Squatters Rights: A Frightening Case Study

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I will be the first to admit I thought I had a handle on residency, i.e. when and how it is established. I am taking excerpts from an article that appeared on April 21, 2009 in a Spokane valley newspaper under the headline:

Unwanted tenants may have moved on

and using it as the basis for this week’s post. Man, this particular scenario had me re-thinking what I thought I already knew.

It was written by Staff writer Shawn Vestal. You can read the entire article here, since I have redacted much of it. Believe me, it is worth the read. I have put my comments after the paragraph in red. That way you’ll know the article from my comments.

start article—

An elderly Spokane Valley couple, Don and Peggy Bain, both 81, let Peggy Bain’s son, Skippy Ray Davis, live in their detached garage behind their home. Unbeknownst to the Bains, Davis let a lady named Susan Pierce move in with him. Not only Pierce but several other people.

On the first of April, Davis was arrested and booked into jail for failing to pay fines associated with drug convictions.
So far, nothing out of the ordinary. Mom lets son stay in a garage outfitted as living quarters. Son invites lady friend to stay with him. Probably happens all over America and no one gives it a second thought.

When the Bains tried to enter the garage, they were denied access by Pierce and several other people. They claimed that the garage was their home and the Bains had no right to oust them. Fortunately for the Bains, some of the folks moved out upon being requested to leave the first time.
As you might guess, this is where the problems really started.

The Bains called the cops and were told by the police, “it’s still hers, and you’re not allowed to go in there,” The police stated they were acting under the state Landlord-Tenant Act which is intended to protect people from being thrown out of their homes suddenly and without cause.
I support my local police but I wonder if the on-scene officers were really stating the law as it is written or if they made the immediate decision that doing nothing is better than taking affirmative action like asking for a lease or some other form of rental contract.

Lt. Stephen Jones, of the Spokane Valley Police Department said that Pierce had lived in the garage with Davis and that once a person establishes proof of residence – Pierce showed a piece of mail addressed to her at the garage – the department requires an official eviction proceeding, overseen by a judge, rather than making its own judgments.
This must mean I can say my residence is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave if I have a piece of mail addressed to me at that particular spot. I always to live in a famous house with lots of chefs and staff. Hmmm, I wonder how that would hold up???

Enter the Bains’ attorney, Pete Schweda. He said the case is best viewed not as a landlord-tenant dispute, but as a trespassing or burglary. A landlord-tenant relationship never existed – the people moved in without permission, never paid rent or signed a lease, and simply refused to leave. Under the law, a “tenant” is defined as “any person who is entitled to occupy a dwelling unit primarily for living or dwelling purposes under a rental agreement.”
You and I probably share the same opinion of attorneys as a whole but in Schweda’s case I will make an exception. He probably has a copy of the law that states what it takes to establish residence whereas in the field officers had their opinion firmly in place and refused to act. I don’t know that for sure but I’d bet I’m right.

Pierce has since moved out leaving no forwarding address.

end of story—

I present this abbreviated version because it got me to re-check Nevada’s residency laws. I hope it gets you to re-check your state’s laws. I also hope it gets you to inquire of your local police how they interpret the residency laws. That’s the something you may not know.

I say that because a majority of the problem after the arrest of Davis seems to be centered around police interpretation. If Schweda is correct, the police overstepped their discretion.

Again, I don’t know that for sure. I’m merely stating what I surmise from the statements of all parties. Regardless, it served as a wake up call for me.

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36 Comments

  1. Josh – You are absolutely correct when you say the banks are at war with the law and the municipalities are refusing to uphold the law. We are living in some unsettling times. If it keeps up, what kind of times (read laws) do you suppose our children will be facing?

  2. Tom – As I said to you in my email, this is a really important article, IMO. Many people just don’t realize how easy it is to put yourself at risk in terms of giving up your rights as a property owner. Given the state of the housing market and other factors, many police departments and other government officials are putting the burden of proof square on the face of the owner, instead on squatters, and other common thieves. Landlords and banks are now at war with the law, as many municipalities are refusing to uphold that law and evict those people who should rightfully be evicted/foreclosed upon.

    It is a slippery slope that is taking us in a direction of irresponsibility and lawlessness.

    Frightening.

  3. I just see this getting really messy. Why should we respect the law if law enforcement and the government doesn’t? Setting a precedent by ignoring the law because times are tough can spin this country into oblivion.

  4. @LA Law guy:

    Wrong, she was totally ignorant of the law. They said in a different article that the girl was about to leave when the police officer said, “You have rights you know. You can live here for your entire life until the court says you can’t.” It may have had something to do with the description of the woman as appearing like a streetwalker, causing the officer to be more helpful than usual. What a jackass.

  5. I have lived in a house for over 4 years without paying a dime. What are my rights as far as squatters rights here in Texas and how do I claim these rights with the courts?

