Amid an increase in reports of squatters taking over people’s homes across the country, one expert warned that the phenomenon is on the rise and noted that removing a squatter could take months.
Real estate lawyer Jim Burling told Fox News on Tuesday that any home that is not occupied for a period of time could be targeted by squatters. If the owner tries to call the police, officers may not be able to do much, and at the same time, using the courts could turn into a lengthy and expensive process, he warned.
“I think it’s a fairly big problem and I think it’s pretty hard to avoid,” Burling, who is vice president of litigation for Pacific Legal Foundation, said. In cases where a property owner is attempting to evict a squatter, generally the court system has to get involved to determine whose paperwork is legitimate, he noted.
“If somebody is living in a home and saying ‘hey, I signed a lease, I’m paying rent, I have a right to be here,’ whether or not that’s true, the police hear that story then they hear a story of somebody who’s not living there and saying ‘this is my place these people don’t belong here,’ the police officer can’t make that legal determination,” Burling said.
He added that it’s not the “job” of the police to do that. “That’s not their bailiwick. If you have that kind of dispute it has to go to court,” he said.
Properties that are most susceptible to attracting squatters are people who have left them vacant due to a family death or foreclosure. Owners have to remain vigilant and keep their properties locked up and secured, Burling remarked.
“If I were a homeowner, I would be really careful about letting my property be vacant for any period of time,” Burling remarked. “I would be very careful about renting it out.”
“The courts are backed up, the civil process takes forever, the squatters won’t show up to court and so it just drags on and in the meantime somebody’s living rent-free for a significant period of time.”
In some places, it could take months to remove a squatter or an evicted tenant, lawyers have said.
Another landlord-tenant lawyer, Michael Zink, told CBS Chicago in a recent interview that “evictions in Chicago—whether it’s about squatters or anything else—are taking approximately six to eight months.”
Squatter cases, he added, have been on the rise in recent years because people know they can live for months rent-free with virtually no consequences. Zink noted that when the police get involved, they have little power.
“The problem that police have is when they show up to a scene like that, they don’t know who is telling the truth,” Zink told the CBS affiliate.
In many areas and states, too, landlords cannot forcibly remove anyone from a property. Only a sheriff or court-sanctioned bailiff can do so after the landlord prevails in court. If a person is proven to have trespassed, police and other law enforcement officers can intervene, however.
There have been reports that landlords and property owners have used so-called “squatter removal services” in some cities, like Detroit, to encourage squatters to leave. In one instance in January, a property owner used such a service to post official-looking notices on the property warning the squatters to leave within 24 hours or else their possessions would be forcefully taken away.
A Chicago-area family told local media that they’re currently embroiled in a legal fight to evict a man who was described as a “professional squatter” who is now commandeering their deceased mother’s home. After Darthula Young’s mother, who owned a duplex in Chicago’s South Side for decades, died last year, the property was transferred to her family members, they told CBS Chicago.
“On Sept. 23, I got a call from the neighbors to say there’s been a shooting in the building—and when I went to the building and put my key in, it didn’t work,” Young told the channel.
“The person who had been shot in the apartment, this guy named Takito Murray, came back from the hospital and informed us and the police that he now lived there—that he had rights,” she said, adding that Murray “was a professional squatter.”
In another recent instance, squatters allegedly took over a home in Portland, Oregon, and have terrorized residents. Locals last week made a plea in front of the Portland City Council to intervene, KATU reported.
“We feel victimized by the irrefutable safety issues which happen so often,” Elizabeth Adams, who lives next door, said at the meeting. “We have a deep compassion for our homeless, but that doesn’t mean that we should have to live in fear for our safety each and every day.
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