Creative Ways to Get Rid of Squatters: Strategies for Real Estate Investors

This guide provides real estate investors with an in-depth understanding of squatting laws and practical eviction strategies, emphasizing the importance of legal knowledge, technology use, and creative solutions like temporary leases and cash negotiations for effective property management.

By
Gemma Smith
|
Last Updated
November 21, 2023
Creative Ways to Get Rid of Squatters: Strategies for Real Estate Investors

In the dynamic world of real estate investment, success hinges not only on market understanding but also on the mastery of legal landscapes. It's an area where a single misinterpreted term or missed legal detail can alter the course of an investment.

For property owners, one such lurking challenge is the issue of squatting. As rental property owners navigate this issue, understanding the legal intricacies becomes paramount.

From understanding squatting and its distinction from trespassing to the ins and outs of adverse possession and regional variations, this guide provides a thorough exploration of the key topics.

We'll go beyond just explaining the concepts and actually provide practical tips and steps to protect your property rights effectively. If you're an investor aiming to safeguard your assets and maximize returns, this comprehensive exploration provides a cautionary tale and a roadmap to success.

Understanding the terminology

Gaining expertise on property rights demands a solid grasp on terms that may seem similar but carry different legal meanings.

Defining squatting

Squatting in real estate carries a specific meaning that differs from the casual usage of the term. At its core, squatting refers to the act of occupying an uninhabited property without the permission of the owner.

Squatting is an unauthorized residency that, over time, could lead to legal issues for both the squatter and the property owner. For landlords, it's vital to understand squatting not just as a physical presence in a property but also as a potential legal dilemma that could challenge ownership rights, especially if left unaddressed over extended periods.

Contrasting with trespassing

While both squatting and trespassing involve unauthorized entry or occupation of a property, there are stark differences between the two. Trespassing is a transient violation, often characterized by a temporary intrusion without the intent to stay.

Trespassing is considered a criminal offense in many jurisdictions and can lead to immediate legal action. Squatting, however, becomes a civil issue, primarily when squatters reside in a property long enough to claim certain rights to the land.

For property owners, especially real estate investors, this distinction is crucial. While trespassers can often be dealt with swiftly through law enforcement, squatters may require more complicated and prolonged legal interventions to ensure the sanctity of private property rights.

The legal landscape

Real estate investment involves more than just an understanding of market trends and property values; it's equally imperative to grasp the laws that underpin property ownership. 

Diving deeper into the legalities, let's explore the framework of adverse possession and its varying legal approaches that might impact property owners' legal rights:

Unpacking adverse possession

The doctrine of adverse possession presents a legal framework that might, over time, grant squatters certain property rights. This law was traditionally intended to promote the utilization of land by transferring ownership to those who openly inhabit and care for an otherwise neglected parcel. Adverse possession stipulates conditions under which a squatter can claim legal title to a property. 

These often include a continuous occupation for a statutorily prescribed period, which varies by jurisdiction, alongside elements such as exclusivity, open and notorious possession, and a claim of right. This tenet balances between penalizing inattentive landowners and recognizing the de facto stewardship of rental property squatters. For real estate investors, it underscores the significance of vigilance and proactive property management.

The law's variation by region

Understanding property law requires knowing that rules vary widely between states, especially regarding squatter's rights and eviction.

Some states lean in favor of property owners, while others tilt in favor of occupants, especially in cases of long-term residence. This disparity in legal landscapes underscores the imperative for real estate investors to acquaint themselves with the specific statutes and legal precedents that govern the territories within which their properties lie. 

As a property owner, having legal blind spots could inadvertently fortify a squatter's position of legal ownership, thereby complicating the eviction process. Investors should diligently research and possibly seek legal counsel on the state-specific nuances governing property rights and squatter laws in order to avoid making costly mistakes.

The role of law enforcement

Building on our foundational understanding of the legal landscape, investors must also appreciate the role of law enforcement in property disputes. When squatter issues arise, the police can be allies and boundary setters. But the question remains: When should you turn to them, and what can they do for you?

When to call the police

In property disputes, not every situation necessitates a call to the police. For real estate investors, it's important to discern which scenarios require police intervention. Typically, if there's evidence of a crime in progress, such as breaking and entering, vandalism, or threats of violence, the police should be alerted immediately.

Additionally, if you've documented evidence that someone is on your property without permission and refuses to leave after being confronted, this can also warrant a call. It's essential to have proof of property ownership on hand when reaching out, such as recent property tax bills or utility bills, to validate your legal claim to law enforcement officers.

