Why are squatters/tenants who refuse to leave not held liable?

28 Replies

So the question that just popped into my head goes like this.

Why aren't squatters and tenants who are knowingly staying and forcing you to evict them ever held liable and or charged with a crime?

I know in the court systems we as landlords can try to recoup losses, but why do we have to do all the work? Is it not essentially theft to stay in my place and keep me from receiving rent money for an extended period of time? Most other thieves would be found guilty and at the very least have a black mark on their record if not do a little time in jail.

It just seems very wrong that someone who has never paid rent and come in and tie up your property for months or sometimes years knowing that in the end all you can do is kick them out and they will face no civil or criminal penalties.

Anyone have any idea why the system is set up to reward them?

Part of it would be that you "can't milk a turnip." Even if they were held liable it's hard to collect on someone who is a squatter. Also while them having a criminal record and even jail time may be attractive on the surface it just costs tax payers more money.

Originally posted by @Kevin Harrison :

...Why aren't squatters and tenants who are knowingly staying and forcing you to evict them ever held liable and or charged with a crime?...

If you go into a restaurant and order a $12 meal and don't pay it's a crime and you'll probably arrested before you leave the parking lot.

I am not saying that we need to put them in jail for years, unless they are repeat offenders that is lol. like @Richard Dunlop said though, you would be arrested before leaving the parking lot for stealing a meal or a t-shirt from a store. Both of those things typically cost much less than just 1 months worth of rent.

At the very least I think it should be standard practice to give a judgment to the property owner if it is found that someone tied up their property. This shouldn't be something we have to go out and fight for every time. I also think it would deter people who don't pay their rent from just thinking that they can get away with it, there needs to be some kind of repercussions in my opinion.

Even if these judgments never get satisfied in the majority of cases, im sure it will be a higher percentage of money owed to owners being paid than it is now.

My thoughts from Connecticut, which is a very tenant friendly state.

In the minds of Tenants, Mediators, Judges, Housing they don't look at it as a theft of anything, in fact the times I have gone to court. It seems I am the bad guy having to prove my innocence because I am putting people out on the street. Not the month or 2 of rent that so far have not been collected and literally is being stolen out of my pocket.  That is why when I go to court I bring whatever documentation I could find to support my nonpayment of rent and stick to my only story of nonpayment of rent. "Sir/Ma'am, I am here because I have not received any rent for month(s), etc. totaling x dollars." After a lot of wrangling by the housing to try to give the tenant more than 2 weeks, they usually push for the 30 days with Stipulations sometimes 60 or 90 days if the tenant comes up with the rent.  I still repeat in a calm manner that I have not received rent for month(s) and I want my eviction executed and willing to give 2 weeks.  I usually win the eviction but still lose in the end because I am still out a few months of rent which could total anywhere from $1,200 - $2400. 

I've tried to plead with housing on why they don't make the tenants take responsibility on paying rent.  All they could tell me is that I will have to go to small claims court for that. In an unofficial response they basically tell me that you can't take blood from a stone and the landlord can take the financial hit vs a tenant.  Yeah right we have mortgages, taxes and insurance to still pay...

Any new landlords out there should spend a few days in your local housing court and read up on the local tenant/landlord laws.  Get a lawyer that actually knows evictions and specializes in them.  Do not get your family lawyer to do it, get a lawyer that all they do is evictions in your general area. 

I ask myself the same question over and over.  I do not understand why people are completely within their rights to essentially "steal" housing from other people.  If there were laws against it and criminal penalties, many "professional" tenants would no longer be in business.  But with no penalties whatsoever, there is really no reason for these types of tenants not to milk your property for all their worth.  It's one of those things that drives me nuts, as I have lost a lot of money to evictions over the years.  Great question, but I just don't think there are any good answers other than it is a broken system, unfortunately.

Because the politicians see them as voters and enact laws favoring them over property owners.  It's about "buying" votes not protecting property rights.  I'll stop here before I get too carried away.

