company has given us a “3 day notice” stating that “the other occupants need to leave” and it states that the only people who can stay there are me and my mom.they still REFUSE to leave and they have never paid rent. What do we do?please help!!! Forgot to add i’m in California

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi BreAuna,

      Since your brother and family have been there for over a month, you probably need to evict them to get them out if they won’t leave. Unfortunately, you might now have to leave as well since you broke the lease. I’m not an attorney. You can check with one or with legal aid for specific advice.

  • anonymous

    I am nearing the end of a lengthy divorce where my wife and I have agreed on custody of our kids and support/alimony. We are still living together in an apartment in California and she has been paying her share of the expenses with the support money garnished from my salary. We recently had a disagreement about paying a joint debt and now she is threatening to stop paying any of her share of the bills. I can’t move without still being obligated to pay rent at our current apartment and I can’t force her to move. What are my options?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi anonymous,
      This isn’t really a squatter situation, so I can’t give you any particular insight. I do know that it’s probably best for you to pay the rent until the lease is up so that your credit won’t suffer. If it’s not too late, maybe you can resolve the joint debt issue by paying that to keep peace if it will be cheaper than paying the rent by yourself.

  • sharon r bower

    Most if not all the Storage Rentals in our town will not rent a unit to someone that is not signing the rental agreement for storage. What’s a landlord to do with the evicted tenants belongings (junk and trash) ?

  • Mike

    My grandmother had a couple of acres north of Houston and someone decided to park there trailor on it. She sent me and my grandfather to ask them to leave when we got there they called the police and we where informed that we could not kick them off are bother them. So we where forced to file for evection which took over 4 months to complete. While we where waiting the trail or owners illegally taped into the electric grid causing 1800 dollars in damage. Which my grandmother was forced to pay. When we went to the court to fight the fee they told us that we where responsible for all the damage and if we wanted to get paid back we would have to sue the trailer owners which would be pointless since they where no where to be found.

  • Makiyo

    I have a land contract home in Michigan, I rent it out few month ago and the tenant stop paying rent on it for two month now, I have to give it back to the owner cause I can’t afford two house payment. But I have to remove my stove and fridge from the house before I give the house back to the owner. The tenant doesn’t let me, what should I do? Can I call the police? Will they help since I need those out ASAP. Please help

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Makiyo,
      I’m not an attorney, so I don’t know what the ruling would be in this case. I would guess that you can probably take back your appliances. Although many landlords provide a stove and fridge, you typically don’t have to when you rent a place. And someone needs to evict this person, but I also don’t know whether that would be your responsibility or the owner’s.

  • Franco

    My sister and brother in law own a home in PA. They allowed their 18 year old daughter to move in w/o a lease. My niece asked a girl from work to move in and share rent. The girl moved in, but didn’t pay the rent or utilities, and left garbage everywhere. The girl proudly admitted to killing my niece’s cat and destroyed many things n the house. My niece told the girl to go; she refused. Out of fear, my niece moved out, but the girl will not, even with my sister asking her to leave. The cops came, but did nothing except bar my sister from entering her own home where men are now living. There was never any written lease or agreement; my sister is not a landlord. WHAT TO DO???

    Franco

  • Laura Agadoni

    Hi Franco,
    Read the section, What You Should Do, in the post above. You can help your sister with this. Good luck!

  • Joe Montana

    If the squatter broke into my property, can I legally shoot them since they are criminals and are trespassing as in the castle law?

  • Laura Agadoni

    Hi Joe,
    No.
    Castle laws vary by state, and they refer to an intruder breaking into your primary residence.

  • Marie

    I rented a room I had and wrote the lady a sublease that expired on April 30th. I do not own the property but am leasing it. I neglected to read over my lease that clearly states that I can’t sublease. As of May 14, my lease is up anyway and I’m moving but the lady who still has not left or paid rent won’t leave. Can I pack her stuff and put it in the garage? I’m not putting it outside the house. My plan is to tell the landlord what I did but I still need to get her out. She has the keys to the house but the lock that is on the front door is not the lock that the landlord put on. They had to be changed a long time ago because my daughter kept losing keys. Can I put the orginal locks back on without giving her the keys the day I move out?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Marie,
      I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t guide you on this. I think the landlord, however, would be within their rights to have you pay for any eviction costs to get this person out. I don’t think you can touch this person’s belongings, either. I also don’t think you can lock this person out. The best thing would be to check with an attorney or legal aid in your area.

  • Le win

    Hi Laura,
    My tenant don’t pay me rent and I evicted them, but she keep coming back and still in the unit. I told her to leave the unit, but she keep coming back and brake in the house and still in there. And the other homeless people are live in the other unit too. I have a duplex home. What should I do.

  • Lauren

    My father has become a squatter in my mothers home. She owns the home and he has no legal rights to it. He was actually convicted of loan fraud on the property a about 25 years ago. He has been in the house now for over a year. He has two other people living with him on the property. He has a history of drug abuse and has been in and out of prison. He has several children that he has never supported and has a long wrap sheet. He also is a veteran. What is the best course of action for my mother to get him out of the house? She has limited resources. The house is in California.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Lauren,
      You say he’s become a squatter. That implies he was a renter before. If so, your mother would need to evict him. Here’s a good article on how to do that: https://www.landlordology.com/tenant-eviction/

      • Lauren

        He has never a renter, he just moved in an squatted. Does that change anything?

        • Laura Agadoni

          Hi Lauren,
          Since your mother has allowed this to go on for over a year, the courts will likely view this as your mother giving consent, meaning that the police will probably not handle this, and your mother would then need to go through the eviction process. She can try calling the police, but that method is generally reserved for when the owner first discovers a squatter has taken residence in the home.

  • juanita scott

    This couple has NOT been in my home 30 days. They moved in April 22, 2016 with a verbal agreement that the rent would be week to week, payable in advance and if they didn’t pay they wouldn’t stay. They made a partial payment and said they would be back with the remaining balance the same day..didn’t see them for 5 days. They have paid since 4 29 2016 and refuse to pay or move. I gave them a 72 hr notice to vacate..they are still here. I am 65, disabled, widowed, live on a very fixed income and cannot afford for them to stay. How do I get them to move?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Juanita,
      The couple might be considered lodgers as opposed to renters. So you might not need to go through the entire eviction process. Call your local police to see whether they can help you get these people to leave.

  • Jay Glauber

    after hurricane sandy we moved from our house in Far Rockaway NY, we locked the doors, and discontinued all services to the premise (gas Electricity etc). last October we decided to move back. and surprise, 2 people living there. we called police they sent us to civil court, we won and a judgement was entered against them. In the mean time they entered a complaint against me for $16,250 in violation for me not supplying them with heat… I received a letter from the court saying that i was served with an order to show case and didnt show up, which never happened, so the court entered a judgement against me for the above amount… How come our laws are so corrupt?

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