Squatting on the Squatter
How to Deal With Squatters in Your Neighborhood
Squatters are people who move into abandoned, foreclosed, or otherwise unoccupied homes or premises. People squat for a variety of reasons. For example, the squatters might have rent from a scammer who pretended to be the owner. Also, some squatters are tenants who are staying past their lease. Generally, in the United States, property owners can have squatters removed. Other countries have similar laws. If you suspect you have squatters in your neighborhood, contact the police and the homeowner, but stay calm and let the authorities deal with the situation.
Evaluating the Situation
Talk to your neighbors.Other people might have seen something. Visit your neighbors and ask if they know anything about the situation. Check whether they know where the owner is and how to contact them.
- By talking to your neighbors, you also spread the word that someone might be in the house illegally. Not all squatters are dangerous, but your neighbors should nevertheless be advised of who is there.
- If a neighbor has seen something, have them write down notes about who they saw and when. Ask them to describe the squatters, if they can.
Speak to the squatters if you aren’t afraid.There might be an innocent explanation for why someone has been in the property. For example, the people you see going in and out might be the lawful owners. Ask the people you encounter who they are and why they are there.
- You are not required to speak to the squatters, and you shouldn’t if you are scared of them. It’s enough to record what you have observed and then call the appropriate people.
- If you’re scared, another option is for a group of neighbors to go talk to the squatters. There’s safety in numbers.
Reporting the Squatters
Notify the police.The police can determine whether the people on the property are trespassers or squatters. A trespasser is someone who illegally enters property for a brief period of time. By contrast, a squatter usually brings their personal belongings with them and moves in.They may also have the utilities turned on.
- The police can remove trespassers immediately. However, they can’t remove squatters.
- Ask the police if they will report the squatters to the owner. If they won’t, then you might have to if you want to get rid of them.
Identify the owner.Only the owner can evict the squatters. For this reason, find the owner by looking at records in the tax assessor’s office. You can also check the deed in the county land records office.Find contact information for the owner online or in the phone book.
- Some property might be owned by a company. You can find contact information by checking with the Secretary of State’s office.
- If the owner hired a property management company, then its name should be on a sign posted on the property.
Report municipal violations.Another good way to get an unresponsive owner’s attention is to call your local municipal inspector. Report that the property looks run down and ask them to come out and take a look. If they find safety violations, they can fine the owner.
Remain calm.Dealing with squatters can be an unsettling experience, but it’s important that you try to stay calm and not escalate the situation. Aim for clear dialogue with all parties. It can take quite a bit of time to get squatters removed, so remain patient. Avoid forcing people out yourself.
- Lean on your neighbors for support. They are probably just as upset as you are.
- Protect your own home by keeping doors and windows locked.
Removing Squatters from Your Property
Consult with an attorney.Getting rid of squatters can be a time-consuming process. You must follow your law to a “T,” otherwise you might not be able to get them out. Obtain a referral to a local attorney by contacting your nearest bar association. Schedule a consultation with the attorney and explain your situation.
Serve an eviction notice.Your first step is to evict them.Read your jurisdiction’s law to find out what to include in the notice. You might be able to find forms online.
- You must serve the notice according to your jurisdiction’s laws. Typically, you must tape a copy of the notice to the door and then mail a copy to the squatter. Laws differ by state, but in most cases it's best to mail the letter through the traditional mail with a tracking number for proof of delivery. However, some areas may require you to use certified mail.
File an eviction proceeding.If the squatters won’t leave after being evicted, you need to file an “unlawful detainer” action, which is a lawsuit for eviction.Ask the court clerk if there are forms you can fill out. If there aren’t, then work with a lawyer to draft a legal complaint.
- You’ll have to pay a filing fee. Call ahead of time to check the amount and acceptable methods of payment.
- You’ll need to schedule a hearing with the court. The process differs depending on the court.
Serve notice of the lawsuit on the squatters.Generally, you’ll need to arrange service. Have someone 18 or older hand deliver the papers to the squatter. In most cases, the petitioner can serve the lawsuit themselves.
- Whoever makes service will complete a proof of service form (also called an affidavit of service). Keep a copy and file the original with the court clerk.
- Check the laws in your area to make sure you follow the requirements for your jurisdiction.
Avoid using self-help.Even though you own the property, you typically can’t use self-help when removing the squatters. A few states might let you do the following, which you should talk about with an attorney. However, in most jurisdictions, you can be sued for an illegal eviction if you engage in self-help:
- Don’t physically threaten the squatters or order them to leave.
- Don’t grab the squatters and try to forcibly move them out.
- Don’t change the locks.
- Don’t cut off the utilities.
Defend against a claim of adverse possession.Some squatters claim that they are now the property owners through a process called “adverse possession.” Adverse possession is incredibly complicated, and very few squatters get ownership of the property this way. Nevertheless, you should be prepared for this defense.
- To claim adverse possession, the squatter must have continuously and exclusively possessed the property for a minimum amount of time.The length of time will vary by jurisdiction. Generally, however, they must possess the property for a long period of time, ranging from just a few years to 10 years or more.
