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Property owners have rights; so do squatters
You inherited your grandfather’s house in the country. Or you have a home in the next county that you’re planning to update and rent to create an income stream. Or you bought a “fixer upper” in an involved neighborhood in your city.
You’re busy with work, family and countless people competing for your time, so you don’t monitor the property as it’s not nearby and you have it shut down with no utilities, etc.
Then one day you go to check on it, just to be certain all is well with it. And you find there are people living in it. What’s more, you learn they have been living in it for months.
So, you knock on the door and ask them what’s going on and tell them they need to leave. The door slams in your face.
You just found out squatters are living on your property. Now what?
In this scenario, once a property owner gets zero cooperation from a squatter, the natural reaction is to call the police. After all, it’s your property and these people have invaded your property, without your consent. Call the police!
That’s a natural reaction and will end the problem, right?
No, not necessarily.
In many cases, squatters have legal rights, and police are often hesitant to get involved. Squatters may tell police that you gave them permission to live in the property. Or that you have failed to give them a rental agreement. Regardless, the situation can quickly devolve into a “he said she said” dispute, one that police cannot untangle.
Fortunately, there are laws and legal processes that may help.
Your possible legal remedies for squatters
Legal options for evicting squatters can vary by situation and by state. If the squatter is a tenant who simply stopped paying rent, they have different rights than squatters who have trespassed and broken into the building.
Though laws vary from state to state, generally, former renters or those who have stopped paying rent must be legally evicted by the property owner. In these cases, a formal eviction notice describing the property, the reason(s) for eviction, the names and addresses of the parties involved, and a deadline for the squatters to vacate the property must be drafted and served to the squatters.
And that may not be simple. Squatters can refuse to answer the door, dodge you or whoever is serving the notice when they are away from the property and ignore any mail or notices left on the front door of the property. You also may be required to prove a squatter has received the notice. This can be accomplished by using a process server, or mailing notices using certified mail, for example.
In many cases, property owners are forced to take squatters to court to successfully evict them. This means you as the property owner will likely need to hire an attorney and take the time to appear in court to get them evicted.
Squatters may also have rights
Surprisingly, under the laws of many states, squatters have legal rights and can end up legally taking title to your property.
For example, if a squatter lives in the home for a certain amount of time (this varies by state), he or she may legally take possession of the property through a process known as adverse possession. In many states, including Missouri and Texas, for example, if a squatter lives in or on a property for ten years, the squatter has a legal claim to the property and may successfully take title to it.
A squatter situation can be legally tricky and/or dangerous. In many cases, squatters are homeless, may have psychological challenges or may be criminals. Regardless, this is not a situation to be handled by an amateur.
First, do not confront the squatter. Instead, call the police. They will in most cases be familiar with this type of problem and may provide you with direction as to your legal options.
Next, follow their recommendations. It’s likely you will have to hire an attorney to ensure you are taking the correct steps to legally – and safely – evict the squatter.
Finally, be certain to supply your attorney with all documentation – and this can include your title to the property, proof of insurance, receipts from paid utility bills and more – he or she requests. Also, do not delay; time favors the squatter, not the property owner.
Whether you’re planning to secure a mortgage for the purchase of a new home, or dealing with a problem such as squatters on a property you own, don’t hesitate to contact one of our loan officers. They are experienced real estate and financial professionals who have the expertise and a network of other professionals who can help. Contact us today!