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Squatters Right In California

We all know California is at the forefront of many things, social and otherwise. Among those things are items such as the topic of squatter's rights. You may not know this, but California has had squatter issues since the 1800s. During the California Gold Rush, this was a real problem, particularly with mine stakes. Never-do-wells are not strangers to the concept of jumping in and making their own that belongs to others.

However, here we are addressing squatters in California and items such as Adverse Possession.

You may not think squatters are a huge problem, but I can tell you firsthand, it is. Not only have we had to battle this in the renting of properties (and we will give you some tips on handling this later in the article), our sales division, First Choice Investments, has also had to deal with it.

This past weekend my son and I were out looking at homes to buy. It was quickly apparent that about 40% of these homes were listed with no signage. Odd if you're selling a house, right? Sellers are opting not to install yard signs to safeguard against squatters. Two properties definitely had squatters, and here's the scary part for the property owner of one: the squatters also had running utilities. Why is this important? If the squatter has established utilities in their name, that is a path to adverse possession. Shoot, just having water and power on, in the owner, or realtors name, period, makes removing the squatters out much harder in California!

Adverse Possession

So, what is Adverse Possession? Well, if you want to get in-depth, read this:

In short, from the same article:

"Adverse possession is a doctrine under which a person in possession of land owned by someone else may acquire valid title to it, so long as certain common law requirements are met, and the adverse possessor is in possession for a sufficient period of time, as defined by a statute of limitations."

In other words, they steal it. If you Google "Oakland Man Adverse Possession" you will find this in the #1 spot.

This squatter paid the property taxes for a few years, and bingo, the house was his. If that doesn't send chills down your spine, well...

Here is an example of the challenges we, in The Golden State, contend with:

In California, if a squatter illegally enters your vacant property, sets up utilities, you know, water and electricity has a fridge running within the home and has a bed to sleep on, congratulations, you have a "tenant." To get rid of this freeloader, you must go through the eviction process! Yep, court is in your future.

There is also what I call the "Unwitting Squatter." I have no idea what the legal term is, to be honest. This is not a person who deliberately moves into a property illegally. They were duped. This is, potentially, the harder one to defend against vs. intentional squatting.

You see, an intentional squatter moves in, knowing it is not their property; they know they have no legal rights to the property. However, they move in anyway.

An unwitting squatter thinks they have renter's rights. Here is how it works:

A scammer has somehow gained access to the property and rents it out as if they have the leasing rights. The mark pays the deposit, first month's rent, then usually, but not always, receives the ill-gotten keys. They mark moves in, all happy to have a place to sleep, then it all goes sideways. The property owner discovers this, then one of two things happen: The unwitting squatter moves out and loses significant money to the scammer, or they opt to dig their heels in, resulting in eviction proceedings.

How can you reduce the odds of squatters moving into your house?

Well, a good property management company can help. However, as an individual owner managing your own property, you have options too. Traveling to the property and checking it daily is one. Or paying someone to do that.

Living in the house until it rents is another. That can be a little awkward, however.

Also, installing an alarm system can help. However, are you willing to pay for a two-year contract to protect your property for a week, month, or even two months?

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Fully Secure Your Investment Property

What we have found is that fully securing a property is vital. That means doors and windows are property and fully locked, and even double-locked in the case of windows. If a bad guy simply walks into an unsecured house, then it is not breaking and entering.

Key control: do it! Between residents, always change the locks! Make sure only your authorized people have access.

Consider a Ring Doorbell or similar device. This way, you can see who is entering the property. You do need WIFI at the property, that is, small peanuts to pay for to have the peace of mind that you have "eyes" on your property at all times.

Keep rehab times short on properties. Now and again, our contractors do run across someone who broke into sleep in a vacant property. They do not let them stay, not even if they have to "get a few things."

We had a property a few years back where unwitting squatters entered. They had given a lot of money to a scammer and moved right in. One of our big bosses discovered this and made them leave toot-sweet. There were no ifs, ands, or buts.

Call the police and prosecute unauthorized intruders who have entered your rental property. And don't feel bad about it, at worst they will get a bed and a few meals.

When a resident vacates, get the property to rent-ready condition ASAP, then move the new residents in right after. I hear horror stories about two-month rehabs, up to one-year rehabs. That is insane! No rehab should take that long! Every day your property sits vacant, there is a risk of something terrible happening. Squatters, water leaks, you name it.

Make it look like someone is at the property. Our contractors leave lights on all the time. I have even run across radios playing in the house just to make it seem like someone is there.

At the end of the day, you want peace of mind, and that is what a property management company ought to provide. That encompasses peace at all levels, squatters, rehabbing, renting, maintaining. After all, don't you have better things to do when you can hire a management company for $3.00 a day?

Check out this article on How to Break a Lease in California, it's definitely worth a read!

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