Can Police Remove Squatters?
Here is a 3000-word article on the topic of squatting and the police’s ability to remove squatters, based on the outline above:
What is Squatting?
Squatting refers to occupying an abandoned or unoccupied property without the owner’s permission. With rising homelessness and lack of affordable housing, squatting has become more prevalent in cities across the country. But can police remove squatters easily?
The answer is complicated, mainly depending on squatter rights and local laws. While cops can remove trespassers immediately, ousting squatters who gained legal rights takes jumping through bureaucratic hoops.
Let’s first understand squatting and squatter rights before examining laws governing removing unwelcome occupants.
Squatters occupy properties awaiting demolition, redevelopment, or with absentee owners. Most intend no harm – only seeking shelter after falling through society’s cracks. Still, some engage in vandalism and disrupt communities, sparking debate between property rights and humane treatment of the dispossessed.
An abandoned home might seem an ideal solution for struggling families or individuals. But squatting remains illegal, no matter how ethical the motive.
Reasons for Squatting
Why would someone squat in the first place?
Financial desperation and lack of affordable housing are the prime reasons. With rental and housing prices soaring while wages stagnate, squatting presents itself as a rent-free alternative despite its illegality and lack of amenities or guarantees.
Natural disasters also create squatting situations if previous homeowners can no longer occupy storm or fire-damaged properties yet remain tied up in insurance disputes, allowing opportunistic occupancy during this limbo.
Of course, mental illness, substance abuse, or general anti-establishment sentiments also motivate some squatters who intentionally ignore property laws.
Not all squatters are bad neighbors, however. In fact, some even improve rundown properties, doing vital repairs, landscaping, and general maintenance abandoned by owners and overlooked by authorities.
Instances exist of squatters occupying dwellings for years and ultimately legally purchasing the premises once discovered because owners realize back taxes and code violations face them otherwise. Such cases remain rare, but it does occur now and then.
Squatters can gain legal rights to properties they occupy through adverse possession, despite initially trespassing. Let’s look at how this works.
If squatters openly live on a property for a certain period, as defined by state laws, without the documented owner’s permission or objection, they can file a claim to legally own that real estate. This enforceable right is called adverse possession.
To gain these property rights, squatters must prove they occupied the premises continuously without attempts at concealment or permission and are the primary residents, investing time, funds, and labor into maintaining the property as their own.
Adverse possession requires paying property taxes, keeping up home insurance, and abiding by local municipal codes for the mandated timeframe as outlined in each jurisdiction.
Timeframes by Location
Adverse possession claim periods differ across states, making blanket statements about its applicability tricky.
In New Jersey, it takes 30 years of undisrupted squatting to make an adverse possession claim. But New York shortens that duration to only 10 years without the owner ousting squatters.
California requires five years of unbroken squatting, while Florida doubles that to 10 years before adverse rights apply. And the time period fluctuates higher and lower again across other states.
In Pennsylvania, continuous squatting for 21 years can legally convert occupants into property owners. While in Texas, residency for under 25 years may still not suffice if circumstances cast doubt on any adverse claim.
Other Legal Factors
Zoning, tax status, and property boundaries also come into play regarding enforcing adverse possession. Simply living at an address for X years may not meet all legal qualifications in some regions.
One couple in Seattle successfully claimed adverse possession of a $1.2 million historic mansion they squatted in for only seven years because peculiarities of Washington State property laws aided their ownership bid after the original owner died.
However, adverse possession denial also occurs despite meeting residency timelines. If ownership remains actively disputed or tax violations rack up, these derail claims under certain conditions.
Can Police Remove Squatters?
If squatters only recently moved in, cops can forcibly remove them as trespassing. Problems arise once long-term occupation may convey legal rights.
Police treat squatters as unlawful intruders upon initial discovery and have full authority to vacate and charge them accordingly. But what about down the road?
Health and Safety Issues
Around the one-year residency mark, removing squatters becomes trickier regarding police involvement and requires courts legitimizing the order.
