Dealing with Squatters During Coronavirus
Even prior to the pandemic, squatters gave landlords and property managers headaches. If you’ve been in the industry for a while, you’ve most probably heard of the concept of “squatter’s rights”. Most often, “squatter rights” are used to try to justify the illegal occupation of property. Some states, including Michigan, have made squatting a criminal offense, while in other states it’s still, unfortunately, just a civil issue.
Now, with coronavirus challenging us on a new level, dealing with squatters has become all the more complicated. Plenty of buildings and houses are sitting empty, meaning the chances of landlords having to deal with squatters have increased. Eviction moratoriums have made it even more difficult to get rid of them.
Things to keep in mind when dealing with squatters:
1. Squatting is now treated as criminal behavior in Michigan
Because Michigan now considers squatters to have broken the law, police are supposed to assist landlords in removing squatters. The reality is that most police departments
don’t want to deal with the additional paperwork involved in proving a property occupant is a squatter. To avoid clerical errors and resulting lawsuits, it’s safer for the police to insist, “it’s a civil matter” and force landlords to evict squatters.
We’ve called the police to remove squatters many times, but the reality is almost always one of the following:
a) The police often don’t know/care about squatter laws and tell us we must take the squatters to court to evict them. This happens 100% of the time a squatter presents a fake lease or utilities in their name.
b) It takes several hours, if not days, and multiple calls for the police to show up at all.
This requires someone waiting at the property for the police to show, which someone has to pay for.
c) Even when they do show up and remove the squatters, the squatters may come right back as soon as the police leave. Or worse, they flee out the back door when the police get there, we change the locks and then they break right back in. We recommend aggressively securing the property once squatters are removed or flee, and even removal of the furnace and hot water heater.
If you’d like to know more about Michigan squatter laws, please read the laws on squatters:
2. Squatters might attempt to claim their right to be on the property
There is a chance of them presenting fake paperwork or deeds to you or law enforcement, in an attempt to “prove” their right to be on the property. This is illegal, and you can call them out for this.
What are the solutions if you find squatters on your property?
In Michigan, laws were passed in 2014 allowing landlords to take matters into their own hands. In our state, you’re legally allowed to change the locks and remove the belongings of the squatters from your property because of the “self-help” law (HB 5069/PA 223). But you still can’t physically remove them, because that might result in a lawsuit for assault.
In general, Michigan has stricter laws and punishments for squatters and trespassers alike. This helps in discouraging squatting and trespassing while making it easier for landlords to remove them quicker, without time-consuming evictions.
What can you do to prevent squatters in the first place?
Prevention is still better than cure! So the best “solution” is still to squatter-proof your properties from the get-go:
a.) Do regular inspections on your properties
b.) Secure the perimeter (blocking entrances, closing all windows, pulling down all shades/curtains, locking all doors, etc.)
c.) Put up clear and visible “No Trespassing” signs
Alternatively, hire a PMC to manage all your properties for you, including the ones that are vacant, and a good property management company should do this.
With COVID-19 still rampant, the rate of homelessness might still increase, resulting in more squatters and trespassers seeking shelter, so make sure you squatter-proof your properties now.
Any experience with dealing with squatters during coronavirus?
Image by Christina Morillo