It is imperative as a landlord you understand what are squatter's rights and what you can and can't do legally.
You don't need to be a lawyer to understand some of the basics of squatter's rights, and that is exactly why this blog post was created.
What Is a Squatter, and Do They Have Rights?
A squatter is a person or persons that occupy a property that does not own the property or pays rent to live in the property. This may be a past tenant who doesn't move out after their lease expires, or it could be a homeless individual moving into a vacant property that you own.
Depending on the state you live in, the situation will depict the type of rights the individual will have as a squatter. The conversation about squatters’ rights mostly deals with unauthorized occupant protection, so they are not displaced from the property without notice.
Some squatters don't have any rights if they occupy a property illegally, such as breaking and entering. This may occur when someone moves into a foreclosed vacated house and remains there when the new owner acquires the property.
Because this individual never had a right to occupy the property, the occupant illegally entered the premises and could be escorted out by law enforcement. It is never best practice to force a squatter out of a property, regardless of the situation, as a landlord. Always reach out to law enforcement if you wanted to remove someone from your property that is there illegally.
Most people understand the situation described above; however, squatter's rights can vary between states, and each situation can yield a different result.
For example, if you have a relative that passed away 50 years ago and left a property in their family name. The family did not know about the property, and in the meantime, a random person moved into the property and lived there for 40 years. This individual paid the property taxes and kept up maintenance on the property over the years.
Regardless, who names on the title to the property legally, the squatter or the individual that moved into your family members property could have a claim to your family’s property.
This is adverse possession, and as a landlord, you need to be aware of this term.
Squatters can claim adverse possession if they have live on the property for a continuous minimum timeframe. The timeframe varies from state to state, so it is your responsibility as a landlord to know those details for your state. Typically, the timeframe is around 30 years.
The blog linked here identifies the time required for continuous possession by state. I recommend looking over this post and reaching out to a real estate attorney to verify your finding for your state.
There are also other requirements in addition to the time required for continuous possession, depending on the state that you live in. If a squatter continues with upkeep on the property like described in the example above, they can claim ownership of the property. Another requirement can be that the squatter pays taxes on the property and holds color of title to claim ownership.
With that being said, in most cases dealing with property, adverse possession is very uncommon. Vacant land is commonly known with cases dealing with adverse possession.
Another situation you might have to deal with squatter as a landlord is with holdover tenants. A holdover tenant is someone that remains on the property and refused to leave after their lease has ended.
This is never fun for the landlord because it will require the landlord to proceed with the eviction process. Evictions can be expensive and take a lot of time. This usually the most common situation landlords deal with where squatters’ rights come into play.
You must offer the tenant a notice to quit signal the beginning of the eviction process. Don’t just try to force the tenant out because you can get in legal trouble for your actions.
As a landlord, you might buy a vacant property, and an unknown person is living in the property. Even in these examples, squatters’ rights may apply.
Unknown persons can be someone who is discovered unknowingly within the property. Sometimes this may be a previous tenant, or someone stuck into the property after the previous tenant left.
Either way, it is important that landlords never try to force an unknown person off the property themselves.
In many cases, the squatter is under the bounds of tenancy at will; therefore, they must be given a certain number of days to leave depending on the state allotted timeframe for ending a lease.
Typically most states require at least 30 days before the squatter must leave the premises; however, you should always check your state’s individual requirements before moving forward.
Do Squatter’s Rights Apply to Short Term Rental?
If you're in a short-term rental market, the squatter rights laws apply a little differently for you. If the squatter has been living in the property for less than 28 days, they are not viewed as a tenant but more transient.
Therefore, if a guest overstays their vacation in your short-term rental, you can usually get the guest to leave without going to court or filing an eviction. This is a completely different process than going through an evitiction; you can just use local law enforcement to escort the guest off your property's guest.