  6. Josh,

    Nice catch. Amazing how low some people stoop. I can’t believe (s)he thought this was a schlock type of site. Geesh…

  7. It would help if you actually lived in Texas vs. India, Michelle. The amazing thing about the internet is that we can see that you are posting from another continent. Let me guess . . . are you a paid SEO specialist?

  8. Couple of thoughts. One, Michelle’s comment actually seems a bit less generic, and with better punctuation, than one normally sees from SEO comments.

    Two, I am not surprised by this. Landlords typically get the short end of the stick in court, and the rule of law is getting less and less recognition in general. Quoting Josh: “Setting a precedent by ignoring the law because times are tough can spin this country into oblivion.”

    This is happening in all kinds of industries. Think of the Chrysler secured bondholders who are getting a far worse deal than unsecured creditors. What do those unsecured creditors (mostly UAW retirees) have going for them? Sympathy from the Obama administration.

    The result is going to be that no rational party will lend money to any US enterprise. The resulting recession will make 2009 seem good times.

  9. My father a senior and I leased a home, I am also a nurse, caring for my father when needed. My son/wife and two small children asked to move in due to finacial difficulties, father and I agreed, we place them on the lease. I am not on the lease. Problems occured right away with my sons wife viloence, threats, harrasment, and assult and battery with another family member,damages she knocked in the back door with a shovel, holes in the walls ect. on and on. I went to the courts with 10 pages of documentation of the events asking for a restraining order, I was shocked when I was denied.I forgot to mention my son and family moved out of the home on June 7, 2009. The wife was angry and lied filed a restraining order against me and had me immediately removed from the home. She threw all my 70 yr old fathers stuff onto the lawn and changed the locks, now remember they dont live in the home any longer. My father went to the courts and filed an elder abuse restraining order and was denied. Currently no one is living in the home awaiting yet another court date. Law enforcement have done nothing to help us the court system continually turns us down. I cant even believe this is happening…Did I mention we pay all the bills, she is on welfare. The court is saying she can do as she pleases because shes on the lease, and doesnt even live there…

    • What a fucking joke the law is. It really shows that the judges have no intelligent insight and shouldn’t be allowed to view and judge cases with such abhorrent GROSSLY unfair “interpretation” of the law.
      Horrible that this should happen to anyone. DIsgusted with severe lack of support for law-abiding folks.

  10. I AM from Texas and I have a similar question. My parents are elderly and have some physical disabilities. They were renting from our previous landlords and were being terribly mistreated (my landlord would come in the home early in the morning, unannounced, while I was still sleeping!) They couldn’t seem to find anything they wanted to move to so I offered if they could find a mobile home they were welcome to move it to our property.

    At the time we had only two children and planned to stay here and raise our children here. However, 5 children later, we are realizing our home is much too small! But my parents refuse to move. Since they have added improvements (well and septic and a garden) we offered to give them $20,000 or $40,000 if they leave the house too and let us sell. They still refuse and say they must both be dead before we can move!

    From what I understand they must be here 10 years before they can claim squatters rights. So does that mean that we have until that long to hope they die (harsh, I know, but I’m fed up with this) or I have to proceed with a legal battle or is there a possibility they may claim rights sooner?

    • Squaters rights in texas don’t exist anymore. You can however give them a written notice (make sure to certified mail this) an eviction. I’ve been doing some research becuase of some issues polar opposite to this.

  11. sarah,

    I am not familiar with the law in Texas. Your best bet is to talk with an attorney who specializes in real estate law. Where I live, an attorney will give you 30 minutes, sometimes 60, of his/her time without charge so he/she can hear your situation and evaluate the merits. It sounds like your best bet and if you get a time freebie all you are out is that block of time.

  12. Hi, I live in R.I. in a duplex, (landlord lives on other side). We have lived here for almost 4 yrs. Our landlord defaulted on his mortgage and his momma got him another house and he owes $215,000.00 on this house. Now he tells us that he still owns it, something to do with pres.O. (not sure).Now he tells us that he still owns the house with the bank. We never talked to the bank. So what rights do we have and will we have to move and when???? Please help, I just turned 62 today and hubby is 55.Thank you!!

  13. Lillian,

    If your senior citizen center has the same resources as ours, you will find a legal aid lawyer who can answer your questions. I don’t know if RI calls them legal aid but their name or title makes no difference. They are state bar admitted so they can speak the language. Best of luck.

  14. I am a member of alcholics anonymous and I attend regular meetings. Around the middle of May, I ran into someone trying to get sober. She had no place to stay so I opened my home up to her. She did just as what was suggested above. She had mail delivered to the house. She was a holy terror and she was drinking and using drugs the whole time she was here. Not to mention snooping through my things when I was in the kitchen or the bathroom. I actually had to pray a little bit about this, because I was going to shoot her(I am not kidding) and then dump her raggedy ass body along the freeway. I would not have felt the least bit remorse about it. People that mistake kindness for weakness should die.

