Squatter’s rights might sound like a far-flung concept, but unfortunately, for landlords, they do exist.
This raises the question: Can you turn off utilities on a squatter? In this article, we’ll discuss answer the question and investigate some of the key legal principles and rules involved. We’ll also cover what remedies you may have to remove squatters from the property.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
As a general matter, you should not turn off utilities on a squatter because self-help remedies like this are often prohibited under state or local laws. Instead, explore more formal remedies, which may include contacting law enforcement, unlawful detainer actions, or other legally recognized means of removing squatters.
Ok, let’s get into it.
The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only. It is not legal advice. You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.
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What Is a Squatter?
A squatter is a person who illegally occupies a property without the owner’s consent.
Squatting can occur in various settings, such as public, residential, and commercial properties. The property may be vacant, abandoned, foreclosed, or in-between renters.
Squatters often set up living spaces in abandoned homes. They may try to make the house habitable by installing utilities and performing maintenance and repairs.
What Rights Does a Squatter Have?
In general, squatters have no rights over real estate they don’t own, and owners can remove them from their property through legal means.
However, squatters may try to claim legal ownership by occupying an abandoned property for extended periods through the principle of adverse possession.
To prove adverse possession, the squatter must meet specific requirements, which vary between states. Typically, they should occupy the property openly, exclusively, continuously, and without the owner’s permission.
That said, adverse possession isn’t automatic and can be challenging to establish in court.
Is It Legal to Turn Off Utilities on Squatters?
No matter how tempting, do not shut off heat, water, and electricity to the property to force squatters to move out. It may constitute self-help eviction, which is illegal in many states.
Self-help eviction may amount to harassment and lead to fines and penalties. Additionally, a property owner should generally not do any of the following unless expressly permitted under state or local laws:
- Change the locks
- Threaten or intimidate the squatter
- Remove the squatter’s belongings from the property without proper notice or consent
How to Get Rid of Squatters Legally
Here are some potential ways you can remove a squatter from your property legally. Now I would highlight that some of these remedies are only available in select jurisdictions, so you will need to familiarize yourself with your state and local laws before taking any action.
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1. Call the Police
Arizona is one of the few states where you can kick out a squatter easily. If you can show proof of ownership, law enforcement officers can remove the squatter from your home at your request.
It’s not that simple in other states, so you should investigate what the laws in your jurisdiction allow when it comes to enlisting the aid of law enforcement to remove a squatter.
2. Serve a Termination Notice
You can send the squatter a termination letter or notice to vacate via Certified Letter or a private courier. Alternatively, you can deliver it personally, along with a witness. The typical notice period is 30 days.
However states will vary when it comes this. For example, in Delaware, Georgia, and Vermont, the timeframe is up to 60 days.
3. File a Legal Complaint
Some states recognize squatters as tenants at will.
If a state requires legal remedies to remove a squatter, make sure you provide the required and comply with all legal requirements to remove them.
Make sure you wait until the notice’s compliance deadline has passed before taking further action.
After the deadline, you must determine the appropriate court case to file against the squatter, which (again) varies among jurisdictions.
4. Unlawful Detainer
If the squatter doesn’t comply with the eviction notice, you may need to file a complaint for Unlawful Detainer and ask the clerk to issue a Summons.
An unlawful detainer, or an eviction lawsuit, determines the rightful owner of the property.
As with most of these remedies, different states will have different rules around evictions, including what’s covered and the appropriate steps involved.
5. Forcible Entry or Forcible Detainer
These cases occur when a person peacefully or forcefully enters a rental unit and refuses to leave.
If such actions exist in the jurisdiction, they will typically have a formal process that must be followed to remove the offending party.
Trespassing is knowingly entering another’s property without permission, which violates the owner’s property rights. Source.
Depending on the nature of the trespass, it can be criminal or civil. Depending on applicable, you may have the right to ask law enforcement to remove trespassers. Or you may be able to file a trespass and ejection lawsuit to have them removed.
7. Injunctions and Other Special Procedures
In certain cases, you may be able to get an injunction against the squatter to remove them from your premises.
In Colorado for example, the property owner can file a request for an injunction, which the court will hear within one business day of filing. If granted, the squatter will be forced to vacate the premises. Source
So, can you turn utilities off for a squatter? It sounds like a simple solution, but in reality, it can potentially result in legal consequences.
Instead, you should follow the appropriate legal procedures allowed by your state to get rid of squatters.