The boundaries

While the police can be invaluable allies in certain situations, there are limits to their involvement. Law enforcement's primary role is to maintain peace and public order, not to arbitrate civil disputes. In cases where squatting has evolved into a long-term occupation without apparent criminal intent, the police might deem the matter a civil issue.

In such scenarios, they may only act as peacekeepers, ensuring that confrontations don't escalate into violence. You shouldn't expect to have the police remove squatters without a court order. Thus, real estate investors should prepare to undertake the legal eviction process, involving notices, hearings, and potential court orders, to reclaim their property lawfully.

Mistakes to sidestep

Venturing further into the complexity of property disputes, landlords must remain acutely aware of potential pitfalls. While the impulse to act quickly and decisively against squatters is natural, impulsivity can exacerbate the situation, landing property owners in legal hot water. Let's take a look at some common missteps and the potential repercussions of these actions.

Taking matters into your own hands

It's tempting for property owners to take matters into their own hands, especially when the legal process seems daunting and protracted. However, resorting to DIY eviction methods can backfire. Cutting off utilities, such as water or electricity, to the property in hopes of driving out squatters is not only illegal but could also lead to claims of endangerment or harassment. 

Similarly, issuing threats, either verbal or physical, escalates tension and could result in criminal charges. Furthermore, while the urge to reclaim the property might push owners to remove a squatter's belongings, doing so without proper legal protocols can result in lawsuits for damages or illegal eviction.

Legal repercussions

The legal landscape is fraught with challenges for property owners who don't adhere to the established protocols. Engaging in self-help evictions or unauthorized removals can open the door for squatters to file lawsuits. 

Claims could range from property damage, emotional distress, to personal injury. Moreover, some jurisdictions may penalize landlords with hefty fines for illegal evictions. In the worst-case scenario, taking matters into one's own hands could inadvertently strengthen a squatter's legal position, particularly if they can prove that they have been mistreated or have had their rights violated. For property owners, the key is to tread carefully, always keeping the legal ramifications in mind.

6 creative ways to get rid of squatters

Having covered the specifics of squatting, let's explore six innovative approaches to address squatters, ensuring fairness and adherence to legal guidelines.

1. Leveraging technology

In the digital age, technology offers many solutions for property owners to safeguard their investments. For vacant properties, one of the most effective deterrents against squatters is the installation of surveillance and security systems. 

From simple motion-activated cameras to comprehensive security solutions, these devices provide real-time monitoring, alerts, and evidence collection. Not only do they act as a deterrent, dissuading potential squatters from occupying the property, but they also will serve as evidence should legal proceedings become necessary.

2. Community engagement

A vigilant community can be an asset for any property owner. Getting to know your neighbors can help in fostering a sense of community responsibility that serves as an organic surveillance system. Neighbors who are aware and invested in the well-being of their community and the people within it are more likely to report suspicious activities or potential squatting situations. 

These relationships can be built simply by attending local meetings, organizing neighborhood watch programs, or just fostering friendly relations with those living nearby.

3. Alternative dispute resolution

The legal process can be lengthy, costly, and emotionally draining for all parties involved. For property owners looking for a more streamlined resolution, alternative dispute resolution methods, like mediation or arbitration, are invaluable. These approaches bring neutral third parties into the fold to facilitate discussions and reach a compromise without resorting to the courts. Often quicker and less adversarial, alternative dispute resolution can pave the way for amicable resolutions.

4. Creating a temporary lease

In some situations, what begins as a challenge can transform into an unexpected opportunity. For squatters who demonstrate responsibility or have genuine reasons for their situation, property owners might consider drafting a temporary lease or rental agreement. By legitimizing the squatter's stay, owners can establish clear terms, ensure property care, and even secure rental income. Such an arrangement can provide a win-win solution while maintaining the owner's rights and control over the property.

5. Cash negotiations

Sometimes, a direct approach can be the most effective. Offering squatters a financial incentive to vacate the property can lead to a swift and peaceful resolution. Termed "cash for keys," this method involves negotiating a sum of money in exchange for the squatter's departure and the return of property keys. 

While it might seem counterintuitive to pay someone who's unauthorized to reside on the property, in some cases, it can be more cost-effective than drawn-out legal battles or potential property damages.

6. Investor networks

Real estate investing is not a solitary venture. Across the globe, investors form networks and communities to share knowledge, experiences, and strategies. Tapping into these networks can offer invaluable insights on handling squatters. 

By sharing experiences, property owners can learn from each other's successes and missteps, devising effective strategies and pooling resources when necessary. Whether it's a local investor group or a broader online community, the collective wisdom of fellow investors can be a game-changer.

