SQUATTERS?? DUE DILIGENCE REQUIRED

Southern Nevada has an ongoing problem with people occupying housing where they have no legal right to be. Squatters are technically trespassers who occupy space without a lease, without any legal claim or possession, and without permission or knowledge of the owner. The police will generally not do anything to remove these people as they treat the issue as being a civil matter (so much for enforcement of trespass laws). Some of these squatters believe they have a legal right to be there as they may have paid “rent” to someone they located on craigslist who is engaging in a rental scam. Self-help is usually not an option as you can’t legally use physical force to remove someone from your own property. Unfortunately, there’s not much left but using the courts through summary eviction or unlawful detainer proceedings which, at a bare minimum, will cost owners $1500 or more.

These “tenants,” are often aware that they are participating in a rental scam because the “landlord” or its “agent” is making getting into the property extremely easy or extremely cheap. No garage door openers are provided and they usually receive only one key. No business card or business location for an agent is provided, etc. The large amount of vacant properties created by the foreclosure crisis has created a virtual playground for squatters. Squatters can even go online and learn techniques for getting in and staying in these properties.

Summary evictions can take 2-3 weeks before these squatters can be removed. If a justice of the peace finds that the squatter has some sort of believable claim that there is a right to stay (e.g., a convincing or questionable lease agreement), then unlawful detainer proceedings may be necessary which will take significantly longer. If there is some material factual question or the squatter presents a plausible legal defense, summary evictions would be denied. 

PRACTICE POINTER:  The best approach to this problem is the veritable ounce of prevention. Diligent monitoring of the property by either an owner or property manager is necessary. For properties that are in foreclosure, municipalities have enacted Vacant Foreclosed Property Ordinances which require mortgagees to register vacant properties and maintain them and provide property management. If these vacant properties are not in foreclosure, property managers or owners should be inspecting on a weekly basis. Also make sure the owner’s insurance is current to protect from damage that may be done to the property. Assuming that these properties are mainly for investment purposes, diligent steps must be taken to protect the investment and maintain it. A licensed property manager can provide that service and if the owner doesn’t have one, then the owner must be aware of the risks and protect himself.

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