Squatters are every landlord’s worst nightmare. Strangely enough, the information surrounding how to get rid of the unwanted intruders in your rental property is vague, to say the least, even with the help of Google. The kind of damage and financial loss that squatters can inflict can be quite significant. Common sense would tell you someone living in your property without permission or knowledge is doing so illegally – but amazingly it’s not a criminal offence to squat in an empty house.
Recently at iThink Property, we had two separate cases of dealing with getting rid of unauthorized occupants in a property. So, we thought we would share our experiences. In the first instance, the squatters had moved in under a high set house and set up extravagant living quarters using blankets. The tenants living upstairs had originally let them stay for a short period, but then after multiple requests refused to leave. The squatters were helping themselves to the power, bathroom and even the kitchen.
In the second situation, tenants were in the process of vacating, when acquaintances moved in and made themselves at home in the property. After doing some research and contacting the local police, it was clear there’s no real law governing squatters and how to evict them. So we had to come up with our own plan of attack.
WHAT IS SQUATTING?
Squatting is the oldest mode of tenure in the Western world. Squatting today is the act of making use of empty, disused and abandoned property – to help yourself and others to free accommodation at the expense of others.
WHAT ARE SQUATTERS RIGHTS?
There is talk of squatter’s rights, but what actually is that? This is a law that applies if the illegal occupants of the property won’t leave. While squatting isn’t technically illegal, it is considered trespassing and squatters don’t have any actual grounds to stay there. However, if squatters meet certain requirements, may claim title to the property. Someone in Queensland claiming the title of land by adverse possession must show that he has possessed the land/property open and obviously for a period of 12 consecutive years. Crazy!!
HOW DO YOU EVICT SQUATTERS?
Of course, the easiest course of action is to call the police and have them evict the occupants as they have no legal right to be there. Which is what we did in both
instances. However, first we tried to get them to leave amicably. We left a written letter advising they had no right to be living at the property, they weren’t the tenants and they certainly weren’t paying any rent. We gave them a deadline to be out of the property before we had the police intervene and supplied them with a list of alternative housing options which included private and government organisations for homelessness. This timeframe is totally at your discretion it could be 24 hours or it could be a week. At both properties we had to coordinate with the police to accompany us to the properties, we had a locksmith on hand to change the locks once the squatters were gone. Luckily on both occasions, the squatters were willing to move on with very little fuss and there was minimal damage to the properties.
If a trespasser or squatter is in occupation, you are allowed to use self-help measures to get your property back. The only problem is you’ll have to somehow get into the property and change the locks and secure it. Whilst you can legally do this, you cannot use violent entry if one of the squatters is actually in the property at the time and opposes you.
WHAT IF MY TENANT LET THE SQUATTERS IN?
If your tenant let squatters in (and assuming you did not allow your tenant to sublet), it gets rather more complicated.
If your tenant didn’t say he was leaving – even if you suspect that he has definitely left and even though someone else is in the property – it’s probably best to be safe and pursue the normal track court possession routes through the courts to get possession. In other words, you would proceed as if your tenant was still in possession.
This is because if you use self-help measures and the tenant then comes back, you will be in the wrong. In the absence of a court ordering possession in your favour, you will have to let him back in again, even if he owes you rent.
Possession orders are in effect made “against the world”, meaning an order is valid against anyone who happens to be in your property, irrespective of whether they are named in court papers or not, so everyone who is in the property must leave.
Prevention is, of course, better than cure, so stop squatters moving into your property in the first place. Keep your property secure at all times, especially between tenancies and before the completion of the conveyancing.
Windows should not be left open because with no evidence of forced entry, squatters cannot be treated as burglars. To avoid letting to tenants who up sticks and abandon a property to others, you have to rely on a thorough reference check, which should include a check with former landlords or agencies.
ITHINKS TOP TIPS TO DEAL WITH SQUATTERS:
- Try to have some empathy for the squatters and try to understand their circumstances (obviously if you are in danger this option won’t be possible and never confront them aggressively or alone).
- Try to assist them with alternative accommodation arrangements ie have a list of local housing shelters or government services available to them.
- Provide written communication in the form of a letter or eviction advice, outlining eviction date or date police will be arriving. Give them a deadline and this timeframe is at your discretion.
- Try to keep it amicable with the squatters – in our experience, this has allowed us to have a better outcome. There was no additional damage to the property and the squatters moved on without any further recourse.
- Keep an eye on the property for a few days’ weeks following in case they come back.
- Have a reliable locksmith on hand to change locks once the tenants have left.
- Make sure windows and garages are secured properly as well. Security screens and doors are worth it. Even install deadlocks or an alarm system.
- Lock up underneath high set houses as well.
- Keep up maintenance of the property, ie lawns mowed, to give it that still lived in look.
- Check if your insurance covers damage from unknown persons or trespassers, not just tenants.
- Make sure you are buying in an area with high rental demand so that your property is left vacant for long periods
For more advice or further information on this topic please feel free to reach out to Kylie Walker our any of the team at iThink Property Real Estate Agents and Property Mangement Team in Ipswich and Toowoomba would be happy to assist.
iThink Property has a team of real estate agents in Ipswich and Toowoomba offering property sales and property management services. With a passion for people and property, iThink Property was conceived with the notion of building a team of good people to work in a real estate brand that did things differently. iThink Property focuses on transparency, communication, innovation and teamwork and has become a leading independent brand with unique points of difference. So whether you are thinking of buying, selling or renting, think iThink Property.
KYLIE WALKER – DIRECTOR – BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT & MARKETING
0439 895 808
Starting out with a career in the media, Kylie brings a wealth of communication and marketing skills to the team at iThink Property. She helped launch and develop the company’s rent roll several years ago and has organically grown the business with iThink Properties rental network now spanning Ipswich, greater Brisbane, Toowoomba and the Gold Coast.
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