On August 29, 2019, my friends had a closing on theirs new investment property. Right after the closing they tried to get in and discovered the original lock had been removed. They found parts of the old lock on the ground with visible drill marks on it. They knocked on the door and a rather aggressive male opened the door.
The trespasser was hostile, threatening, and seemed capable of violence toward them, the legal owners of the property.
They politely introduced themselves as owners of the property, presented the trespasser with the IDs and asked what he is doing in their house. He said he had been living in the house since June of 2019, and had a rental agreement with BMI.com. As far as they have been able to determine this is a fictitious company. They immediately realized that this person was lying because before July 25, when their offer for the property had been accepted and went under contract, they visited this property not once and it always was vacant.
They asked the "tenant" to present a valid ID and the rental contract. He showed them some meaningless piece of paper that clearly was not a legitimate rental agreement and when they tried to read it and take a photo of it, he rudely grabbed it back from them. He told them to go away and his “landlord” would call them the next day.
Shocked and completely bewildered, they went to the nearest neighbor and asked if he knew what was going on. The neighbor informed them that he was as astounded as they were when he saw the stranger suddenly appear a couple of weeks before (beginning of August) with a van and start quickly unloading his stuff. The neighbor said that he knew that the neighboring townhome (the one they just purchased) was under a contract, so he suspected that something was not right.
The next day my friends, after waiting for the “landlord” phone call all day, decided to go to the property and call the police to confront the "tenant" and confirm his identity.
The police officer arrived and, showing little to no sympathy toward the owners in what was apparently an act of criminal trespass, told them to contact the Sheriff’s Department, which is currently closed until the after holiday.
However, the Officer did agree to talk to the individual in the house and ask for his ID and ask him some questions about his illegal occupation of our property. Unfortunately, the individual was not at home and the police officer left. The owners have waited for a bit longer by the door, and the "tenant" soon arrived.
They advised him that his “landlord" never contacted them, and, once again, the "tenant" refused to provide his landlord’s contact information. The owners told the "tenant" that if he had nothing to hide and had a valid rental agreement, they would like to wait for the police officer to come back so he could provide his ID card and/or other proof of residence. The "tenant" slammed the door in their faces, so they called the police again. The "tenant" quickly left in his car again.
So, someone engaged in an obvious scam has broken in, installed new locks and is illegally occupying their property... How did the "tenant" get a water service, electricity? My other friends once forgot to pay their water bill and it was cut off a couple of weeks later! And can just anybody call BGE and start a service in ANY property without the owner giving a permission? This sounds like a total, third-worldish mess... The police officer could have simply waited, asked for the ID, allowed the real owners with the IDs and the Title in their hands to get it, take photos (for the insurance) before the "tenant" destroys it, make a copy of the "lease" and call/find that imaginary "landlord." Anybody can download a lease form from the internet, fill it out, put the moving in date to say they've been living in the property for a long time, and that's exactly what that skillful "tenant" did. And he knows the rules - he claimed that he moved in in June, while the owners and the neighbors can prove otherwise, but no one listens. That sounds like a nightmare.
My friends can't even get in to take photos for the insurance company in case if the "tenant" destroys it.
Obviously, they are scared for the property - the "tenant" can easily damage the property and they would not even be able to prove that he did it. Someone told them if the property has been occupied for less than a month, no eviction process is necessary. However, the time difference between when they discovered that human in their house (August 29) and the time the Sheriff's Office will start functioning again (due to the long holiday weekend) may make it a month or slightly over it... In any case, what should they do? What the law says about it? If they will start the eviction process, how do they make sure the "tenant" doesn't ruin the house? What are their rights? Thank you for any advice this community can provide...
@Inna Young Hindsight is always great, they should have gone by the house prior to closing (that morning) to ensure things were in order. Others on BP have said that the police won't deal with this unless there is a court order. They could take down the license plate, park the car around the corner (out of sight) and call the cops saying there is someone in their house and see if the cops show up.
Start the eviction process using 'all occupants' for the name. Get a good eviction lawyer to do this, it may cost more, but they know what they are doing and it will be quicker.
