How to Get Rid of Squatters In California

Pests, mold, and repairs aren’t the sole concerns for property owners and landlords when they leave their property empty for long. Nowadays, squatters, or people who take over empty properties without permission.

To get rid of squatters, landlords or homeowners should first alert the authorities. After which, they should serve an official eviction notice to the squatter. If the squatter still refuses to leave the property, an eviction lawsuit should be filed, and the homeowner should remove the personal belongings of the squatter from the property.

While these actions may seem easy, there are stubborn squatters who won’t budge no matter what strategy you use. If this is the case, it may be better to sell your house to a cash buyer and let them handle the squatters for you…

How to Get Rid of Squatters In California In California

A squatter is someone who lives on another person’s property for a long time. They don’t have a lease and don’t pay rent, so they’re not considered tenants.

Usually, squatting starts when a property isn’t watched or has been empty for a while. These people might break into the property, use utilities, and act as if they own it. Some professional squatters even pay property taxes.

It might sound strange, but squatters know which states and areas are friendly to squatting and have many empty homes.

Getting rid of squatters can be tough. Firstly, squatters have their own rights. You can’t just throw away their things when they’re on your empty property. There’s a process to follow, like sending an eviction notice and more steps.

What is a Squatter In California

There are several different reasons why your property may be occupied by squatters..

Rental Scam

Believe it or not, many individuals are unaware they’re squatting until the rightful property owner arrives. Typically, they fall prey to rental scams.

Here’s how a rental scam operates: an individual poses as a landlord, leasing a vacant property. They provide a bogus lease agreement, collect deposits and rent payments, then vanish.

The deceived “tenants” believe they’re legally residing in the property, unaware they’re actually squatters with no valid rental agreement protecting them.

How Do Squatters Gain Access to Your Property In California

Vacant Property
When a property becomes empty or unused, a squatter takes over, believing they won’t be discovered.
Unlike victims of rental scams, these experienced squatters know exactly what they’re doing. They might have strategized their takeover to avoid detection by authorities who might not realize the property’s true ownership.
Squatting on empty properties often occurs when the owner lives out of town, or the property is inherited by someone uninterested. In either case, with no one actively overseeing the property, it becomes a prime target for squatters.

Illegal Roommate
When your tenant lets in someone who isn’t in the rental agreement and goes against the rule to live in the property exclusively, this may pose a great problem when you ask the tenant to move out. That individual may refuse to leave and take over your property.

Holdover Tenant
There are tenants who refuse to leave the property after a lease agreement expires or when they are evicted. When they stay despite the owner’s wishes, they are considered squatters in the legal sense.

Squatting and trespassing are two different things, although the latter can lead to the former. 

When someone trespasses, they don’t usually stay long on the property. These intruders often seek items to pilfer, areas to deface, etc. They have no intention of remaining but are engaging in unlawful activity.

On the other hand, a squatter enters a property with the aim of securing housing. They remain there until the rightful owner takes notice.

Both transgressions can be addressed by the local police department or sheriff. However, it is suggested to file a lawsuit in order to get rid of professional squatters because it is a civil matter.

Squatting vs. Trespassing In California

Even though squatters may be breaking the law, they can stay in a property if the legal owner doesn’t assert ownership and remove them through legal means.
Several states recognize “adverse possession” for squatters who have unlawfully lived in a property for a certain time period, provided they have exclusive possession.
An adverse possession claim prevents the landlord or property owner from evicting a squatter once they discover the occupation. Legal action must be taken to address the squatter.
The specifics of squatters’ rights, adverse possession, and property ownership vary by state, so it’s important to consult local government regulations.

While numerous property owners promptly remove squatters upon discovery, some hesitate due to concerns over confrontational occupants. This hesitation, while understandable, carries repercussions.

Initially, lengthy occupancy by squatters may result in adverse possession claims. As previously discussed, adverse possession grants legal ownership rights to the squatter.

