If you are a landlord or a property owner not residing in a property, you may at some point encounter unwanted inhabitants or squatters rights. What most people in this situation don’t realize is that a “squatter” is a very specific type of inhabitant. Before deciding how to handle the situation, it is important to determine specifically what is going on, so that it can be handled legally.
There are three types of unwanted inhabitants.
Worn Out Welcome: “Squatters” Defined
One reason some landlords refer to their tenants as “squatters” involves the lapse of the tenant’s lease. However, tenants with expired leases are not technically squatters; they are “Tenants at Sufferance” or “Tenants at Will.”
A Tenant of Sufferance is a “hold-over” tenancy after a lease has expired, but before the landlord has demanded that the tenant “quit” (vacate) the premises. During a tenancy at sufferance, the terms of the lease (including payment of rent) that existed before expiration binds the tenant. “Tenancy at Will” is similar, except there is no lease or written agreement, i.e., an at-will agreement.
Importantly, if the person residing in the property ever had a lease agreement, they fall into the “worn out welcome” category. All parties must follow state law accordingly. Even a tenant of sufferance must receive a 30-day notice before serving them an eviction notice.
Breaking And Entering
A second type of unwanted tenant is one who breaks and enters your property. This type of “tenant” is actually a trespasser, and still does not qualify as a squatter.
A trespasser is NOT someone:
- Whose lease has lapsed;
- Who stopped paying rent;
- Who breaches the lease in any way.
A trespasser IS a transient, and never had a lease agreement. Even a family member can trespass if they never had a lease agreement and are unwelcome in the property.
In the absence of a rental agreement and when the parties intend that the occupancy will be temporary, the occupant or guest may be considered to be “transient.” To make this determination, the law provides a presumption that when the dwelling unit occupied is the sole residence of the guest, the occupancy is non-transient, and when it is not the sole residence of the guest, the occupancy is transient.
This Land Is My Land
So, what is a squatter, you ask? A squatter has no legal claim to the property, but they intend to gain possession of the property through adverse possession through involuntary transfer. A property owner who does not use or inspect his or her property for a number of years could lose title to another person who makes a claim to the land, takes possession of the land and uses the land.
Unlike a trespasser, squatters are intentionally trying to take possession of the property. Like a trespasser, they never had a lease agreement (or any agreement) with the landlord.
If you are a landlord who wants to sell a house or is having problems with tenants, we can help.