  15. Wow Owen that is some story, I can’t say that I have any as good as some that I have read here, but I have to agree with you, one opens their heart and home to people that are in need and bam, they take the whole arm instead of just the hand, I helped out someone that was meant to be there for something like 11 day and landed up staying for nearly 3 months and still had a cheek to call me name when I told them to leave, one really has to be careful to who you help out these days.

  16. hi,my family has been living on a cousins land for over 13 years now we moved here because we were told eventually the land would be sold to us,13yrs later my cousin wants to start charging me land rent and that we would have to move in due time! they wont sell the land to me,so i feel like my own blood has thrown me to the dogs.do i have any rights to the land because of the time weve been here waiting to buy land they never intended to sell?we were persistant about buying the land,and finally were told if they were to sell,we arent who they could sell to first,(had the money to buy the land in cash for three years!!)I guess we are just watchdogs for this land untill they want the land for one of thier own.when we first moved on the property,we were told that the land would be ours eventually,wew were even told we could build a house on the property!!! they wanted nothing to do with it because it would be a reminder of where thier mother died.do i have any rights on this property?

  17. Stephen Surgener on

    I am familiar with California landlord tenant law much more than Nevada, but a few basics seem to be true for both. In the case stated in the article, if their was no lease agreement between Peggy and her son stating that Davis would not have any other tenants reside with him, then he has the legal right to have whoever he wants move in. When this happens, those individuals are by law considered tenants with residency rights no different than Davis and an eviction process must be followed. On the surface, this may seem harsh for property owners but it is also a very critical law to keep tenants from being abruptly cast onto the street. The simple solution for landlords is to ALWAYS have an agreement stating the conditions under which other individuals may move onto the property. The agreement will not necessarily eliminate the need for having to go through eviction processes if individuals refuse to leave but it will add weight to claims of trespassing which helps protect landlords in areas of liability.

  18. I am in TX. Found a foreclosure (owned by Fannie Mae), made a bid, had bid accepted and after several delays did in fact close on the property. All utilities were turned on by me – a couple weeks in advance of closing as well as all homeowners, wind & flood insurance.

    (Closing was on a Tuesday) One requirement of Fannie Mae is to change all locks once closing happens. Fees for this requirement were included in my closing costs. I met the locksmith at the property – was handed the new keys when he finished. That evening purchased new stove & refrigerator & set delivery up for following day (Wed). Movers were scheduled to put furniture in property on Thursday of that week. Everything was fine until Friday when I learned that apparently it had NOT fully closed (as in the funding did not happen) so I was technically not the proud new owner.

    We are now six weeks out since that “closing” and still it has not finalized. All my stuff is there and I am & have been paying all utilities etc. Anyone have any thoughts or comments on this? I am apparently some form of “squatter” as of now even though I did close and have all the paperwork to show proof!

  19. Mel, unfortunately you had the locks changed, utilities turned on prematurely. UNfortuntely until the loan part of purchasing the property closes you are out of luck. Had soemone told you prior to this that the house belonged to you? A contract and an estimated close date is just that, estimated until final.

    • Ugh!! We did actually close. All the papers were signed at the title company and then I was given my first mortgage payment coupon in case I didn’t receive one in the mail before it was due. It was three days later when we learned it didn’t fund due to a title issue! Dang! I’m wondering why we got all the way through closing before they decided there was a problem! Shouldn’t that have been caught well before that point? Just very frustrated……….

  20. well i do have to disagree with the way you split this article up and i do believe the persons have legal right to stay in that garage until evicted. they may not of had a rental agreement but that was their home they lived there and you expect them to up and move out overnight? where are they gonna go? hell they may have been paying rent to the actual tennant b4 he went to jail. you can just force a person into homelessness over night and the cops did act justly they told the land owner that it had to be settled in the courts because that was her primary residence she had no where else to go except maybe under a bridge.

    so therefor by leaving the law to the court and not drasticly enforcing things they didnt understand or were aware of they made sure the right actions were taken…

    also the tenants left you said maybe they just needed time to find another place to go. in that case i dont blame them for refusing to leave when asked as the land owner had no paperwork of where they tried to previously evict these tennants

    • It was wrong for them to move in without them knowing. Sure, the eviction thing makes sence but give then 10 days. My mother in law is scared witless of what hers may do. I already got the go ahead to protect her land if given the chance though.

