There’s nothing quite like settling back into the comfort of home after a long day at work. Our home’s are our private, sacred space – a space we unwind, spend time with loved ones, and, most importantly, a space to call our own. So what happens when someone else decides to call it their home, too? Is that even possible?
Unfortunately, this type of scenario is not only possible, but also common enough to have rights and regulations surrounding it – and it’s called “squatting.” Though squatting is technically illegal, vacating unwelcome guests from your property could be a bit of a challenge thanks to “squatter’s rights.”
We know what you’re thinking – someone can move into my property without my consent, and there’s nothing I can do about it?
In order to understand how squatting (and their rights) work, The House Hacks Tips team got to researching, and is happy to report that you have options available to you if you do fall victim. Keep reading to learn more.
What are ‘Squatter’s Rights?’
By definition, a squatter is anyone who occupies a piece of property that is not theirs, without permission from the property owner (we know – sounds a little scary). Most often, that property has either been abandoned, foreclosed or vacant for a while, which is why squatting is most common amongst new homeowners, who likely had no knowledge of others residing at the property until they unpacked their boxes.
Why Do Squatters Squat?
Squatting is a lucrative lifestyle, resulting in years spent on a property with no electricity, plumbing, or the typical comforts of home. Why would someone want to live in such a way? In short, because this can give them a tax-free stake in the game.
Referred to as ‘adverse possession,’ the law (which varies by state in the US) states that once someone has publically occupied a property for several years, and a property owner has not tried to evict them during that period, “squatters rights” go into effect – the property is legally theirs.
Now, if your squatters have been served eviction notices and have not resided on the property for multiple years, they cannot legally be there. This is where the situation becomes a bit murky for homeowners…
How to Vacate an Unlawful Squatter
The legal process to vacate a squatter who has not met the necessary criteria to legally reside at the property is a bit cumbersome, and, thanks to “squatters’ rights,” there are a few hoops homeowners have to jump through if the squatters don’t agree to leave. That’s because, while trespassing and squatting may seem the same, trespassing is a criminal offense – squatting is a civil matter. This means if a landlord or property owner wants an unlawful squatter removed, they need to evict them.
As plenty of unfortunate landlords and homeowners have found out the hard way, eviction is a long and difficult process, and can be triggering for both parties, easily resulting in an altercation if not handled properly. But, as occupants on the property, squatters have legal rights to not be displaced from the property without notice. While the details vary by state, squatters are treated much like renters who have failed to make payments, and landlords are required to serve squatters with an eviction notice.
If an eviction notice has been served and squatters still aren’t vacating the property, homeowners can call in the help of other police, and it may be in their best interest to lawyer up. Until then, homeowners are squat out of luck.