Legal How-To: Getting Squatters Evicted
It's always unsettling to come home and find that squatters are living on your property, but how can you get rid of them?
In some cases, you may get in trouble by forcibly removing squatters from your property, so there are some legal considerations you need to keep in mind. Here's a general overview:
- Are they squatters or trespassers? Before you do anything, find out if the people on your property are squatters or trespassers. Trespassers are people who enter onto an owner's land without permission and are subject to criminal and civil penalties. Generally, trespassers are only on a property temporarily. For example, people who come onto a property to vandalize it are most likely considered trespassers. On the other hand, squatters are people who "move" into a property and live there, usually without the owner's consent. This practice is more common if the property is a vacation home and/or the owner rarely comes to check on the place. For the most part, squatters can't be removed without some sort of civil eviction action.
- Eviction proceedings. Since squatters aren't paying rent to live on your property, you can evict them. The first option is serve the squatters with an eviction notice. If the squatters refuse to leave, you can file an unlawful detainer lawsuit against them to formally kick them out via a court order. However, just because you won an unlawful detainer suit doesn't mean you can march in and toss them out. If squatters still don't leave after a court order, you need to go to your local police or sheriff's department for help enforcing the judgment. Taking matters into your own hands by forcibly removing squatters could land you in legal trouble.
- Adverse possession laws. Under adverse possession laws, squatters may legally own your property if they've openly and continuously lived there for an extended period of time. The actual time period varies by state, but at least a few years must pass in most cases. The squatters have to meet all the elements of adverse possession in order to claim the property as theirs. Your best bet in preventing this result is to go and visit all your property locations at least once a year to check for squatters.
Need More Help?
Trying to evict squatters can be frustrating, but you don't have to face the problem alone. If you don't have the time or the patience to deal with the situation, you may want to call an experienced real estate attorney who's knowledgeable about eviction proceedings in your state.
Editor's Note, April 26, 2016: This post was first published in April 2014. It has since been updated.