A landlord can make a tenant's life very difficult, in Texas. Texas is a landlord state where the laws favor the landlord. One can get an eviction for nonpayment of rent fairly easily. We will file by the 10th of the month unless we have a reasonable expectation that the rent will be paid. We can usually get a hearing in 2 weeks.

Once we get the eviction judgement then the process changes a bit. Sometimes the tenant will stay and basically say get me out or sometimes they will leave on their own. Its to their best advantage to leave on their own and I make sure that they understand. 

The next step of the process is a very ugly part and I explain to the tenants way in advance the process and the negative consequences to not only their credit but to their rental history as well and the likelihood of not being able to get quality housing for some time. Many landlords in Austin will not even rent to a person with an eviction on their background ever.

The ugly part is when the constable gets involved. There is a writ that is served with the constable. That usually takes place about 2-3 weeks after the eviction judgement. The constable will go out to the house and make sure that there is peace while we remove items from the house and put on the curb. It doesn't matter if the tenants are there or not. And there isn't any advance warning to the tenant. So, if the tenant is at work and there is no one home then their possessions will be on the curb for all the neighborhood buzzards to pick through. Its quite ugly.

So, I explain all this to the tenants way in advance. The ones that are smart leave. There have been very very few like less than 5 that have stuck around. I have been managing properties for over 15 years. Its called tough love. 

As a landlord, I take care of business. The tenants pay the bills and we must keep that in mind. Its good business to be friendly. But its bad business for the tenant not to pay the bills. The most important background check is the rental history and it has to be legit, imo. 

Aaron

@George Paiva

We are fortunate that legislation here is quite balance and our Office of the Rentalsman serves most evictions w/o the need to venture into court.  However, if there are any serious amounts involved, you will end-up in small claims court seeking a judgement as the Rentalsman has no authority to force any payment from the tenant ... the most they can do is release the security deposit to the landlord with proof of damages or arrears.

Just as you describe, we were once told it would be less of a burden upon us to absorb the damages and unpaid rent than it would be upon the {former} tenant to pay those amounts as it could put their ability to afford their present housing at risk.   We countered that by not honouring their fiscal obligations to us, they are putting the housing of the other four tenants in that building at risk.  Judge acknowledged our point, but still only awarded half of the arrears.

Virginia Attorney;

...You can? In both civil and criminal court? It is harder in criminal, as trespass signs must be posted to satisfy our criminal trespass requirements. If they do something else on your property, you can potentially seek a warrant for destruction from the local magistrate. Likewise for civil claims.

Note; Not legal advice, not your attorney, may be considered legal advertising. 

PS: Don't do what Frank said.

not sure, but it is an actual law here in michigan "squatter rights" I know landlords that put in their contracts about overnight guests and that there is a limit of how many consecutive nights they can stay, because if they stay too long they will have squatter rights

Originally posted by @Matthew Kreitzer :

Virginia Attorney;

...You can? In both civil and criminal court? It is harder in criminal, as trespass signs must be posted to satisfy our criminal trespass requirements. If they do something else on your property, you can potentially seek a warrant for destruction from the local magistrate. Likewise for civil claims.

Note; Not legal advice, not your attorney, may be considered legal advertising. 

PS: Don't do what Frank said.

Am I reading your post correctly in saying that I have to put no trespassing signs on my home and property to file criminal charges against squatters? I mean I can understand accidently being on someone's land but not "accidently" breaking into their house and living there. What about a situation where they have broken the contract due to non-payment of rent?

Sorry if that sounds like I'm jumping all over you. I'm just really curious about this now.

Originally posted by @Kevin Harrison :

Am I reading your post correctly in saying that I have to put no trespassing signs on my home and property to file criminal charges against squatters? I mean I can understand accidently being on someone's land but not "accidently" breaking into their house and living there. What about a situation where they have broken the contract due to non-payment of rent?

Sorry if that sounds like I'm jumping all over you. I'm just really curious about this now.

NOTE: THE BELOW MAY BE CONSIDERED ADVERTISING FROM THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR.