Preventative measures and strategies

Dealing with squatters can become a long and drawn-out process if not handled from an informed perspective. With the right strategies and preventative approaches, you can get rid of squatters quickly or avoid encountering them entirely.

Exploring the option to sell

Selling a property inhabited by squatters might not be the first option that comes to mind, but it is an avenue worth considering.

Weighing the pros and cons

The sale of squatter-occupied properties presents a unique blend of advantages and challenges for owners. The possibility of a lower selling price can reduce competition and attract investors looking for a bargain, potentially speeding up the sale. Moreover, the opportunity for value appreciation post-reclamation is an attractive prospect.

On the flip side, owners must navigate the complex eviction laws, which can be a lengthy and costly ordeal, and they may also have to address the property's condition and security issues. The uncertainties of the eviction timeline, coupled with the potential for a tarnished property reputation and the emotional stress involved, make for a situation that demands thorough analysis and strategic planning.

Identifying the right buyers

Despite the hurdles, there exists a subset of investors who specialize in tackling such properties, drawn by the prospects of turning challenges into profits. Identifying these investors can significantly streamline the selling process, as they are often well-versed in handling squatter-related issues and may even view them as an opportunity.

Connecting with these buyers requires understanding their investment strategy and presenting the property as a viable project with potential returns that outweigh the inherent risks.

Optimizing management and oversight

Whether it's through frequent inspections or partnering with professionals, there are several tactics property owners can adopt to stay ahead of squatting issues.

  • Routine property checks: Prevention is better than cure. Regular inspections can deter squatters and detect any early signs of unauthorized occupancy.
  • Working with property management companies: These companies specialize in overseeing properties, reducing the burden on individual investors. Their expertise can prove invaluable in preventing and dealing with squatters.
  • Legal coverage: Squatting issues can quickly become entangled in legal complexities. Having a legal team or expert consultation at the ready ensures that property owners are always a step ahead.

Getting rid of squatters

As a property owner, a clear understanding of squatting and its related challenges is paramount. By familiarizing yourself with topics such as property rights, differentiating between trespassing and squatting, and mastering legal intricacies, you can bolster your position to protect and optimize your investments. In real estate, being proactive often saves time and money.

Don't let the challenges of squatting cloud your investment ambitions. Equip yourself with knowledge, stay vigilant, and be ready with strategic solutions.

How to get rid of squatters FAQs

Can a handyman remove squatters?

Typically, a handyman, being an external contractor, doesn't have the legal authority to remove squatters directly. Instead, the property owner or property management company should handle the eviction process.

After seeking legal advice, the property owner might initiate the eviction process by providing a formal notice. If the squatter refuses to leave, then local law enforcement or local authorities might get involved.

In more challenging scenarios, the property owner might resort to eviction proceedings or an eviction lawsuit. Collaborating with a real estate attorney or referring to a legal resource website can provide more in-depth insights on state and local laws concerning removing squatters from a vacant property.

What is the easiest state to be a squatter in?

The ease of squatting depends on state laws concerning adverse possession and squatters' rights. Adverse possession laws vary by state, with some states being more lenient and others having stringent requirements.

For a squatter to claim adverse possession, they usually have to reside on a property without the owner's permission for a set number of years, maintain the property, and, in some states, pay property taxes. It's essential to refer to local laws or a legal resource specific to each state to determine which state might be considered "easiest" for squatters. 

Additionally, rental and vacant properties in certain states may have varying legal protections against unauthorized occupants.

Can you turn off utilities on a squatter in NY?

In New York, as with many states, turning off utilities to forcibly evict a squatter or any occupant can be considered a self-help eviction, which is illegal. 

Property owners and property managers must follow the legal eviction process set by state and local laws, which often begins with serving an eviction notice, following through with eviction proceedings in civil court if necessary, and seeking the help of local law enforcement to remove squatters if they refuse to leave after a formal notice.

Turning off utilities can also jeopardize the property owner's legal standing in an eviction lawsuit or civil lawsuit. Always seek legal advice from a real estate attorney familiar with New York's landlord-tenant law and eviction processes before taking action.

Gemma Smith

With 7 years in property management, Gemma serves as a key content strategist at Azibo.com. While excelling in writing, editing, and SEO, she also enhances Azibo's social media presence. Passionately, Gemma educates others to make informed real estate investment decisions in the ever-changing market.

A hand illustration holding a house with flowers coming out of the roofA logo spelling dont miss out, the rental rundown
Whether you're a property owner, renter, property manager, or real estate agent, gain valuable insights, advice, and updates by joining our blog newsletter.
Subscriber Identity
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
A green hill illustration with houses