Tales of a Squatter

Written by Connor Swalm

When a property is vacant, there is always a possibility that someone will attempt to squat in the home–Especially if the property isn’t in the best neighborhood. Of course, you can always reduce the likelihood this will happen at your property by installing bright exterior lights, and taking a trip to the property a couple times a week, but realistically, who has the time for numerous trips to each property each week? Early on in our company, we had an unsettling interaction with a squatter. See below how it was handled, should you ever need to get rid of a squatter yourself!

We had just taken over management of a new duplex that was not well taken care of by the prior property manager. One unit was occupied, and one unit was vacant. After what seemed like forever, we had finally concluded all of the necessary repairs and cleaning at the vacant unit and had begun advertisement of the property so that we could get this thing tenanted!

Out of the blue, on a Tuesday, we received a frantic call from the tenant in the occupied unit.

“I saw a man going into the house with grocery bags!” the tenant yelled.

“What do you mean, going into the house?” we asked.

“A man. We’ve seen him a few times! And he had girls going in there with him, too! He’s acting like he lives there!”

We were clearly taken aback, but we thanked the tenant for the information and hung up the phone, completely at a loss in regards to what to do next.

We thought this was particularly strange because we had been showing the property for about two weeks already, and we had been there every 3-4 days!

Well, we weren’t left with much of a choice. Begrudgingly, we headed to the property in order to figure out exactly what was going on.

Once we entered, it was clear that someone was, in fact, making our vacant property their “home.” There was clothing strewn about, trash bags piling up in the corner, food in the refrigerator, and a warm pan full of fried chicken in the oven. How had we missed him? The squatter had literally just been there!

After a little exploration, for the life of us, we could not figure out how the squatter had gotten access to the property. All of the windows were in good shape, all of the doors were fine and locked correctly, and there were no other entrances to the unit, so…we were left to assume that the squatter must have had a key. We changed the locks quickly and carried on our way.

As we were leaving the property, a next-door neighbor stopped us. We could not have prepared ourselves for what he shared with us next.

The neighbor began a long narrative about the squatter who had apparently been using the home any time that it was vacant in the past. For the past two years, he said, he had seen the same man climbing in and out of a window next to his house. It had just happened the night before, he claimed.

What was this guy talking about? We had just checked and double-checked every entry to the home, including all of the windows!

We kindly told him that none of the windows were broken and assumed that the man was exaggerating. As we went to leave, he walked over to the property, grabbed a window that was next to the fire escape, jiggled the pane, and sure enough, the window opened up.

Over the years, the neighbor had relayed the information to an individual that he thought was the owner, but he was mistaken. Therefore, the owner was never made aware that for the last two years, someone had been living off and on in his unit!.

After finishing up with the neighbor, we ran to Lowes, bought new window locks, and were able to come back and actually secure the window. By some stroke of luck,  this worked, and we never saw the squatter again.

When all was said and done, the owner of the property had to pay to remove and dispose of garbage, pots, pans, and other items that the squatter had left within the property, and then had to pay to have the property cleaned a second time.

As far as squatter horror stories go, we got off pretty easily, but if we hadn’t come into contact with the next-door neighbor, we could have run into the squatter during a showing, which would have been considerably worse, and quite embarrassing.

All in all, be sure to give your contact information to neighbors if you happen to come across them. They can often provide valuable insight.

Please note: If you are dealing with a long term squatter (living in the property without paying rent for many months), you need to check with your local Real Estate Attorneys that specialize in your state specific Landlord Tenant Code in order to understand what rights that squatter has and what you can and cannot do. According to some states guidelines, the squatter has the right to live in the unit exactly like a tenant, and you must remove them with a formal eviction process instead of changing the locks and removing their things. Please consult a professional if you are unsure what rights your squatter has.