I'd also call all the utility companies to see whose name is on those accounts and ensure that bills are not outstanding as some of them will be attached to the house meaning the owner will be responsible for them. I'd be tempted to have the water shut off, but I don't know if that is legal with a squatter living there.
This is more common than most people think...it happens when properties have been vacant for some time and appear "abandoned." Some times the person living there really did "lease" the property from someone who posed as an owner/leasing agent. The man in there could be a victim himself.
But first things first: please tell your friends to STOP TALKING TO HIM. No need to get harmed/killed while sorting this out.
Then, they need to know the law in their state (are they in Maryland too?):
"What Are Squatters Rights In Maryland. ... If you have a guest in your home or on your property that refuses to leave when asked, then you have the right to file for an wrongful detainer. This is filed in your local District Court. It cannot be used for current tenants or tenants that are holding over on an expired lease."
And, have your friends check their purchase contract. Did they purchase it vacant? When did they last inspect it prior to closing? What does the seller know about this guy?
I recommend that your friends actually go (not call) to the local police and sheriff offices near the property and file a complaint. The complaint is that someone has broken into your property, changed the locks, and is squatting. Again, the guy there may have been duped too. Your friends will want to check with the seller first to get some idea as to when this happened - but again it usually happens with properties that have been vacant for a long time.
You're a good friend...have them ready to be in District Court on Tuesday to get their property back.
@Inna Young Always do a final walkthrough the day of closing or at the very least the night before. Tough lesson learned for sure.
@Inna Young - First, I am sorry for the problem that has arisen with your friends' property. But am I to understand that the Sheriff's Department in this locality actually closes over a holiday weekend? A particular investigator may be off, but your friend should certainly be able to file a complaint with someone to remain within the 1 month time frame mandated.
The PO told them what to do. Contact the sheriffs office. Sounds like a squatter. Tell your friend to get their checkbook and calendar ready.
I had a problem with squatters earlier this year. I had a property in a decent area where the tenants had been evicted and I was busy with some other projects knew I could not get my contractors over to the property for a few weeks. I did board up the house everywhere except the front door which faced a busy street so I thought I'd be safe from break-ins.
When they went there, they told me there were people living in the house. I had switched the gas and electric service to my company name so the house would have heat (it was winter) and my guys would have power for their tools.
I contacted a local rent court agent company that I use and one of the owners, a former policeman, said that my only recourse was to file for "unlawful detainer." He said that the police would not get involved as this was a civil and not criminal matter. I pointed out that if someone took my car, the police could pull him over and arrest him, but if they took my house, they would not help me. He also said that I could not change the locks or cut off the utilities.
This seemed ridiculous to me.
The bottom line was that it took over 2 months of filings and court dates to get a sheriff to show up. As we were waiting, we saw someone leave the house, but we were not close enough to take his picture and did not think it was safe to chase after him. When the sheriff showed up, we went inside (the front door was open). I heard water running and went into the basement where the squatter had broken a pipe and water was gushing out and was already a few inches high. We turned off the water, secured the house, but never found out who the squatter was.
Welcome to landlording in pro-tenant Baltimore City.
@Alan C. the police required you to not cut utilities? Why is that? These situations seem so crazy to me. How someone can so boldly occupy a residence without regard for the legal owner. It's just incredible..
Thank you to all who replied. The saga continues and this is the update. The townhome my friends have purchased is in Maryland, PG county, in a rather ritzy neighborhood. Neighbors in the development are simply shocked by the presence of the creature that moved in and currently inhabits it. He is not even pretending to be a normal human being - looks dirty, doesn't make any eye contact, doesn't say "hi", doesn't ever talk to his neighbors, in general, all his appearance signals: don't mess with me!
My friends DID go to the Sheriff's Office, twice. It was closed for the weekend and the holiday. This situation may close the allowed 30 days time frame - to remove this person from the property without starting the eviction process.