  21. I live in Ak I bought land w/a squatter on it He promised to move in Feb did not He moved propertylines had me arrested I held deed Court gave him 1/3 of my land Then he axed his door said we did it had us arrested again After all my courts were over he put a restraining order on me I filed to dissolve as I hadnt been near them had no clue why Im @court Judge had me go 1st defend myself w/o knowing what i did Then he told Judge Stephen King story how I chase him w/axes etc Also told court he studied murder ml knows I can get awat w/2-3 Judge gave him protection denied my 14th Ammendment made it impossible to go home even tho its a long going battle evictions go back 3 yrs Him his gf beat me up cut my hair gave me 24hrs to get off my land plus killed 7 of my dogs I went back to court ml refiled Judge said I had my chance As a result I went fr paid off to homeless @54yro Lost land $35g most of what I owned my lifes in danger Can I sue judge or hv any legal recourse? This same judge heard 18 dif stories still took squatters side What can I do? Freezing in Ak homeless

    • I’ve heard stories like this so many times. When I lived in the Hill’s it was everyone’s nightmare to have some cultist, druggie, or hippie set up shop in their summer cabbins, back yards, and caves. My inlaws have a long history of tings like this too. As for the dogs. They had that happen to all their animals by a neighbor who wanted their land and hated them for being non-mormon. Go figure. My wife even saw her horse shot with a slingshot which caused it to panic and kill itself on a fence. Then teir is the current fiasco…

  22. My parents-in-laws are having a similar issue in Texas. Daughter comes back with a crap ton of debts, a supossed warant or her arrest, pregnant, and with the father of her daughter and new to come baby to stay for “6 months.” That woulda have been enough for the squaters rights Unfortunatly the now husband is crazy. I gave him the benefit of a doubt but when it is obvious somone you respect is scared (her husband works out of state and is thus helpless) and abandons her responsibilities (again thats alot and she isn’t known to be easy to scare or irresponsible) to drive across town to spend a few hours. That may not seem like alot but this woman NEVER leaves the house more then 2 hours becuase of her disabled kid’s medicine/feeding schedule. This is a horrible thin to get caught up in. I’m trying to drive them off as I type here, temporarilly staying. One of those 2 was bad enough. The second is even worse.

  23. My 31 yr old daughter lives in NY with her two children ages 14 and 10, both diagnosed with ADHD and on daily medications. My daughter, single, trying to make it on her own, was just served a notice to appear in court in a few days for eviction.I do not know how backed up she is with her rent, some of it is subsidised by NYS. She is being told she will need to move within three days of the court hearing, given the judge orders such. Her children’s case worker mentioned squatter’s rights. I can’t see how that might pertain to her case..? She has nowhere to go. Do you believe she and the children will be thrown onto the street? Does she have any rights? I certainly wish I could take them in, but I can’t. Any options?

  24. i live in a military rv park that belong to MWR moral,welfare, and recreation. technally you would have to leave two weeks and come back a month later, i have lived there 10 years i also paid monthly i have never signed any lease or agreement i just go down and pay for the next month, now it appears they are up to some bad stuff, getting rid of me. what rights do i have if any.

  25. My wife and her entire immediate family(her mother, father and brothers) have always lived in houses provided by my wife’s grandparents, and for the most part, had to pay little to nothing. My wife and has thrown me out of giving almost every place we have ever lived
    Now she is threatening to do it again. She is truly crazy and won’t listen to reason, and I am sick of being homeless at her whim. Do I have any lind squatters rights in this situation? No one who lives here actually owns the house. Can I fight this at all??

  26. OMG! I have a bf who moved in and so we broke up. I asked him to move out and he pulled the squatters right act on me. So till he gets a place , do I have to put up with it?

  27. There are certainly some very interesting stories in this post.
    My story is current and looks like we will be heading to court. Our tenants are now 9 weeks late with rent payments and owing a hefty power bill which I have had to pay to avoid legal prosecution from the electricity company. They have been breached and now notified to leave.
    Financial hardship is not the reason for not paying rent or their bills, they both work and earn more money than my husband and myself. They also have no children when we have 5 to financially support. I am beside myself with the stress and thoughts that they may be trying to obtain squatters rights.
    The information I have found so far about the rights of squatters, is hopeful but does not guarantee the courts will remove them either.
    We the documented owners gave our consent for them to move in and we have now asked for them to leave due to breaches to the terms of tenancy. That is apparently all it takes to have them removed by the courts. My fingers and toes are all crossed!!
    I am in Australia

  28. Hello, I need help ending squatter’s rights. Essentially I was sold a house in Detroit and these people keep stealing and destroying my property. The police won’t arrest them. They illegally ( against the rules of Detroit water and sewage ) turned the water on and flooded my property and the water company put a lien on my house they want me to pay for there destruction and give the squatter my property. They granted her a lien on my house when I was gone. She is also trying to quiet title and quit claim my property without my permission. It is all crimes and fraud but I think that they are just scamming foreigners who come to Detroit to rob them and the government is helping them.

  29. Christina R.

    My question is does having a month to month lease prevent ANY of the above from happening with someone who has a lease agreement who then decides to “squat” to avoid being thrown out.

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