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How to Evict Squatters and Other Non-Conventional Tenants

The laws and procedures for evicting a tenant who has signed a lease are pretty straight forward. There are specific steps that must be taken to protect both the landlord and the renter. But what do you do when you need to evict someone who is inhabiting your property without your permission or a signed rental agreement? 

Even the most careful landlord can find themselves with a tenant who somehow managed to move into their property without going through the normal steps for occupancy, such as a tenant background check. Perhaps they were already a tenant before the property was sold. Maybe they are living there without permission or beyond the end of their lease. It could even be a relative who has outstayed their welcome and won’t leave. The process for removing that person depends upon how they became a tenant in the first place. 

I’ve inherited this tenant, but they are not paying me 

There are two ways you can inherit a tenant. The first is by literally inheriting them when a property is left or gifted to you or second, when you purchase a property with existing tenants in place. In either case, the tenant may or may not have a lease in effect. 

As part of your research when you were considering your purchase of the property, you would have requested a copy of the existing lease. If the tenant has a valid lease with the original owner, you are obligated to honor that agreement. The exception would be if it specifies that the property’s seller has the right to terminate the lease upon transferring the property to a new owner. However, if the inherited tenant is breaking the lease terms by not paying rent, destroying the property or committing another serious violation, you are allowed to pursue the standard eviction practice through the court.  

Do not under any circumstances try to evict the tenant yourself as this can be considered a criminal offence. That would include changing the locks, shutting off utilities, threatening your tenants or increasing the rent in an attempt to make them move. Also, do not accept payment if you are filing for eviction, as it can nullify the eviction process. 

When one of the parties to a rental agreement dies, the rental agreement is legally cancelled. The tenant should be notified that the owner is deceased and that they will have to vacate the property. If they do not move, then you must serve the tenants with a 60-day notice of the fact of the owner’s death together with a copy of the death certificate. If they still do not move, then you can begin an Unlawful Detainer action to remove them. If the tenants can present a written lease extending it for a set period of time beyond the landlord’s death, the lease will have to be honored. 

How can I remove squatters from my property? 

Anyone occupying an uninhabited property without permission is a squatter or a trespasser. They could be a tenant or subletter whose lease has expired but refuses to move out or someone who is living in a vacant property without permission. They might be a victim of a scammer who masqueraded as the landlord and conned them into paying rent to them even though the “landlord” had no right or ability to rent the property out. 

Trespassers and squatters both occupy a space which they don’t have permission to be in. Trespassers do not claim ownership of the property and usually have short-term motives for being there. They can be removed by police and prosecuted under the law as criminals. On the other hand, squatters are not considered trespassers if they use the home’s address as their own on official documents, including utility bills. They are protected by squatter’s rights laws and must be evicted under the same regulations as actual tenants in order to remove them from the property. 

Since eviction is a long and expensive process, it is imperative that you act immediately in order to minimize your loss and prevent damage to your property. Every state and area has different rules about how long before you file a suit you must give a Notice to Quit or a notice of eviction, so you will want to check these regulations. 

How can I end a Tenancy-at-Will? 

Tenancy Agreement shutterstock_753788758 A tenancy-at-will is established when you rent to a person on a month-to-month basis, which allows either of you to terminate the arrangement with a 30-day notice. A tenancy-at-will agreement can be written or verbal but is not a lease. 

To evict this type of tenant, you need to give them a minimum of 30 days’ notice to leave the property. Because there is no long-term lease agreement, this is the only notice that you need to provide. In most states, if the tenant is not paying their agreed-upon rent, you may present them with a 14-day Notice to Quit. Be sure to check on the laws in your state for exact legal time periods. 

In tenant-at-will situations, you do not need to give any reason in the Notice to Quit other than your desire for the tenancy to end. Because there is no lease or contract involved, all the tenant needs to receive is notice that they will have to move. 

Can I evict a tenant who does not have a lease? 

You can certainly evict a tenant who does not have a lease. Although it is always preferable to have a signed lease that stipulates all of the terms of occupancy, including penalties for damages and non-payment of rent, there are legal methods to remove tenants who do not have a signed rental contract. 

Before you begin the eviction process, make sure that you are basing it on sound legal motives. Send out a Notice to Quit and follow up with a court eviction if the tenant does not willingly vacate the premises. 

I want someone in my household to move out 

If you have someone, even a relative, living in your home and you want them to move out, you can present them with a Notice to Quit and follow proper eviction procedures if they do not comply. Evicting someone you live with can be complicated and unpleasant, but as the property owner, you have the right to do this. 

Landlords often feel that their hands are tied when faced with removing an unwanted tenant who does not have a valid lease. It is not a pleasant situation, but you do have legal recourse. Don’t underestimate the damage an undesirable tenant can do to your property and your bottom line. Act quickly, research your local laws, examine your options and consider hiring an experienced real estate attorney for assistance. 

Protect yourself from squatters and other undesirable tenants by joining AAOA today and using AAOA’s industry-leading tenant screening services to help you make the most informed decision possible. 

The information provided herein is for advisory purposes only and AAOA takes no responsibility for its accuracy. AAOA recommends you consult with an attorney familiar with current federal, state and local laws.