Dealing with squatters is something that not every landlord has (or wants) to go through; however, it can be a difficult and complicated time for many when this situation arises. When working to remove or evict the squatters, you have to be careful not to violate any rights or break any rules.
It can be frustrating as a landlord, but you must follow the process properly to ensure you protect your property legally and don’t run into any additional issues.
When a property is managed by a reputable property management company, the goal is to eliminate such issues from happening in the first place with proper tenant screening. But in the event such a situation arises, the property manager handles it on your behalf by coordinating with paralegals, lawyers, and the sheriff’s department if necessary to resolve the issue.
Let’s run through the legalities of squatting as well as the most efficient way to remove squatters from your private property.
What Is A Squatter?
A squatter is anyone who is trying to live on a property that they do not own or have permission to occupy.
When it comes to private property, squatters usually come in two varieties:
- People who trespass onto an unoccupied property
- People who were formerly tenants and quit paying their rent or were given the notice to request that they leave but never did
If you have a former tenant who has stopped paying rent but continues to live on your property, it’s time to consider them as squatters and proceed with removing them. It can be frustrating to have to take this step, but it is necessary to gain control of your property back sooner rather than later.
Do Squatter’s Rights Apply To Your Property?
If you’re dealing with someone claiming that they own your property during their squatting, you want to make sure you have all the legalities in order before you attempt an eviction.
First, ensure they have no right to the property in terms of property rights.
Adverse possession, or squatter’s rights, is the rule that someone can claim land that is owned by someone else. If they keep the actual owners off the property for a 10-year period and occupy it themselves, the court may rule that the squatter has a rightful claim to the property. During this time, you could have attempted to regain control of the property.
If this applies to you, it’s important you get some legal advice about your situation before moving forward. In most cases, this will not apply because most landowners would remove the occupant before that 10-year period is reached. Plus, this old rule is rarely implemented in private property/tenant locations.
Once you have confirmed that squatter’s rights will not apply to your property, you can move forward with removing the squatters from the private property you own.
How To Evict Squatters?
Dealing with squatters can be complicated, but evicting them as efficiently as possible is important for you as a landlord. You need to maintain the protection of your property, and ensuring that only legal residents are occupying your spaces (and paying rent) is part of that responsibility.
Again, ideally, you want to eliminate such situations before they happen by completing thorough tenant screening to attract the right tenant for your property. At Buttonwood Property Management, we have our own processes and procedures, and in 11 years in business with hundreds and hundreds of properties under management, we only had four evictions for non-payment of rent since inception, and two of them were properties that we inherited tenanted. Our uncommon track record helps you achieve a better return on investment.
Follow these general steps to evict a squatter:
1. Call The Police
If the squatter on your property is a random trespasser and not a former-tenant-turned-squatter, call the police. The person is trespassing and breaking the law, so you should be able to have them removed this way.
If the police determine that this is a civil matter or it is a former-tenant-turned-squatter situation, it’s time for you to move to the next step.
2. Give Notice
Next, you want to file for eviction and send the squatters an eviction notice. Many squatters will leave once they realize you are serious about regaining control of your property, so simply filing this notice will be enough.
In some regions, you need to let your local government know you have given the squatter an eviction notice. Check your local office to make sure you filed all of the appropriate paperwork along the way. In Ontario, you will file your notice with the Landlord and Tenant Board (LTB).
3. File With The Courts
f the squatter still will not leave the property, it is time to officially file with the courts for the squatter removal process to begin. You have a right to claim back your property, but you will need to use the court system to get it back safely and legally.
This will involve you filing an application for eviction with LTB. The Board will review your application and set up a hearing with you to figure out the situation as soon as possible.
You may want to consider contacting a paralegal or lawyer and setting up to file for the rightful possession of your property. They will send the eviction process along to the courts. Usually, the process can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the Board’s caseload. Once you have a ruling from the court, you can finally remove the squatters and get your property back.
4. Hire A Helping Hand
Once the court has made a ruling, you can call the police to help you enforce it. All eviction notices must be served by a Sheriff in Ontario. Most squatters will leave before this is necessary, but you should be aware that there may be cases where you need to get the Sheriff involved.
5. Legally Get Rid Of Possessions Left Behind
If the squatters leave anything behind, you can get rid of it since those possessions are not legally allowed to be there. However, it’s smart to ensure you are following all local ordinances regarding getting rid of someone’s left-behind property so the former squatters cannot attempt to file a lawsuit against you for getting rid of their property.
Do NOT Do These Things
Despite being frustrated that the squatters are on your property, you cannot do anything that would put the squatters health or well-being at risk. While they are intruding, putting them in danger is illegal as well.
Avoid taking any of the following steps:
- Locking the property with padlocks to keep them out
- Turning off utilities
- Intimidating them into leaving
- Threatening them
Having squatters is frustrating, but if you stay calm and follow the steps outlined above, you can get rid of them legally and as quickly as possible.
Squatters: Prevent The Problem Earlier
The best way to prevent former tenants from becoming squatters is to rent to the right tenants from the start. It can be hard to choose the right tenants, so you may want to enlist help in choosing your tenants to avoid this problem.
Hiring a residential property management company is a great way to do this. They can help you choose tenants who will be reliable, pay on time, and leave when they are asked to leave. Rather than becoming squatters, you want tenants who will have a good relationship with you and take care of your investment property.
Want to learn more about how we do property management at Buttonwood? Check out our simple fee schedule.