- The use must becontinuousandexclusive. This means they can’t stop by for the summer, stay a few months, and then leave for eight months. They also can’t share the property with someone else, such as the owner.
- The possession must beopenandnotorious. This means they can’t hide in the attic for 20 years. Instead, they need to make improvements to the property, such as putting up a fence, or treating it as a regular owner would, by inviting people over.
- In many states, squatters must also pay the property taxes.
- You can defend against adverse possession by disproving any of these requirements. Talk to your neighbors to find out how long the squatters have been on the property, and find proof that they haven’t paid taxes.
Attend court.When you arrive, tell the clerk or bailiff your name. Sit quietly until your case is called, and then move to the front of the courtroom. You will either sit at a table or stand in front of the judge’s bench.
- You get to present your evidence first. Identify any witnesses and ask the judge if they want to see your documents.
- Stand quietly while the squatter presents their case. You can’t interrupt.
- If the judge asks you questions, listen closely and don’t talk over them. Call the judge, “Your Honor.”
Have the squatters removed.Even if you win in court, you can’t physically remove the squatters yourself. Instead, you should call the sheriff and schedule a time for them to come remove the squatters.This is certainly a hassle, but you want to follow the law exactly.
Handle any property left behind.Your jurisdiction’s laws will tell you what you can do with the property. In some places, you can dispose of it yourself. However, other jurisdictions require that you notify the squatter and give them a chance to reclaim anything left behind.
- You can find your jurisdiction’s laws online. If not, consult with your lawyer.
QuestionWhat can I do about an evicted tenant who has moved back into the home illegally?
VP, CAPITALPlus MortgageVP, CAPITALPlus MortgageExpert AnswerCall the police. If they are unable to help, you should seek out counsel from a real estate attorney.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I know for sure if these are squatters? This house has been empty for a couple of years.
VP, CAPITALPlus MortgageVP, CAPITALPlus MortgageExpert AnswerYou can look up the owner of the home on your county's property appraiser website and then attempt to contact the owners to see if they are aware of the people living in the home. You can also see if the home has been sold recently, meaning the residents are not likely to be squatters.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I transfer a quit deed home to a friend?
Real Estate BrokerReal Estate BrokerExpert AnswerGet a quit deed form from a title company. Fill it out and file it with the county where the property is located. If you need help filling out the form, you will need to talk to a real estate attorney. The title company will not be able to help you.Thanks!
QuestionI own some acres of land in northeast NY state and live in Louisiana now and it has been over 10 years since I've been up there and I'm planning on moving back.How do I know if there are any squatters?
Real Estate BrokerReal Estate BrokerExpert AnswerIt's a good idea to hire a photographer who uses a drone to take aerial photography of the property so that you can survey all of it. If you see any squatters, file an unlawful detainer action against them, referring to them as "all occupants." Be aware that they may claim adverse possession if they've been on the property for a long time. It's a good idea to get a lawyer before proceeding, especially if you've never performed an eviction in that county.Thanks!
QuestionWhat can I do about people who leave their property on my property without permission?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou should still call the police. No one has the right to leave anything on your property without permission. The police should deal with it. If, for some reason, the police don't want to get involved, then talk to a lawyer.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if someone rents you unauthorized property?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIt will depend on the state where you're renting, but usually you are basically out of luck. You will be evicted from the property if a random person rents out a place that doesn't belong to him. You can take your "landlord" to claims court to seek the return of your rent payment, but it's likely you won't be able to track him down.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if the squatters have a baby or child with them?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThe police will be sensitive to the needs of young children. However, having children doesn't give anyone the right to squat in someone's property. After you call the police, point the family in the direction of available social services, such as housing assistance.Thanks!
QuestionWhat if you are home and squatters just open the door and enter and will not leave?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf they have only just arrived, they are probably "trespassers" and not "squatters." You should contact the police ASAP so that they can be removed. Trespassers have fewer rights than squatters.Thanks!
QuestionHow can I evict squatters on vacant land?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerIf it's not your land and the squatters aren't bad neighbors, it's legally not your business. You may contact the owner of that vacant land if you like, but they're not obligated to do anything. If it is your land you can tell them to leave. Further presence would be criminal trespass. Call the police if you have concerns. If they are bad neighbors who are an actual danger to you, then you can call the police too. And if they are an actual nuisance, you can sue the property owner for not getting rid of them.Thanks!
QuestionIf you are the owner of a home and squatters take over, can the landowner turn off your electricity and your water that is in your name and make you pay?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThey cannot turn off your utilities. However, in certain states water is the homeowner's responsibility, so the water can be shut off. Double-check your state's requirements.Thanks!
Squatters are currently occupying a house that is for sale with a lien. If the house was purchased what would happen? Would it be the new owner's responsibility?
In Arizona, does the owner have to give a 3-day eviction notice and then call the police to have getting squatters out?
If I'm the owner of the house and squatters move in, why can't I turn off the electricity and water? It's my house, so don't I have the right to do so?
I was gifted my parents house and the people that lived on the property said they bought an acre. I have no record of it and they are claiming adverse possession. What can I do?
How do I deal with squatters in my neighborhood if a neighbor is allowing them to stay?
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