Statement of Principles on Illegal Possession of Private Property

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Summary

This statement of principles is intended to address the growing problem of what is referred to as “Squatters,” individuals who enter into and attempt to possess a private property without permission. Applying these principles would allow some relief to property owners.

Statement of Principles on Illegal Possession of Private Property

Squatting in the United States is the unauthorized use of real estate. Historically, squatting occurred during the settlement of the Midwest when colonial European settlers established land rights and during the California Gold Rush. There was squatting during the Great Depression in Hoovervilles and also during World War II. Shanty towns returned to the US after the Great Recession (2007–2009) and in the 2010s, there were increasing numbers of people occupying foreclosed homes using fraudulent documents. In some cases, a squatter may be able to obtain ownership of property through adverse possession.

Various community groups have used squatting as a tactic both to call for improved housing and to house the homeless. The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) made a national campaign in 1979. Operation Homestead (OH) occupied 300 units in Seattle in the early 1990s. In New York City, squatters occupied 32 buildings, some of which the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) then helped to legalize. During the Covid-19 pandemic, hotel rooms were occupied in Washington.

What is a squatter?

Squatters are individuals who occupy a property without permission or legal right. They often exploit loopholes in the rental system to avoid paying rent. Understanding their tactics can help property managers identify and address potential issues. Some common ways squatters evade rent include:

  • Illegally subletting the property to others for profit.
  • Filing false or misleading documentation to establish tenancy rights.
  • Taking advantage of vacant or abandoned properties.

What is the difference between squatting and trespassing?

Understanding the difference between trespassing and squatting is crucial for property managers. Trespassing refers to the unauthorized entry onto someone else’s property, while squatting involves occupying a property without permission or legal right. Trespassing is generally a criminal offense, while squatting is a civil matter that requires legal action for eviction.

While our community supports the right of individuals to secure, safe, reasonable accommodations for habitation and we respect the rights of private property ownership and the use of their property within the boundaries of reasonable local ordinances. We do not condone the unauthorized use of these properties by individuals who seek to occupy these properties, be there private residences or commercial properties without due consideration or compensation to the owners of said properties.

While most states or municipalities have eviction processes in place, communities and law enforcement often do not prioritize the proactive protection of private property. We as a community wish to place on record a resolution that indicates unauthorized squatters are considered trespassers and should be advised of their status and the need to relinquish any claim they are asserting to remain in a property when directed to leave by authorities.

They may be liable to civil penalties or arrest if they fail to leave when directed to by legally appointed local authorities.

Steps should be taken in a community to notify property owner of their responsibility to secure and post any properties that may be at risk of housing squatters and the public should be noticed of steps to be taken in avoiding adverse habitation of properties and how to report them to local authorities.

Furthermore, they may be held personally responsible for damages or certain losses incurred due to their unauthorized use of said properties.

Property owners will need to take certain actions to protect and regain access to their properties:

What to do if you have a squatter in your vacant property

When faced with a squatter, property managers should immediately protect their property and rights. The following steps can help in dealing with squatters effectively:

  • Document the situation: Gather evidence of the squatter’s presence, such as photographs, witness statements, or utility bills.
  • Contact law enforcement: Report the presence of the squatter to local law enforcement authorities and provide them with the necessary evidence.
  • Initiate legal proceedings: Consult with an attorney to understand the legal procedures for eviction in your jurisdiction and initiate the necessary legal actions.
  • Engage professional assistance: Consider hiring a reputable eviction service or legal professionals specializing in squatter removal to ensure a smooth and lawful eviction process.