A squatter is defined as an individual or person who settles on or lodges on a property without permission that they do not own.
The squatter begins to occupy or live on the property to which they do not have any legal claims, no titles, no rights, or a lease.
A property owner can lose the title of their house to another person if they do not check up on or inspect their property for several years.
This opens the window for another person- a squatter- to put forward a claim to possess the land and use the ground and is more commonly known as squatter's rights.
Squatter right's vary from state to state, for example New Yorks legislations differ to those in Alabama. Making sure you understand your states individual rules is highly important.
This article will explore and answer the question, What Is a Squatter? How Do You Get Rid of Them?
What is a Squatter?
Someone who intrudes on a property that they do not personally own and lives there without permission from the homeowner is referred to as a squatter. These individuals do not have a lease, are not renting the property as tenants, so they have no legal entity to be on the property.
Usually, squatting occurs when a property has been unattended or unoccupied for an extended period and is notably unmonitored by the homeowner.
The squatter will be aware that nobody is on the property, and they will then break in and start to live in the property.
However, it's essential to understand that squatter can develop what is known as squatter's rights, and a landlord or property owner will have to follow legal procedures to remove the person from their property.
Key Insight: Squatters who have studied and understand the laws which they possess, can take full advantage of their rights and push owners into time-consuming and expensive legal proceedings.
Trespasser vs Squatter
Before you can answer the question, What Is a Squatter? How Do You Get Rid of Them, it is important to understand the difference between a trespasser and a squatter?
Deemed to be a criminal offense and if someone is found trespassing on land or private property, it can result in the arrest of the alleged trespasser. Legally, a trespasser will cause damage to your property in order to get inside, by breaking a door or smashing a window, etc.
The term squatting generally refers to a civil matter as opposed to a criminal offense. This is because a squatter will enter the property through an unlocked door or window that is already been broken. Although a squatter can be arrested and eventually removed from the property, they have begun to occupy without alerting the owner of the property.
Understanding How a Squatter Works
As mentioned above, a squatter is simply someone who possesses and occupies someone's property without having permission or without them legally owning the home. If a squatter resides in the property for a set amount of time, they may attain squatter's rights.
Every U.S state, and on some occasions cities, operate using different laws concerning squatter's rights and adverse possessions and depending on where you are situated can alter when a person obtains their rights.
Furthermore, the requirements needed to be met to be granted adverse possession can vary. Usually in most states letter showing you have paid taxes on the given property and a deed, must be put forward for a claim to be considered or to be successful.
Remember: Before a person/s stays long enough to be legally classed as a squatter, they are trespassing on the property and can be removed by law.
For example, in California a squatter must have proof that they have paid property taxes for five or more years to obtain squatter's right, however, in Ohio a squatter needs to be living on the property for 21 years to receive adverse possession.
Although this does not happen regularly, if a squatter resides on a property for several years such as a home in Ohio for over 21 years and they acquire adverse possession, the squatter could legally become the owner of the place.
Intentional and Unintentional
As previously mentioned, adverse possession or more commonly known as squatter's rights is not a criminal offense but is actually a legal situation. Generally, this occurs when an individual/s is given the legal title of another person/s home by gaining possession.
However, it's important to know that this can happen either intentionally or unintentionally or with or without the property knowing.
Intentional adverse possession happens when a squatter or trespasser occupies or lives on someone else land illegally. The individual enters the owner's land intending to live there and to eventually possess the property.
In different situations, squatter's rights can be obtained unintentionally. For instance, if a homeowner is building a fence to mark off their yard from their neighbors' yard, but in doing so they cross over onto their neighbors' property line, the neighbor or adverse possessor can now claim the property.
Key Insight: If the filed claim is successful and the homeowner is granted adverse possessions they will not be required to pay for the property.
When Do Squatter's Rights Become Active?
Squatter's rights, legally referred to as adverse possession, is the term used when an individual obtains ownership of a property even though they have not paid for the property.
However, there are a few criterions that need to be met before you gain adverse possessions or squatter's rights, and they are as follows:
It is a personal property
They live on the property alone
They have lived on the property for a specified amount of time imposed by each state
The legal or rightful owner of the building has not tried to remove or evict the squatter within the state's specified amount of time.
Assuming that all of the above takes place, this is when adverse possession or squatters right becomes active.
What Is a Squatter: How Do You Get Rid of Them?
