When Squatters Become Tenants

(April 30, 2015)


Squatters making vacant homes their new home is a growing concern, especially if you own a house in Los Angeles.  Are you going to sell your house in Los Angeles?  Read this first, so you can take measures to avoid any issues.

What does “Squatting” mean?

Squatting, which is also referred to as “Adverse Possession”, is when someone moves into a property without the owner’s permission.  In the State of California, the law identifies the issue.  In many cases, their rights are not easily discounted.  In California, tenants’ rights are highly protected, even in this situation!

Squatters' Rights 

This sounds like they have some legal right to possession of the property.  In extreme cases, if they stay or live in a property for a long enough period of time and the owner takes no action, they could end up owning the property.  The State of California outlines what they can do to take legal ownership of the property.  The most important point for someone to take legal possession is to make property tax payments continually for a period of 5 years. 

How to Deal with Squatting

If you want to sell your house fast, you may need to rethink just how fast you want to sell your home.  This can be a short or long term problem, depending on the squatters’ rights.  If they have the potential for a real claim, then it could be a long legal battle, as well. 

Eviction (Yes, you have to evict them in some cases)

Just like with a non-paying tenant, a property owner must go to court to evict squatters.  It typically takes months if not over a year to go through the process.  There are multiple court hearing and filings that need to take place before the eviction is granted.

Tenants’ Rights

Squatters who occupy a property can gain tenants’ rights, too.  They may claim that there is a binding oral rental contract, that they made repairs or provided services in lieu of rental payments, or that they were told they could stay there as long as they watched the property.  Once squatters are given tenants’ rights, they are considered to legally occupy the property and you must go through an eviction.  Those who want free rent, payment or gain some other type of financial leg up on you will do anything to stay in the property. 

I have been in a situation where the seller wanted to sell the house fast and paid the tenant (who was working in lieu of rent) in a cash for keys situation.  It appeared to work out well for all parties involved.  Except, two days after I bought the property, he broke into the property (the locks had been changed) and resumed his tenancy.  Of course I called the police, but guess what?  He had tenants' rights.  Because he had prior utility bills in his name, he was still considered a tenant.  10 months of court hearings, $15,000 in legal fees, delays, damages, and pain ensued.  I learned a lot during that process and, since then, I buy houses in this situation, with bad tenants and family who won't leave!

So, if you are thinking about selling your house, don’t leave it vacant for too long.  It increases the chances of this happening, not to mention potential damage from a variety of other reasons.

inherited house

Jennifer Shenbaum

Written by Jennifer Shenbaum

Jennifer Shenbaum is a real estate investor based in Southern California. She is a veteran of the housing market crash of 2007. Best of all, she offers free remodeling ideas to all who ask.

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