Furthermore, delaying the eviction process can escalate both its duration and cost. This scenario often arises when professional squatters initiate legal proceedings.

Additionally, squatters are notorious for causing property damage. Prolonged occupation increases the likelihood of significant damage, potentially rendering the property uninhabitable upon eviction and leading to financial strain.

Why You Should Evict or Remove Squatters Immediatelty In California

The American Apartment Owners Association detailed four essential stages for removing squatters from a property. They emphasized the importance of property owners staying informed about local laws governing squatters, as this knowledge is vital for protecting property rights.

However, it’s required to note that these four steps are merely a broad overview and should not be relied upon exclusively by landlords or property owners facing squatter issues.

Squatter Eviction Process In California

Notify the Authorities

The first step in removing squatters is to call the police. This serves two purposes. One is to protect you when you need to talk to the squatter physically, and the second is for documentation. 
When you notify the police regarding the presence of a squatters in your investment property, they will file an official police report that can be useful to you when pursuing an eviction through court.
Evidence and documentation (such as the official police report) proving your efforts in evicting the squatters can strengthen your case.

File an Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit and Serve an Eviction Notice

Once you inform the relevant authorities, initiate an eviction by filing a lawsuit for unlawful detainer.
Keep in mind that the procedure for filing such a lawsuit may differ depending on your area. Therefore, it’s advisable to reach out to your local courthouse or seek guidance from a real estate lawyer who specializes in residential evictions. This will help you avoid any actions that may infringe upon squatters’ rights.

File an Eviction Lawsuit or Civil Suit

In case the squatter refuses to vacate your property, you should then file an eviction lawsuit. Once filed, a litigation will occur where you and the squatter should attend. 
Often, the actual property owner wins the case, and the judge orders the local law enforcement to escort or forcibly remove the squatter from your property. You’ll then be allowed to change all the locks of your house.

Remove Squatter’s Personal Possessions

If the squatter refuses to vacate your premises and law enforcement removes them by force, their possessions may be abandoned on your land.
Regrettably, you cannot simply dispose of their belongings as they retain legal entitlements.
To prevent this troublesome situation, incorporate it into your eviction procedure beforehand.
Draft a written notice specifying when the occupant can retrieve their belongings from your property and the course of action if they neglect to do so. Present this in court to safeguard yourself if the situation escalates.

Our anger and frustration often get the better of us. To avoid this when evicting squatters, take note of the following:

  • Don’t try to evict the squatters on your own. This may violate their legal rights (especially if they are awarded adverse possession) and you’ll be at risk of jail time or large fines. Moreover, if you visit and evict a squatter alone, it can lead to disaster, especially if they are violent.
  • Don’t change the locks, put large padlocks on the doors of your property, or do anything that will make the house uninhabitable for the squatters. Again, you could be violating their rights.
  • Don’t intimidate or threaten the squatter verbally or physically, as this may lead to violence and other issues.

The best way to evict the squatters from your property is through court. Sure it is more expensive and stressful, but it is better than handling everything independently with all the nuances of squatter’s rights.

What to Avoid When Evicting Squatters In California

Surely, nobody wants to deal with squatters on their property as it can be extremely stressful. To ensure that this won’t be your problem, here are five ways to prevent squatters from breaking in and taking over your rental property.

Don’t Leave Your Property Unoccupied for Long

Lots of squatters keep an eye on rental properties, noting how frequently the owner visits or how often tenants come and go. If you own a rental property, aim for minimal vacancy periods between tenants. On the other hand, if you own a vacant property and reside far away, it’s wise to enlist a property manager to conduct regular inspections.

Visit the Property from Time to Time

Regularly inspecting your property and securing its maintenance not only keeps it in good shape but also deters squatters.

Furthermore, by maintaining oversight of your rented properties with tenants, you reduce the chances of unauthorized cohabitation and avoid potential eviction proceedings due to squatting. If you’re residing out of the area, hiring a property management firm can handle these tasks for you.

