If you thought late-paying tenants were a nightmare, wait until you deal with squatters.
A squatter is someone who lives on your rental property without having the legal rights to live there. In short, they’ve decided to move in even though they’re not paying rent or do not have a signed lease agreement – and the worst part is that they will not leave.
Under U.S. law, as long as the squatter has lived there for five to ten years (even illegally), they acquire the title to the property. This is also called the doctrine of adverse possession. In other words, your squatters will eventually have rights if you don’t do anything to remove them. That’s why you or your property management agent shouldn’t waste a single second to deal with the situation.
How Can Squatters “Squat” in the First Place?
There are several ways how an individual can gain access to a rental unit. Let’s take a look at the situations where your real estate investment may be vulnerable to law-unabiding “tenants”:
Your Property Has Been Vacant For a Long Time
If your property has been vacant for an extended period, expect people to be tempted to move in illegally. This isn’t uncommon for properties that are owned by long-distance landlords who rarely visit their real estate investments. If they notice that you haven’t done anything to get your unit rented out in a long time, they’ll take that as a signal to sneak inside. Some individuals even go as far as to make fake rental contracts to “prove” that they live there.
Your Tenant Has an Illegal Roommate
Let’s say that you allowed your tenant’s friend to move in informally, believing that if your tenant trusts them, then they’d probably be responsible. However, when the time comes for your tenant to move out, their friend refuses to leave. The problem is that you can’t evict them because their name isn’t on the rental contract. For the same reason, you can’t collect rent from them, either.
If your tenant wants a roommate, be sure that the roommate’s name is added to the rental contract. As a rule of thumb, never allow an individual to move in based on a verbal agreement. Consider hiring a South Florida property management firm that can help you create a fool-proof rental contract.
The “Squatter” Thought Their Lease Was Legit
If your property has been vacant for a long time, scammers may see it as an opportunity to advertise a unit that’s not even theirs. They fool real renters into thinking that they’re signing a legitimate lease agreement. Once the tenant has paid the security deposit, the scammers disappear. Once you visit the unit, it’s only then that the tenants understand that they’ve been victims of a scam. Fortunately, since this type of “squatter” never intended to squat, they’ll likely leave if you ask them to.
Can’t You Just Kick Squatters Out?
By now, you’re probably wondering why you can’t kick them out yourself. Whatever you do, it is very important that you don’t force them to leave, otherwise, you will find yourself in trouble with the law. If you threaten them to move out, they could call the cops to have you arrested. You may be deemed as the aggressor in the situation, and that will get you in more legal trouble. Besides, dealing with an illegal tenant by yourself is not safe as they be may be dangerous.
If you’re dealing with an illegal tenant, do not attempt to deal with it on your own. Call the cops or count on your property management company to help you regain control of your South Florida property.
How to Prevent Squatters in the First Place
#1 Screen Your Tenants
Partner with a property management company that has a strict tenant screening process in place. They’ll make sure that your tenants are able to pay their rent, and that they’ll be responsible and reliable. By screening your tenants, you’ll be able to tell who are quality tenants, as well as pinpoint the problematic ones who will probably become squatters.
When screening potential tenants, don’t forget to conduct a background check, criminal record check, credit score check, and more. This will tell you whether or not you can count on them to pay their rent promptly. You should also review their rental history to see if they’ve been evicted, and if so, for what reasons.
#2 Make Them Sign a Lease
You’d be in an incredibly dangerous situation if you do not get your tenants to sign a lease agreement. Create a fool-proof rental contract that clearly states the consequences for squatters. If the tenant does not pay their rent, they should move out voluntarily, or you should be able to evict them. If the repercussions are not spelled out, you’ll have to move mountains to remove them from the rental unit.
A property management company with an in-house team of real estate attorneys can help you prepare a contract that covers every situation. That way, you’ll know that you and your property are protected at all times.
#3 Collect a Security Deposit
Always assume that your tenants will be troublesome. In short, take it as a given that they’ll likely turn into illegal tenants. To mitigate that risk, make sure to collect a security deposit. In case a tenant refuses to pay their rent, at least you can still use their deposit to pay for rental-related costs. Plus, when tenants know that they won’t be able to get their money back if they break the terms of the contract, they’ll be more likely to be responsible. They will want to get on your good side.
Dealing With Illegal Tenants? Leave It to the Experts
Dealing with illegal tenants can be a challenge because of the laws that protect them. If you’re in a situation where someone is living in your property illegally, consult the property management experts at Luxury Property Care. Our team is trained to deal with squatters the legal way. We’ll make sure they’re removed from your real estate investment properly and promptly. Remember, you shouldn’t take matters into your own hands!