Once a squatter enters and occupies your property, it's important to act immediately as each day that passes allows the squatter to gain a legal title to own your property.
All states squatting laws allow original property owners to evict squatters following the process set out below. However, it is important to know that there is a given period where a property owner must initiate the eviction process by producing an eviction notice. This time period is often called the statutory period.
Do not Forget: Landlords are advised to deal with squatter issues as soon as they have been discovered, the more time that passes the harder it becomes to remove the squatter.
Alert the Police
Once you discover someone is on your property without consent, you should notify the police immediately.
If your case ends up with an eviction lawsuit, your calls to the police will be recorded so the police can present them to the court showing that you openly tried to work with local police to remove the squatter
Hot Tip: Once the police have been alerted, do not cut your electrics, turn off utilities, or change the locks until the entire removal or eviction is completed.
Produce a Formal Eviction Letter
Commonly referred to as an unlawful detainer, an eviction notice is a starting step in an eviction process. While you can write out a notice yourself to give to the squatter, it's advised that a real estate eviction attorney is hired to produce a professional and formal eviction notice.
If the squatter does not leave the property after you produced a formal eviction letter, then you should move to the next step and file a lawsuit.
Most states will have specified real estate attorneys who are professionally trained in residential evictions.
Once you have completed the eviction process and the judge approves of your claim, local law enforcement teams such as the police will attend your property to legally evict or remove the squatter from your property.
Squatters Possessions Should be Removed
Some states will ask the landlord or homeowner to write a notice before removing the squatters person possessions if he/she left any behind.
Hot Tip: If you cannot find the squatter, you should ask the court to post a public notice on the premises for the squatter to get any leftover possessions.
Things to Remember:
The entire process of removing a squatter could take months and if the squatter feels they are lawful owners of the property so decides to file a legal claim, you could end up spending a lot of money.
If the property that a squatter occupies is a rental property, you could lose out on your rental income. Also, there is a possibility that your property will be damaged in some way that will need to be repaired to a livable standard.
Although it may be tempting, do not switch off any utilities. Turning off utilities will do you more harm than good if you have to file a lawsuit. Read our guide for more information.
Top Five Tips to Protect Your Property from Squatters
Though there are several organizations to help a homeowner to remove a squatter from your property, it is a complex case to handle. Therefore, it is a lot easier for homeowners to implement certain steps to give their properties full protection.
Tip One: Trespassing
As simple as it may seem, putting up no trespassing signs can help to deter squatters and prevent adverse possession.
Tip Two: Secure your property
Whether your property is vacant or if someone is living there, the owner of the land should always secure the perimeter. Securing your property's perimeter with sounding alarms, fences with locks, and lights will help to avoid any lengthy and hostile claims where squatters are claiming they have legal possession over your properties.
Tip Three: Security Cameras & Alarms
With the ever-growing advancements in technology, installing security cameras and alarms that connect your smartphone can allow you to track and monitor your property. This will allow you to act immediately if you notice squatters on your property.
Tip Four: Windows and Doors
As mentioned, the big difference between trespassing and squatting is that squatters do not break a window to enter a property, if another person has broken the window and the squatter enters, they will not have committed a criminal offense. That is why securing your windows and doors is vital, the higher the level of security, the less likely anyone will be able to get inside.
Tip Five: Visit your property
Try to attend your property a few times a week or get a family member or friend to visit your property. This will allow you to notice if anyone is squatting on your property, or to notice any damage such as smashed windows so you can prevent any unwanted guests.
Roundup: What Is a Squatter? How Do You Get Rid of Them?
A squatter is defined as an individual or person who settles on or lodges on a property without permission that they do not own. However, if a squatter has been living on a piece of land for a set amount of time they can obtain squatter's rights- more formally known as adverse possessions.
Answering the question What is a Squatter? How Do You Get Rid of Them, means there are aspects an individual needs to understand before filing any claims or contacting law enforcement. For example, understanding the difference between a trespasser and a squatter is vital.
Typically, a trespasser will intentionally break into a property by smashing a window or breaking down a door and therefore commits a criminal offense. In contrast, a squatter will enter the property through a window that is already broken and insecure which sparks a legal case.
Landlords or property owners need to be cautious and alert to unwanted guests on their properties. Installing security cameras or alarms to properties that can be synced to your phone can allow you to monitor your home from a distance.
If landlord or property owner notices, there are squatters on their properties all laws, legislations, and eviction processes must be complied with accurately.
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