 I'd be happy to provide basic educational material on any questions you may have. I apologize for the excessive notices and disclaimers, I kind of have to for the information about to be provided.

When a person walks on to another person's land and just sits there, they haven't quite committed any crimes under Virginia Law on just those facts. Under Virginia Code 18.2-119; a land owner may get a "no trespassing" sign from the local government and prominently display it. If you do so, and someone is trespassing, that home owner may choose to call the cops. 

If that person who was sitting on your lawn decides to go over to your house and smash a window, you could call the cops on destruction of property grounds. If that person subsequently enters said window and begins to torch the building, that would be both arson and breaking and entering. If they merely entered the window with the intent to steal some eggs, that would just be criminal trespassing and destruction. (Unless these are some mighty fine eggs.)

If that person gets on your lawn and takes some of your property, that would be theft. Another crime that could be reported to the cops. 

As you see, more acts must be performed, absent a valid no trespassing sign, to hold someone criminally liable in Virginia.

If you ever face criminal activities, you may decide to go down to the local magistrate and seek an arrest warrant. People are allowed to do that for misdemeanors in Virginia.

From a CIVIL perspective;

Any of the above actions, including entering your lawn, could be brought before a small claims court or otherwise. Even trespassing, you could theoretically bring a "civil trespass" case against them. However, the cost of filing would likely exceed any damages. However, if you have damages, it may be worth bringing suit. For instance, if he sits on your award winning pumpkins on that yard. Instant "trespass to chattels" and some significant damages. Sometimes costs and attorneys fees may be asked for from the Judge, but are by no means gauranteed in all cases.

NOTE: THE ABOVE MAY BE CONSIDERED ADVERTISING BY THE VIRGINIA STATE BAR.


DISCLAIMER: Do not act on any of this information. If you have an issue, consult an attorney. I do not agree to be your attorney by virtue of explaining these educational principles to you. Each case is unique, and should be reviewed by an attorney prior to any action.

Laws are usually put in place to address the "problem people"--in this case certain landlords.  Unfortunately, the 90%+ of us who do the right thing get caught up in the same laws.  This scenario pretty much applies to all laws related to landlord-tenant issues, i.e. evictions, rental inspections, lease requirements, fair housing--you name it.  It's the people that do it the wrong way that make it difficult for all of us.

Evictions are not all that difficult to perform and can be prevented most of the time by doing a good job of screening applicants up front.  If you don't want to do it yourself or have to use an attorney, you can usually find an attorney that will do them for a small fee.

As for squatters, the laws in Michigan were made more punitive for squatters in the 2014  legislative session.  The bills were House bills 5335, 5069, 5070 and 5071.  I agree that more needs to be done. We need a way to put out squatters without going through an eviction.

Originally posted by @Aaron Gordy :

A landlord can make a tenant's life very difficult, in Texas. Texas is a landlord state where the laws favor the landlord. One can get an eviction for nonpayment of rent fairly easily. [cut]

Milwaukee is very similar to what Aaron describes about Texas. The only difference is that the tenant gets a letter from the sheriff so they DO get advance notice.  Some people are still delusional and think the problem will go away even after the sheriff letter.  Then the sheriff comes, and you can either have movers there that will do the heavy lifting for you or not.  Items go on the curb, the landlord is NOT required to store anything (except prescription medicine or prescription medical equipment which must be held 7 days from the date of discovery).  The sheriff will be there so you can change the locks and they keep the peace.

I've witnessed 2 such evictions and both tenants were single mothers who were crying when they got put out.  The one said "Give me another chance, here's some money!"  The sheriff said, "You should have thought of that when the rent was due."

I feel like even if MI is making some steps in the right direction, there needs to be a nationwide balancing of Tenant rights VS. LL rights. It seems we are slowly becoming the losing team, "legally" at least.

Originally posted by @Joel Florek :

Josh Smith check out the new laws. As I read the laws changed on the squatters issue in favor of the landlord for Michigan.

 I will have to do that, I don't rent right now, So i was just going off of what my friends personal experiences were. good to hear though