Dealing with Squatters During Coronavirus

2020-12-14

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 a 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 a 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: 

Michigan HB 5069/PA223, HB 5070/PA224, HB 5071/PA225

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 your 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

7 thoughts on “Dealing with Squatters During Coronavirus

  1. I purchase a house in chicago out of foreclosure a year ago and have not been able to get the squatters out. Been in front of the judge 4 times already and he won’t rule until evictions are allowed. There is no lease and I am paying water and taxes . Anything I can do here?

    1. We’re guessing that the occupants were in the house when you bought it as either the previous owners or tenants of the previous owner.

      If that’s the case, then they have a legal right to occupy the house until you can legally evict them.

      You’re only other legal option would be to offer them “cash-for-keys” to vacate. Many investors hate the idea of paying to get possession of your property, but if you analyze how much you’re losing in rents and expenses each month versus the cost of cash-for-keys, it usually makes financial sense. Just be sure to not pay anything until they are out of the property and sign an agreement giving up possession of the property and anything they leave behind.

      If our assumption above is incorrect and they actually broke into the house to occupy it, then you will have to follow local laws to remove them. You can still offer them cash-for-keys though.

  2. Good afternoon,
    I live in California, and I have a real crap of a situation. So, while I do not personally own the property, I am a direct next-door neighbor. The house next to us is currently supposed to be sitting empty as it is hud owned as of January of last year (’20). In late Feb a large group of people moved right on in the the property, fake lease and all. Now, my husband and I just thought, ok cool,those are the new neighbors… but right off the bat they were weird. Everytime any neighbor would try to be friendly to any one of the squatters, they’d immediately flash their “rental agreement”… even if it was just a friendly “hey neighbor! Where ya from? Welcome to the street”. Strange. So, a month goes by, and these people were totally HORRIBLE! they would no joke “come alive” only at night. All hours. They would have on average 15-20 cars coming and going. Now, I have 2 young kids and how our house is set up their bedroom faces the squatters driveway. My kids REFUSE to sleep or even go in their room because they are afraid. The people are that loud and talk and use very inappropriate language.
    Sorry for being so long winded about this, anyways,we eventually found out that hud did indeed own it and these people were there illegally. But the pmc for the property won’t to anything about it. I mean not a thing. She claims she can do nothing until the rent moratorium has ended there’s nothing that can be done. I just don’t buy it. And recently the people have started vandalism on my property! And the police also refuse to touch it. I feel trapped . My kids feel trapped. And yet were the ones legally allowed to be here. Im paying way too much to live here, no one should have to endure this crap. Thanks so much for your time and ANY help or guidance is more than welcome!
    Thank you,
    Hannah B.
    916.612.2097

    1. Yes, this is unfortunate and why the government is making the task of PMC difficult.

      All we can recommend is to keep calling the police on them for noise, parking on grass, etc.

      FYI – not that it will really help you, but the PMC is wrong. Squatters can be evicted as they have no legal right to be in the property.

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