As a rental property owner, you may think that you will never have to worry about squatters. But unless you take the right precautions, you could find yourself dealing with them. Once a squatter has moved in, they can be extremely difficult to remove. This is because some degree of squatter’s rights laws exists in most states, and depending on how strongly they protect squatters, may require property owners to go through the lengthy and expensive legal process of eviction to get them out. The best way to avoid finding yourself in this situation is to prevent squatters from moving into your rental home in the first place. Being mindful of a few simple strategies, you may be able to protect your property and yourself from unauthorized occupants.
A squatter is often defined as a person who occupies a property without title, right or lease. If unauthorized occupants move into your property without your knowledge, you may soon discover that you may be in a difficult situation.
One of the best ways to prevent squatters from moving into your rental property is to keep your property rented to quality tenants. As you advertise for and screen potential tenants, it’s important to have a process in place that thoroughly checks not only their ability to pay the monthly rent, but that investigates their background with other landlords. Simply having a tenant is no guarantee against squatters. Unauthorized tenants, house guests and subletting can both lead to squatter situations that are difficult – and potentially expensive – to resolve. By ensuring every occupant over the age of 18 is listed on the lease and screening your tenants carefully, you may be able to mitigate these scenarios. You should also consider putting clear language in your leasing agreement about your house guest and subleasing policies, and the consequences your tenant will face should they choose to violate the lease terms.
Along with keeping your property leased, making regular visits to your property may be another great way to prevent squatters. One of the most important times to visit your property is during move-out. A simple check of your property could uncover a developing squatter situation that you may be able to resolve on the spot. Waiting too long after move-out could result in your missing your chance to deal with any unauthorized occupants quickly and immediately. It’s also a good idea to schedule regular visits to your property throughout the year. This can help your tenant know that you are checking up on them and discourage any unauthorized house guests or subletting. It also gives you a good opportunity to check for signs of occupancy that seem to exceed those stated in the lease or other violations of your policy. Should you discover evidence that the tenant is not following their lease, your likely best course of action is to address the situation as soon as possible.
If your property should become temporarily vacant between tenants, you may want to make your property as unappealing to squatters as possible to discourage them from moving in. One way you can do this is to make it look like the property is occupied, even if it may not be yet. For example, you could install timer switches to turn lights on and off every day. If you are close by, consider stopping by your rental every few days to clean flyers off the door, open and close the blinds, and put the trash bins out on the curb (even if they’re empty). If you don’t live close, you could ask a friend, neighbor, or property manager to do this for you. You might also consider asking a neighbor to park their vehicle in your rental home’s driveway to give the impression that someone is home.
During vacancies, it’s also important to check local rental listings for any that might be using your rental property in a rental scam. Although rare, sometimes rental property owners discover that someone has “leased” their property to a tenant without their knowledge or permission – and has disappeared with the tenant’s security deposit and rent payments. The tenants may not even know that they have been the victims of a con artist, which could put you in a very difficult situation.
Finally, you should always have good security measures in place, whether your property is occupied or not. Install good quality locks for all doors and windows and remember to change the locks on the doors after your tenant moves out. Exterior security lights with motion sensors can help deter unwanted visitors as well as give your property a lived-in feel. Be sure to install lights near all points of entry, including gates, sheds, and garage doors. Finally, be careful to remove or store garbage bins, ladders, benches, and other items that could be used to gain entry to your rental home. If you could imagine someone using an item to help them break in, best to put it somewhere out of reach.
Taking steps to prevent squatters is something all property owners should seriously consider doing. But with the right team of professionals on your side, it is easier than you think. Would you like more information on how to prevent squatters in your rental properties? If so, contact your nearest independently owned and operated Real Property Management franchise office.
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