But if the illegal occupants threaten public welfare through criminal activities like drug trafficking or violence, this likely sanctions immediate law enforcement action.
Squatters substantially damaging properties or creating hazardous living conditions also typically prompt their forcible removal and arrest quicker than usual.
After Adverse Possession Established
Once they pass the zone conferring adverse possession in a particular state, now legally defending squatters occupy the property. Removing them no longer remains law enforcement’s prerogative without the lengthy court battles ahead.
That’s why early interventions are key before squatter claims solidify.
Local Laws on Squatting
Local statutes add another variable determining if immediate police action suffices.
Some areas, like North Carolina, classify squatting as trespassing or burglary. This means cops can simply remove illegal occupants on criminal grounds rather than adhering to stricter civil process timetables.
But elsewhere, like New Hampshire, squatting disputes require following formal eviction proceedings through small claims court filings. Their law enforcement plays no role.
Criminal vs Civil Matter
Whether state or municipal governments deem squatting a criminal or civil issue also affects police intervention rules.
Where criminal, law enforcement enjoys greater reign to promptly eject squatters based on criminality statutes versus awaiting judicial intervention. But most regions frame squatting under property laws instead, hampering police removal without court filings.
Confusing? Definitely. That’s why owners should know their state squatter and trespassing distinctions.
Legal Eviction Process
If adverse possession or immediate danger excusing police action don’t apply, property owners must navigate proper squatters eviction channels. Let’s examine the steps:
Serving Squatters Eviction Notice
First comes formally serving squatters a “notice to vacate.” While no landlord/tenant relationship exists (nor rent payments), standard termination protocol still applies, advising occupants they must leave the premises within a set timeframe (often 30 days) before further legal filings proceed against them.
Many squatters disappear quickly once discovered. But should they choose to overstay the notice date, litigation comes next.
If the posted warning expires without cooperation, the property owner must file an eviction complaint through their local county court against the unwanted residents. This commences official judicial removal proceedings.
Misfiling risks dismissal on technicalities, so owners should retain attorneys to navigate this phase correctly. No money changes hands yet during filing. That comes later.
Obtaining Court Order
The court reviews arguments from both property owner and squatter legal counsel should the case progress this far. Unlike tenant evictions focusing on non-payments, squatter lawsuits center on illegal trespassing without an owner agreement in place.
If convinced of the owner’s right to remove squatters, the judge issues a court order mandating their departure within a certain window, typically under 30 days. The court order specifies the vacation deadline and enforcement particulars carrying the legal weight to displace occupants should they continue resisting.
Police Enforcing Court Order
Once the court mandates the date for vacating passes, local law enforcement now has the responsibility and authority to remove remaining squatters based on the judicially recognized complaint standing and ruling.
The judge’s order provides the pivotal benchmark sanctioning police to escort illegal occupants off the private property, with force if necessary. Without it, cops hold little immediate eviction power in many jurisdictions.
Think of the court order like a squatter search warrant – the vital document giving police the clearance they previously lacked to enter and clear the premises without facing civil rights lawsuits later.
Avoiding squatting proves the surest solution by denying opportunity and deterring occupancy attempts altogether through:
Regular Property Inspections
Vacant homes attract squatters, so remaining vigilant is key.
Periodically cruise past listed properties looking for signs of break-ins or access attempts. Fence damage, debris piles, or makeshift encampments out back all signal someone may be scoping the place planning to occupy the site illegally.
Also inspect interiors every two weeks. Look for forced entry at windows and doors each visit. Habitual monitoring removes the out-of-sight, out-of-mind dynamic so tempting for opportunists.
Bear in mind, some squatters may only stay a few days between monitoring intervals before moving along. So if away for prolonged periods, consider higher tech solutions.
Securing the Property
Deter squatters by fortifying vulnerabilities:
Reinforce all exterior access points using heavy duty StrikeMaster Pro Series deadbolts featuring barricade hardened locking steel and dual 1” throw length to thwart break-ins. Install pick resistant, keyless entry combo locks without keys to lose or steal.
