Dealing With The Tenant That Won’t Leave – 5 Steps To Deal With Squatter Problems

By Douglas Katz – 02/08/23

One of the perils of being a landlord or short-term rental host is the dreaded squatter.  While not particularly common, there can be occasions when a renter decides to breach the lease by not paying or they stay beyond the agreed upon date range.  No matter how they end up in your in investment property, it is never good.  You can lose revenue from losing the opportunity to rent to another tenant as well face the possibility that the now illegal tenant can cause damage to the property.  You are not powerless and there are steps that you can take to deal with the issue.

If someone has taken up residence in your rental property without your permission, it is considered squatting and is illegal. Here are the steps you can take to handle the situation:

Notify the Police

Contact the local police department and inform them of the situation. They will be able to determine if the squatter has committed a crime and can take the necessary steps to remove them from the property.  This is important as it shows you are working through the proper channels and avoiding confrontation.  It is also important to remember that there is the distinct possibility that this will not solve the squatter problem unless there is a crime that would supersede working through the required eviction process.

Begin the Eviction Process

Initiate an eviction process by filing an unlawful detainer lawsuit with the local court. This process can take several weeks or months to complete and requires a court order to remove the squatter.  This process will vary from place to place so it is definitely important to research the specifics of where your property is located.  I recommend that any investor research this process before buying a property as some areas have very restrictive tenant protection laws that serve a good purpose but can be manipulated by unsavory characters.  You do not want to run afoul of these as they can actually hurt your efforts to resolve the process.

Hire an Attorney

Consider hiring an attorney to represent you in the eviction proceedings and advise you on the legal procedures.  Regardless of the path that the process follows, an attorney is not just a good idea.  It is essential that you ensure that you are in compliance with state and local laws and the attorney can help.  Additionally, the attorney will help ensure that you build a good documented timeline to assist you if the process does end with legal action.

Try Mediation

There are times when the tenant may not be just trying a scam and they may have concerns or grievances that are valid.  If there is an ability to work through the problem with mediation, you may find a lower cost, less acrimonious way to come to an agreement. Even if it doesn’t work, you can at least refer to the effort as a means of verifying your pursuing legal action was essential and you had exhausted other means.

Do NOT Take Matters Into Your Own Hands

Do not attempt to forcibly remove the squatter yourself. This could result in legal consequences for you and you could give them the legal high ground to fight you.  In addition, you could end up unexpectedly crossing a line where someone gets hurt or worse, especially if the person squatting if of questionable moral character to begin with.  In our current societal climate this is especially dangerous as punching and sometimes shooting have become acceptable first responses to conflict.  If when engaging the squatter, the interaction becomes heated I recommend backing off.  There are many means for you to ensure that threats or attacks are documented and, if you need to once again involve the authorities, the documented proof can help.  Conversely, they can also film and record you, which if you do threaten or forcibly engage them, could again hurt you case.

There is no way around it and nobody can ever argue that the eviction process is easy or fun.  Even experienced investors dread dealing with the tenant who won’t leave.  Since it is an inherent risk of being a real estate investor, you cannot negate it but by having a plan that covers the important steps when it occurs.  No matter what, it’s important to follow the proper legal channels when dealing with squatting in your rental property to avoid any potential liability or criminal charges.

We provide discounts to veterans, first responders and law enforcement.

Please check out our program.