The owners of the property were able to obtain his name and ran the instant check background report. The report revealed that the current occupant has multiple evictions on his record, an "impressive" criminal record and everything in the report points to a major drug activity going on in this beautiful, once immaculate townhouse. However, my friends, before they downloaded the report, signed a required disclosure agreement that they are not using this report for any evidence... Yet another absolutely bizarre situation: the owners know that a criminal is residing in their property, most likely cooking meth in the property they pay taxes for (that the Sheriff office is using for their salary but conveniently enjoying the long Labor Day weekend while the taxpayers are suffering); the owners can't do anything on their own - it would be illegal; they have a report they ran on their "guest" but they can't use it either because of the agreement.... everything is bizarre about this story.
My friends have asked around and spoke to many other investors since it happened to them. It does seem like it's a common problem and owners are COMPLETELY UNPROTECTED BY ANY LAW when they are in this situation. They have to spend money for an eviction attorney and wait for the process to be over in weak hope that their property will not be damaged.
Just wondering what would happen if they (the owners) in the absence of the "guest" entered the property, changed the locks (just like the "guest" did), threw out all his stuff to the curb and put some really good home alarm system... That's of course, if one would rather risk his life than pay $5k (or whatever it may cost) for the attorney. Something tells me in this case, THEY, THE OWNERS, would be punished by the law.
In any case, stories like this are bizarre and amusing. Good subject for investigative journalism and, at least, some effort from the investors community to change this situation, this law that makes absolutely no sense. Maybe we should contact the national newspapers.
I know a few investors that buy completely destroyed houses, work day and night rehabbing them, deal with all the permits needed, engage with often lazy and dishonest construction workers... performing many other mentally, emotionally and physically difficult tasks. The neighbors LOVE them - the investors are like janitors of the neighborhoods - they turn ugly dwellings into beautiful homes, making the other properties values to go up in $$$. And these people, as I learned this weekend, are completely unprotected by law. This is a fascinating story, I feel like I have a dog in this fight (from the perspective of justice) and I will watch, learn and follow up on its developments.
@Solomon Morris - I was told by the rent court agent company that if I cut off the utilities, that I could be sued! It turns out that BGE (local utility) turned off the electric when they discovered some problem and I never heard a word from the squatters, so I think that the advice I got was wrong.
@Inna Young - I thought about the scenario you suggested, but you might wind up confronting some dangerous people if they return to your property while you are in the process of securing it. If you do avoid them, then I think you might be OK if you secure it and get a good alarm system.
Also, a friend of mine had squatter problems and the squatter showed up a the hearing claiming to have a lease. The judge gave the squatter another 30 days to produce the lease and proof of payments. It took my friend a 3rd court date before the judge issued the order for the squatter to move.
Unfortunately, there are some scam artists who will find a vacant house and "rent it out" to an unsuspecting victim. They sign a lease take the security deposit and then disappear so you could have a squatter who thinks that they have a legal right to be in the property.
@Inna Young I think you are all being too nice and polite. People like that prey on your kindness and take advantage of you. I would go to the courthouse tomorrow, file for eviction, and let the sheriff's dept. or Marshals serve notice to the tenant. The judge will give them an order to vacate, if they show up for court, and a deputy will enforce the court order. I don't know the laws in MD, but I'm the kind of person to kick the door in on my property, scare the hell out of this squatter, and start throwing their stuff in the yard. Hoping they call the police, which they won't.
@Anthony Dooley in Baltimore, MD, the landlord is considered the devil in every case. You kick in a door in Baltimore when someone is "occupying" the property, and they show whatever proof, the city will lock you up, and call you a criminal(especially if you don't have a criminal record). The Baltimore City jail from what I've been told is hell on earth. A landlord in Baltimore city is just a revenue generator for the city through fines, court fees, etc. Of course all these fees that the city collects go to????well we don't know. But either way, squatters definitely have rights and you have to file a wrongful detainer, lose 3 months of rent, and they can break right back in the next day and the process starts all over again as long as there is a document that's a lease, with the "down payment" always being in cash. Having an alarm system is a must, most use simplisafe, which will then go off for at least an hour, cause that's how long it takes for cops to show up.
Sounds like a terrible place to live and worse to be a landlord. I wouldn't live there.