Illuminate all sides with motion sensor LED spotlights on variable timers.
Hide wireless mini infrared motion detectors monitoring room interiors, sounding 120 db mini sirens chasing intruders away.
Signage leaves no confusion over trespassing repercussions:
Types of Signs
Display legal disclaimer signs on placards, property gates, and home exteriors like:
- No Trespassing Violators Prosecuted
- Private Property Keep Out
- 24-Hour Video Surveillance Enforced
Broadcast occupancy status openly:
Tell adjacent neighbors it’s their duty to report all activity at the site through coordinated patrols and communications, including noting license plates of loiterers should break-ins arise later. Provide contacts if ownership questions surface.
Inform local police departments directly in writing, identifying the vacant yet secured and monitored status of the properties, providing emergency contacts too. This embeds a heads up in their records if dispatch calls arise for faster response activations.
Hiring Property Management
If traveling or living remotely from owned vacant investment or inherited properties proves overtaxing, consider third-party property management services specializing in periodic drive-bys, documented walk throughs, landscape and exterior maintenance, coordinating repairs where necessary, plus reacting to any owner alerts.
Having fresh eyes regularly watching offers peace of mind. Typically they directly engage law enforcement upon first suspicion of squatters or trespassers as part of their contractual obligation.
Can police remove squatters? Sometimes yes – when criminal trespassing clearly applies upon initial discovery.
Other times no – when health, legal ambiguities, or property rights conflicts arise benefiting the squatter without tedious court battles favoring owners.
First – Check Local Laws
Determine the regional differences between trespassing vs squatting plus define the lines civil violations and criminal activities in your jurisdiction.
Don’t assume all regions follow similar protocols regarding police powers and squatter claims. Statutes swing wildly between counties and circuit court interpretations.
Consult an attorney specializing in property laws for your state. Find clarity navigating the haze so you can respond appropriately if squatter situations arise. Being informed becomes your best defense.
Second – Don’t Delay Eviction Attempts
Should squatters establish occupancy in a property you own, don’t put off addressing the matter. Send police right away or start warning notifications immediately and monitor results closely.
Delays allow adverse possession claims to develop past the point where cops alone can eject illegal occupants. Putting this off can create monumental legal headaches later.
Third – Fortify Properties
Deter squatters from ever moving in by making properties inhospitable to them. Secure access aggressively, update surveillance systems if aging, ensure adequate lighting exists, post ample signage, and make frequent contact with authorities reminding them of no-tolerance for trespassers based on reliably reported history.
Remove the low hanging fruit aspect vacant properties present by showing vigilance and that the premises remain under active ownership purview despite emptiness.
Still have squatter questions? Let’s recap a few prime additional legal queries:
What is a squatter?
A squatter refers to someone occupying an uninhabited residential property or land parcel without the owner’s permission, especially in a long-term manner. Squatters often renovate abandoned buildings to serve as their homes.
Can police remove squatters?
At first, police can remove squatters as criminal trespassers. But after the squatters reside on the property for many years, they can potentially make legal ownership claims, complicating police involvement without court orders.
What is the process for removing squatters?
The legal process for removing squatters involves serving them a notice to vacate, filing an eviction lawsuit, obtaining a court order, and getting police to enforce the order if they don’t leave voluntarily afterwards within the court-decide timeframe.
Are there any legal protections for squatters?
Adverse possession laws allow squatters occupying properties openly and continuously for certain periods as defined locally – ranging from 5 to 30 years – to attain legal ownership rights despite lack of original permission. Some states provide fewer protections.
Can I remove squatters from my property myself?
No. Property owners should not attempt forceful self-help removal of squatters themselves once they establish occupancy because this can incur lawsuits and charges. Always follow lawful procedural steps.
Hopefully this primer on understanding squatter removal laws, avoidance tactics, and reclaiming properties gives clarity to owners and authorities when dealing with these unique tenancy cases. Knowing protocols beforehand helps once facing squatter predicaments in minimizing drama and legal complications down the road.