When someone lives in a house without the owner’s permission, this is referred to as squatting or being a squatter. Squatters occupy an abandoned or unoccupied space that they do not own or rent. Squatting is illegal in most places, though some areas have laws that protect certain types of squatters’ rights. Overall, having a squatter live in your home without permission can be a difficult and potentially dangerous situation that requires legal action to remove them.
What is Squatting?
Squatting refers to occupying an abandoned, vacant, or unoccupied space without current ownership or rental rights. A person who does this is called a squatter. Squatters usually take up residence in properties that are unoccupied for long periods of time, such as foreclosed or abandoned homes and buildings. In most cases, squatting is illegal and considered trespassing. However, some areas have laws that allow certain exceptions for squatters’ rights in certain situations.
Some key things to know about squatting:
– Squatters occupy spaces without having ownership rights or paying rent. They do not have a legal right to be there.
– Squatted properties are usually abandoned or vacant for long periods. Squatters target places that seem unoccupied.
– Squatting often involves illegally breaking into and entering a property, either by force or finding a way in through unlocked doors/windows.
– Squatters may attempt to claim “adverse possession” if they stay for a lengthy time, though this claim is difficult to prove.
– Authorities usually classify squatting as criminal trespassing and illegally occupying a property. It can be considered a civil or criminal offense.
– Squatting laws and rights vary greatly depending on the location. Some areas have more protections for squatters than others.
Overall, squatting refers to illegally occupying an abandoned residential or commercial property without permission from the owner. It often involves trespassing and breaking into the property in order to take up residence there.
Why Do People Squat?
There are various reasons why people may turn to squatting:
– Housing Needs – Some squatters are homeless or cannot afford housing. Squatting provides free shelter.
-Social Movement – Some groups advocate squatting as an anti-capitalist, anti-establishment social movement. They believe housing is a human right.
– Lack of Maintenance – Houses that are abandoned or neglected for long periods are targets for squatters to move in.
– Affordability – In regions with very high costs of living and rents, squatting offers free accommodation.
– Development Potential – Squatters may try to occupy places with development potential hoping to get offered money to move out.
– Thrills – Some youths or groups squat for the adventure, thrill or defiance of social norms.
– Protesting – As a form of protest, squatters may occupy places owned by entities they want to criticize or raise awareness about.
– Convenience – Runaways, travelers, or migrants may squat out of convenience if they need temporary shelter while passing through an area.
In most cases, people squat out of housing necessity — whether that means homelessness, inability to afford rent, protest of high prices, or simply need for shelter at a given time. For some, though, the motivation is rooted more in activism, thrill-seeking or opportunism rather than need.
Examples of Squatted Properties
While single-family homes are often the first thing that comes to mind when people think of squatting, there are many other types of properties that get occupied by squatters:
– Abandoned warehouses – Large, vacant warehouses provide plenty of room for squatters to set up living spaces. These buildings often sit unused for long periods.
– Vacant apartment buildings – Apartment buildings or complexes that are condemned or fall into disrepair may be taken over by squatters looking for free room and board.
– Unoccupied office spaces – Foreclosed office buildings that sit vacant can become targets for squatters, especially if certain utilities like electricity and water are still hooked up.
– Vacation and investment properties – Homes used occasionally as vacation homes or investment properties are prime targets for squatters if they sit vacant most of the time.
– Condemned or fire-damaged houses – Properties that become uninhabitable due to damage from fires, floods or condemnation orders often fall into abandonment and get taken over by squatters.
– Foreclosed homes – Houses going through foreclosure processes often sit vacant for periods of time before banks or authorities take possession, allowing windows for squatters.
– Commercial spaces – Restaurants, retail stores, hotels and other commercial buildings that go out of business may sit vacant, especially in economically depressed areas, making them targets for squatters.
Essentially, any type of abandoned residential, industrial or commercial property that appears unoccupied and accessible can be at risk for squatting activities. Squatters seek out locations that provide shelter while also minimizing the risk of getting caught.
Signs a Home Has Squatters
If a home has been left vacant for a period of time, there are some telltale signs that may indicate squatters have moved in:
– Unfamiliar vehicles parked around the property
– Lights or other utilities turned on when they should be off
– Odd smells emanating from the house
– Noise coming from inside the home
– Windows boarded up or covered
– Damage or forced entry to doors and windows
– Makeshift repairs done to the property
– Debris, trash or furniture piled up in or around the home
– People coming and going from the house frequently
– Neighbor complaints of noise or suspicious activity
Essentially, any obvious signs of occupancy in a home that should be vacant may potentially point to a squatter situation. The sooner this type of unauthorized access is identified and addressed, the better.
Dangers of Squatters
Having squatters occupy a property without permission poses a number of risks and dangers for homeowners:
– Property damage – Squatters often cause vandalism and damage by breaking into the property, staying there illegally, and not maintaining things properly. This can leave the owner with large repair bills.
– Theft – The owner’s belongings, materials, and fixtures in the home may be stolen and sold. Copper piping is often stolen from vacant properties.
