Being a landlord requires being a great multitasker. Of course, you know you have to maintain your property, screen tenants, collect rent, take care of repairs, and handle those sorts of tasks, but occasionally, you may be required to deal with something a little more out of the ordinary, such as a squatter.
Believe it or not, squatters are becoming more and more of an issue for landlords and property owners, and the state of California is typically on the squatter’s side. For this reason, it’s important to stay on top of squatting laws in California.
What is a squatter?
A squatter is a person who occupies a property that he or she does not rent, own, or otherwise has permission from the owner to use. For property owners in the United States, squatting usually occurs in one of two ways, both of which may apply to those who own or manage rental properties.
Of course, the most obvious way is when a person finds one of your properties unoccupied and decides to move into it. A busy property owner or landlord who owns multiple properties or who do not live near the property may not be aware that this is happening for a long period of time.
During this time, the person or people living on the property can eventually become the owners of it with the help of California squatters rights.
Another way that rental property owners and landlords often encounter squatters is when a paying tenant decides to stop paying rent but refuses to leave the property or allows someone else to move into the property.
Once again, California squatters law prevent the landlord or property owner from simply kicking that tenant out of the home or property.
How can a squatter become the owner of a property in California?
It takes some time, but California squatters rights are set up so that the squatter can eventually gain ownership of the property. Five years is the magic number, though your local city or county government may have additional rules that comply with the California squatters law.
During those five consecutive years, the squatter must have occupied and paid the property tax on the home or property. In the meantime, the squatter may attempt to gain tenant’s rights, and many California judges are willing to grant it to them with the right documentation.
For example, if your squatter pays for repairs on the property, keeps it up, and presents a judge with documentation of this, the judge may grant tenant’s rights.
Once a judge grants tenant’s rights, the squatter is no longer considered to be on the property illegally. The only way to deal with a squatter with tenant’s rights is to go through the long and complicated eviction process.
Be careful when dealing with professional squatters. They are probably more familiar with squatters rights in California than most landlords and property owners are, and they will do whatever necessary to try to gain tenant’s rights and even ownership of your property.
Professional squatters may draw up their own paperwork or attempt to show proof to a judge that you made an oral agreement with them, stating that they could live on the property. Again, if the judge sides with them, they may become tenants, which means they are legally on the premises until you are able to officially evict them.
How to prevent and handle squatters in California
If you are a landlord or property owner, you may be wondering what you can do to prevent this from happening. The first step is to pay your property taxes on time each year. It’s also important to stay on top of your properties.
If you don’t visit a property for several months or a year, a squatter is more likely to take notice, assume it is abandoned, and move in. When a paying tenant moves out, try to fill the space as quickly as possible with a new one.
If a squatter attempts to move onto a property when it is already occupied, it can become a criminal matter, which is much easier for landlords and property owners to handle.
Of course, landlords and property owners who are busy, own multiple properties, or live outside of the city or state may have a hard time performing these tasks on their own. It may be months before they have time to look for new tenants, and they may never inspect a property. They may not even be aware of squatting laws in California.
In these situations, it may be a good idea to hire a property manager. He or she can handle all of those tasks for you. A property that is managed by a professional is well-kept, inspected regularly, and typically sees very little time without paying tenants. Your property manager can even handle paying your property taxes for you.
If you already have a squatter, legal action is most likely necessary, though some property owners will actually pay the squatter to leave the property. Once again, this is when it’s important to understand squatters rights in California.
Hiring a property manager can help in this situation, as well. His or her job involves staying on top of all local and state laws regarding rental properties, and that includes squatting laws in California. Your property manager will help you come up with a plan to safely and legally get rid of the squatter that doesn’t cost you your property or causes you even more legal trouble.
More tips for preventing squatters in California
Understanding squatters rights in California, paying your property taxes on time, and keeping a property filled with tenants are a few ways to prevent squatters. Here are some more tips that may help:
- Be clear with your tenants that you do not allow subletting. Make sure it’s written in the lease. While it won’t completely deter professional squatters from putting a scheme into play, it may help protect you in the long run.
- Make sure your property is secure. Lock all doors and windows. Consider installing an alarm system or video cameras if the property will sit empty for more than a few weeks. If a squatter enters your property with no signs of forced entry, it is harder to bring a criminal case against them.
- Perform reference checks. When screening new tenants, be sure to call their previous landlords and references. If a person doesn’t have references, it should be a red flag.
- Hire a property manager to pick up where you leave off. While a property manager can handle all of the work that goes into running a rental property, he or she is also available to handle certain tasks. Consider hiring someone just to help screen tenants or to help keep an eye on empty properties if you feel that you cannot do a sufficient job.
- Finally, don’t assume it can’t happen to you. There are thousands of squatters in the United States, and many of them reside in California. They are familiar with California squatters rights, and they know all the tricks to pull on unsuspecting property owners. Be prepared and know your own rights.