Help! There are squatters in my apartment
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, there seems to be at least one story in the news every week about squatters. They are individuals who enter a house that does not belong to them and assume it as if they had it. Experts say this is such a prevalent problem these days due to the sheer number of houses that have been foreclosed. They are empty and do not move, so people decide to take care of them. They often do it for months without anyone noticing.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that this is not just happening in foreclosed homes. It is also happening in the apartments. It’s a huge headache for landlords because, believe it or not, squatters have rights too. Let us explain …
Squat down and the law
Let’s say you find that there is a woman in her 30s who lives in an apartment that was supposed to be empty. It has likely been there for about a month. Well, thanks to the laws that protect tenants (they provide protection for people to live in a home that does not belong to them), it is not so easy to evict that female squatter.
In fact, in homes where a squatter is more likely to live for a long time without anyone wondering if they have purchased the property, the squatter may eventually own the home. That’s how it is!
Once enough time passes (different in each state), the individual will own the home through a precedent called adverse possession. They only need to meet the following requirements: (1)
- Property must be unoccupied
- No one else pays property taxes during the period of occupancy except the occupant.
- Living there continuously and without permission.
- No attempt was made to hide the fact that they are occupying the residence.
Fortunately, in the case of apartments, it is much less likely that someone will be able to remain so discreet or that the unit will not be displayed for an extended period of time. Instead, what is much more likely is that a squatter will enter an already occupied unit when the actual tenant goes on vacation or on a business trip.
Get rid of squatters
A recent story about an apartment squatter took place in New York City. It was there that a landlord discovered that a tenant who was not on the lease decided to stay after his girlfriend, the original tenant, moved out. This individual came up with one excuse after another, but he would not leave the apartment. “I think he goes from apartment to apartment doing this,” said Tibor Karakas, the building manager. “He knows the law. He knows what he’s doing. He knows it will take me six months to get him out.” (two)
But if you are faced with this dilemma, there are ways to tackle it. We suggest the following:
- Understand the difference between a former tenant who refuses to leave and someone who never had a lease for their property. An example of the latter could be someone who moved in with a boyfriend or girlfriend, but stays after the tenant has left.
- For a former tenant who refuses to leave after eviction, it is not really a case of occupancy. This situation requires legal participation. The police are not likely to intervene if you call 911. However, going through the proper legal (judicial) channels will help ensure legal enforcement (and possibly forcible removal) of the eviction and the ex-tenant.
- For a person who was never on the lease, legal participation is not absolutely necessary. In fact, in this case, you have the right to recover the property without help from anyone. While you can enter the unit and change the locks in an attempt to prevent the person from re-entering, the trick is to enter at a time when the squatters are not present. This is also a potentially dangerous proposition, so it is wise to consider the services of an attorney to impose “force.”
To avoid situations like this from the start, landlords and managers must screen all applicants before a lease is signed. The lease must also contain a stipulation that any adult over the age of 18 must sign a lease in order to live in the unit for any length of time. And, of course, it is necessary to keep the property safe, with close control over the condition of each unit and its inhabitants, as well as security measures for guests when entering and leaving the property.
(1) Clark, J. “How Squatting Works,” money.howstuffworks.com.
(2) “Owner Has Difficulty Disposing of Squatter,” upi.com, 23 Aug 2011.