Change the Locks After a Lease Expires and a Tenant Moves Out

This action should be taken for two main reasons: to protect the interests of your future renters and to deter your previous renter from accessing your property without legal authorization.

Even if your past renter returned the keys to the leased property, they might possess a duplicate that grants them entry. This unauthorized entry becomes more likely if the tenant faces eviction and lacks alternative housing options.

Install Security Cameras

When a property is equipped with a security system, trespassers steer clear. They’re aware that they’re being monitored and could face identification if they attempt any illegal activities.

Key reminder: Make sure to notify your prospective tenants about the security cameras’ presence to assure them that their privacy won’t be compromised.

Choose Your Tenants Carefully

Many squatters are former tenants who were forced out but remain on the premises. To avoid future squatters, select high-quality tenants from the start. Verify tenant applicants’ employment, income, and credit score. Additionally, assess their rental history to ensure timely rent payments.

Absolutely. It’s possible to sell a property with squatters in it; however, don’t expect traditional buyers to express interest or offer a substantial sum considering the added complications you’re transferring to them. Usually, properties housing unauthorized occupants are acquired in their existing condition by cash purchasers.

Though advisable to evict squatters before selling your property, there are instances where persistent occupants resist vacating despite legal measures taken. In such scenarios, your sole recourse is to sell to a cash buyer and delegate the resolution of the occupancy issue to them.

Can You Sell Your House with Squatters in it In California

The process of selling to a cash buyer is pretty simple, but it’s imperative to ensure that the unauthorized occupants don’t acquire adverse possession rights, as this could lead to significant complications.

You can reach out to a cash buyer to check the eligibility of your property for purchase. If it is, you can proceed to request a cash offer and get rid of squatters all at once. Expect the cash buyer to conduct a property inspection to ascertain its condition and formulate an appropriate offer.

Naturally, this procedure may vary among cash buyers, especially when dealing with properties housing squatters. Certain cash purchasers may prefer acquiring properties in their existing condition, provided the unauthorized occupants are removed, and the property title is free from encumbrances.

How Long Does it Take to Evict Squatters?

Typically, the squatter eviction process can take one to two months, but some take longer due to state and local laws or if the squatter claims ownership of your private property through adverse possession. Seek a legal resource, such as an attorney.

Can You Ask a Squatter to Sign a Lease?

Sure. Owners of property have the option to request a squatter to sign a lease if they agree. This is particularly applicable to squatters who fell prey to rental scams. In fact, these squatters might prove to be excellent tenants, contributing to your rental earnings.

Can You Turn Off Utilities on a Squatter

In real estate, landlords can shut down the utilities for someone occupying their property without permission; however, it’s not recommended because squatters have legal protections. This action could lead to more problems for you, particularly if you’re a landlord and the squatter claims adverse possession.

The process to remove squatters from your property may take a while and cause significant stress, but it’s crucial not to postpone it if you don’t want them to gain legal ownership rights.
Upon finding squatters residing in your property, promptly inform the appropriate authorities and serve them with a formal eviction notice. If they refuse to vacate, you must initiate legal proceedings for eviction.
Alternatively, you have the option to sell your property even with squatters in residence. This is often the quickest and simplest solution to eliminate squatters. Many investors who pay in cash are still interested in buying properties with unwanted occupants.
If you’re ready to sell your house with squatters, reach out to us at JiT Home Buyers. We’ll take the baggage of dealing with squatters off your shoulder and pay you with cash fast. 
Fill out our form below or contact us at (510) 473-5885 to start selling your home and get rid of squatters in California.

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Author: Saini

My name is Saini, and I founded the JiT Home Buyers team with years of experience in the real estate industry. I have assisted numerous sellers in selling their homes quickly, “AS-IS”, and for a fair price.

He’s been featured in multiple publications including Yahoo Finance, GoBankingRates, LegalZoom, The Mortgage Report, Apartment Therapy, US News and World Report, and SuperMoney among others.

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