– Safety hazards – Improper wiring, fire pits, and unsafe living conditions are common with squatters and can put the property at risk.
– Lowered property value – Extensive damage and unaddressed maintenance issues caused by squatters can negatively impact the home’s value.
– Legal issues – Removing squatters involves filing formal eviction notices or court orders, which can be lengthy legal processes if squatters refuse to leave.
– Loss of control – Owners have no oversight of who is on their property or what they are doing there as long as squatters occupy it.
– Trespassing – Simply by being there, squatters are trespassing on private property. Their presence is illegal to begin with.
– Violence – Confrontations with law enforcement or property owners attempting to remove squatters have potential to turn violent in some cases.
Having squatters invade a home essentially means losing full control over the property until they can be removed through formal legal procedures. This opens up many risks for property damage, dangerous living conditions, and altercations.
How Squatters Establish Residency
Squatters who occupy a property long enough may try to make a legal claim of residence or ownership. Here are some ways they establish residency:
– Change the locks – They replace locks to restrict the owner’s entry and secure their own control.
– Get mail sent there – Establishing an address with postal service helps prove residence.
– Set up utilities – Turning on electricity, gas, cable, etc. puts the accounts in their name.
– Make repairs – Doing maintenance and repairs makes it seem like they are tenants.
– Place furnishings – Moving in furniture and decorating makes it look like their permanent home.
– Have guests – Having visitors come and go further cements the appearance of actively living there.
– Claim adverse possession – If they stay long enough (typically 7+ years), they may claim legal ownership due to adverse possession laws.
Essentially, squatters aim to make themselves appear to be lawful tenants with every right to be on the premises. The longer they occupy the property through these means, the harder it becomes to remove them.
Removing Squatters Legally
Removing squatters from a property is a legal process that varies by jurisdiction. Here are some common ways to legally evict squatters:
– Serve formal eviction notice – The first step is providing written notice that they are trespassing and must vacate.
– File a lawsuit – If they don’t leave voluntarily, the owner must file a civil lawsuit to have them removed.
– Call the police – Police can be called to arrest squatters who refuse to leave when given proper notice.
– Use court-ordered removal – After winning an eviction lawsuit, the court will order law enforcement to forcibly remove squatters.
– Change locks – After the property is vacated, locks can legally be changed to prevent re-entry.
– Monitor the property – To prevent additional squatting, the owner should check on and maintain the property regularly after removing squatters.
The full legal process varies by location but typically involves formally notifying squatters, filing civil court petitions, winning a judgment for removal, and using law enforcement to enforce the court order if needed. This process can take weeks or months depending on the circumstances.
In some areas, squatters can gain legal rights to the properties they occupy after residing there for a certain period of time. This concept is known legally as adverse possession. Squatters’ rights based on adverse possession work as follows:
– They must live there continuously – Squatters must reside in the property for uninterrupted duration, which is 5-10 years in most states.
– They must maintain the property – During their stay, squatters have to maintain, repair, pay taxes, and make improvements just like an actual owner would.
– The owner must be unaware – If the property owner is aware of the squatting and makes any attempt to remove them, the time frame gets reset.
– They can file for ownership – After meeting the state’s criteria for continuous possession, squatters can legally file adverse possession paperwork to claim ownership.
In general, if squatters can openly occupy the property for the required number of years without being removed, they can potentially make an adverse possession claim. However, this is difficult and uncommon for squatters to successfully achieve in most cases.
Property owners can take various precautions to prevent squatters from taking up residence in their vacant buildings or homes:
– Perform regular maintenance – Consistently maintaining and caring for the property makes it less enticing for squatters.
– Hire a house sitter – Having someone regularly check on and occupy the home when vacant can deter squatters.
– Use anti-squatting services – Companies exist that provide legal anti-squatting services, including property checks and maintenance.
– Install alarm systems – Motion-activated alarms and CCTV surveillance can detect trespassers and send real-time notifications.
– Seal off entryways – Boarding up windows, doors, and other access points prevents easy entry.
– Put up signage – Beware of Dog/No Trespassing signage and window decals help deter squatters.
– Check frequently – The owner or a caretaker should do regular walk-throughs and inspections if the property sits vacant.
– Maintain a lived-in look – Keeping furniture inside, leaving certain lights/electronics on, and picking up mail helps give the impression that it’s occupied.
Essentially, vacant homes need owners who take active measures to monitor, maintain, and protect the property. Simple precautions like these can stop squatters from being able to illegally take up residence.
Squatting refers to residing in an unoccupied property without having rental rights or ownership. While some people squat out of necessity when homeless, most squatters are illegally trespassing and could face criminal charges. Homeowners should watch for warning signs of squatters like damage, noises, and unusual activity. If squatters do occupy their property, owners need to take formal legal action to have them removed while also preventing future squatting by maintaining and monitoring the home regularly. With proper precautions, owners can help deter squatters from taking up illegal residence and protect their vacant properties.