How to Prevent Squatters!

In a tough real estate market, squatters trespassing and living in someone else’s property for free is all over the news. These individuals take advantage of vacant properties and “squatter’s rights” in an attempt to establish occupancy in a home someone else worked hard to own.

Understandably, this is a topic that evokes a lot of emotions. Not only is the eviction process for squatters difficult in select states, but property owners often have to prove there was a break-in and that the squatters received eviction notices.

Overall, the best way to deal with squatters is to prevent the situation in the first place. Homeowners and investors must take steps to prevent the break-in with robust security systems and ideally get the cooperation of neighbors and law enforcement near their vacant home.

How do you prevent potential squatters and how do you get rid of them if they try to take adverse possession of your property? Thankfully, at Marketplace Homes, we have seasoned experts in our Leasing Department who have excellent advice to share on these topics.

Introducing Our Real Estate Experts

This article would not be possible without the expert contributions of Cindy Slack, Evictions and Collections Coordinator with over two years of experience, and Elyse Sarnecky, our current Director of Marketing and former Director of Leasing, who has been with Marketplace Homes for over 13 years. Collectively, they offer nearly two decades of experience in the real estate space. They will be answering the questions below!

Elyse Sarnecky Quote

FAQs about How to Take Care of Squatting

Q: Do squatters have the same rights in every state?

Cindy: “No, squatters don’t have the same rights in every state. Different states have different rules and laws, so talk to a real estate professional about which ones are the easiest for dealing with squatting.

“Also, since across the board many courts cater to the residents and take a long time to go through the eviction process, it’s better to prevent squatting entirely.”

Q: Is there a typical profile of a squatter?

Cindy: “I feel like most of the squatters that I notice are around 20 -40 years old. Also, most of them try to get into the home legally and then stop paying their rent.”

Q: What should a landlord do if they find their house taken by squatters?

Cindy: “The first thing an owner should do is call the police and get a trespassing incident on the record. Unless you can prove breaking and entering by the use of a camera, the police can’t do much, so have that evidence handy.

“Also, ask for a copy of the lease when the police are called and show them your deed to the home. The COVID eviction bans have changed laws, and increased the period of time in which squatters can remain, but with proper evidence, you can expedite the kick-out process.”

Q: How do squatters usually behave?

Cindy: “Squatters are really evasive. They will not answer the door most of the time. Thankfully, some actually answer the legal complaint for eviction. By the time we make it to court, they know the free ride is over. Most of the time, they vacate before the sheriff removes them from the home. However, some of them come back that night and try to break back in — so be vigilant!”

Q: Can I shut off utilities to get them to move out of my house?

Cindy: “In most states, you cannot turn off electric or water legally when squatters are in your property. To make sure you do not violate local ordinances, check with local state laws about what you can do if squatters invade your rental property. Read the fine print of local regulations and get legal help immediately to navigate the process the correct way too.”

Q: Is the recent housing crisis influencing squatter behavior?

Cindy: “It’s a tough market right now, for sure. Getting rid of a squatter is not like it used to be when you would just send out a Notice to Vacate or not renew the lease. The residents now just ignore the notices and stay. They have nowhere else to go, they can’t afford to live with these high prices.”

Q: How can landlords be less anxious about listing their vacant rentals online?

Cindy: “It is all about the area of the home, and how much security you set up. If a place is constantly unattended and looks empty, then it’s a prime target. Get to know the neighbors and ask them to keep an eye out. Also, make the house look lived in and regularly check on the property.”

Cindy Slack Quote

7 Ways to Prevent Squatters

If you plan on having a property unoccupied for an extended period, you should do everything you can to prevent squatter entry. In addition, knowing everyone’s legal rights in this messy situation can help you navigate nonpaying tenants or intruders. Here are some ways to prevent squatters from our experts.

  • Make your property look lived in.
  • Use Smart locks and security systems.
  • Inform your local law enforcement about your property’s vacancy.
  • Don’t make it obvious the house is for rent.
  • Put up a “no trespassing” or “private property” sign.
  • Put up a fence.
  • Use property management.

1. Make your property look lived in.

Cindy: “Make your home looked “lived in.” Most squatters don’t want to be charged with breaking and entering an occupied home. They want vacant properties that are easy targets. So, stay on top of the landscaping, turn on indoor and outdoor lights, and keep up with snow removal. Cameras are very important.

2. Use smart locks and security systems.

Squatters can’t squat if they can’t get into your property. Therefore, using a security system can deter a lot of squatters. In the unfortunate case of a break in, calling the police with video evidence can be helpful.

Elyse: “You should set-up security and electronic locks. A smart door lock like this one can be operated from a smart phone app. You just want to make sure it’s one where you can control from afar.

“I would also recommend installing Ring cameras on the front, back, and side doors (if applicable). It’s more difficult to do that on a vacant unit because you need internet, but there are options to hardwire Ring cameras.”

  • Tip: If you want to go the extra mile, a complete security system with sensors on the property’s ground-floor, windows, and doors or any other potential point of entry makes sure you get news quickly about any potential squatters.

3. Inform your local law enforcement about your property’s vacancy.

Elyse: “Homeowners can call their local police department or building department to see if they’re able to register the home as vacant So, registering your property as vacant with the local police department can help.

“Though it’s absolutely not a guarantee that it will help you, it gives you something to point to. So, if you do get squatters, you can tell the police, ‘I called your station on 4/17 to let you know the home was vacant and that I would call back in once a lease has been signed’. It’s free and easy to do!”

4. Don’t make it obvious the house is for rent.

Cindy: “Squatters often look for rental listings online to pinpoint vacant units. However, they may also drive around to see what houses look empty. Use an electronic lockbox that generates a unique code for each showing so nobody can access them easily.”

5. Put up a “no trespassing” or “private property” sign.

Putting up “no trespassing” or “private property” signs on your property can discourage squatters from entering your property. It insinuates the home is occupied or under surveillance, which is not what people without a lease agreement want to deal with.

6. Put up a fence.

Like signage, putting up a fence is another simple yet effective way to deter squatters. People who don’t have a proper rental agreement often choose the path of least resistance, so having more barriers in place can help keep non-renters out.

7. Use property management.

Cindy: “Since landlords can’t be everywhere at once, hiring a capable property management company to maintain a presence, coordinate lawn care, and conduct regular occupancy checks is extremely helpful.”

Need a property manager? You don’t have to look far.

Marketplace Homes is a nationwide, hybrid brokerage and property management company that is well versed in everything related to real estate.

If you’re a real estate investor who needs extra peace of mind in filling rentals or dealing with adverse situations like evictions, our team is experienced in navigating the legal process to remove squatters and can give you more advice on preventing the situation in the first place. Give us a call today to learn more!

need a property manager?