Investors do not think much about the possibility of a squatter in their vacant DFW rental property until they find that one has moved in!
Sometimes, squatters simply move into the property because they saw an opportunity to be safe and warm; they have no intention of damaging the property. In other instances, they may even be welcomed by a current resident who ends up moving on without them.
While it is devastating to realize that someone is illegally living in your investment property, you can take steps to deal with the situation within the law.
A quick note: This article is not a substitute for legal counsel. If you need the aid of a professional when it comes to addressing unwelcome or unexpected 'guests,' turn to the DFW property management experts at RentHub!
Squatting vs. Trespassing: What's the Difference?
- Squatting and trespassing are considered criminal activities.
- A squatter is an individual who occupies a building or piece of land without the legal right to do so.
- On the other hand, a trespasser is an individual who forcefully enters your property.
- The latter typically does not have furniture or utilities showing that he or she is calling your rental property home.
The local police should be able to get rid of a trespasser fairly quickly. As squatting is considered a civil issue, law enforcement officers can only intervene if you have a court order to evict the squatter.
In the past, most squatters targeted abandoned properties. Today, squatters may be disgruntled tenants, your friends, or even relatives who do not want to pay rent. The squatter may even present you or law enforcement with a faked leasing agreement that will keep them in your DFW investment property longer.
How to Deal With Squatters With a Fake Lease
It may appear humane to allow any squatters to stay for some time until they leave of their own volition. However, you are not only missing out on potential income the longer they stay, but you risk losing your rental property if you wait for too long.
Each state has its laws when it comes to dealing with squatters. For starters, they are protected by their own form of rights, which allows them to live in the property unless they have been served with an eviction notice. Over time, they could become the legal owner of the property if they prove that they've lived there over a specific period.
Squatters in Texas can have adverse possession of your property if they live in it for ten years. While you might think this would be impossible when it comes to your rental property, it's already happened elsewhere.
Begin by Asking the Squatter to Move
- Write a letter to the squatter(s) letting them know that they are not welcome on your property.
- While this is not required by law, it will help you get some proof and a paper trail in case you end up in court.
Draft and Serve Them With an Eviction Notice
In Dallas, you are required to serve the squatter with a three-day eviction notice. Your DFW property management company or attorney should help you draft an eviction notice that complies with state and local laws.
- You might want to consider using certified mail to deliver the notice.
- Ensure you retain copies of the receipts as additional proof.
In most cases, an eviction notice might be all that's needed to send the squatter packing. If not, proceed to the next step.
Head to Court
If you have not heard from the squatter after the three days and you verify that he or she is still living on your property, file against them officially. The court will provide you with a hearing date.
Removing the Squatter From Your Property
If the court rules the case in your favor, and the squatter still lingers around, you can work with appointed law enforcement officers to evict them. Keep in mind that the court decides the date and eviction time.
If the squatter has left behind some possessions, you'll also need to address this issue appropriately. Take inventory of what has been left and store it safely, then issue the squatter with a notice giving them a reasonable timeframe to collect their property.
How to Protect Your Property Against Squatters
When dealing with a squatter, do not try to shut off their utilities, change the locks, intimidate them, or get rid of them yourself. A court of law could view this as illegal 'self-help,' and you could get penalized. Whether it will take months or years, go through the formal eviction process.
The most effective way of dealing with a squatter is by keeping them from accessing your property in the first place.
- Visit, maintain, and inspect your rental property regularly. Clear any debris and mail build-up to keep it from looking abandoned or empty.
- If you do not live near your property, consider working with a DFW property management company. Know your neighbors and maintain a good rapport with them.
- Put up 'No Trespassing' signs around your property and, if possible, install intruder alarms.
- Keep all access points to the property secure. This not only refers to the property's perimeter but also to the windows and doors.
- Have your property rekeyed every time a resident moves out.
Most property owners are frustrated by the fact that the law favors squatters more than it favors them. Our experts can advise you on estate planning strategies that can help keep squatters at bay!
You can also learn more ways to protect your investment property when you download our free resource, Protecting Your Investment Property: A Guide!