Blame COVID—partly. 

When the pandemic hit and renters across the country lost their incomes, some states passed laws making it harder for landlords to evict them. 

Two of those states, California and Washington, are notable for their leniency toward those who can’t afford to pay rent—or, in some cases, simply choose not to. And unemployed renters aren’t the only ones taking advantage. 

An unintended consequence of those laws is the growing number of squatters moving into people’s homes and rental properties—and using the laws in place to prevent their eviction.

One TikToker has even shared squatting tips, advising illegal immigrants on how to “invade” people’s vacant homes and use progressive squatting laws to their advantage. His video had about four million views before he closed his account. 

Some news outlets argue that the squatter problem is not as prevalent as viral news stories make it appear. And that may be true. 

But there are more than enough stories to justify a closer look at laws enabling squatters to live rent-free at the expense of the real property owners. 

Case #1: Bellevue, WA squatter bars landlord from his own $2M property

A Washington squatter has successfully barred the landlord from his own $2 million rental property after refusing to pay rent for two years. 

While Jaskaran Singh legally owns the building—and has a legal right to about $80,000 in unpaid rent—a Temporary Protection Order filed by the squatter means Singh must remain at least 1,000 feet away from it. 

The “Housing Justice Project” has even sided with the squatter and is offering him free legal assistance, as well as “convincing the court to delay any judgments in his case.” 

A situation like this would drain most people of any goodwill toward squatters in general, regardless of their financial situation. And most would support laws that protect property owners rather than the squatters who steal from them. 

According to Alan Chang, the founder and president of Vested Title & Escrow, stories like this one have been popping up all over the U.S. in recent years. 

During the pandemic, while laws protecting tenant rights skyrocketed, landlords, who had financial difficulties of their own, were too often stereotyped as greedy villains. 

As Alan Chang pointed out in an interview with Newsweek, 

“The pandemic and social media seemed to have triggered a broader awareness of eviction prevention in many metros and there will always be bad actors to take advantage of the system… 

“The generalization is that landlords are a faceless corporation that is out for profit, but there are thousands of mom-and-pop real estate investors that are getting hit hard and losing their principal income streams due to these more known tactics now.”

#2—NYC homeowner arrested after standoff with squatters taking over her $1M property

A New York City homeowner was arrested when a squatter called 911 on her while she called a locksmith to come over and change the locks. Under New York City law, a person can claim “squatter’s rights” if they’ve remained on a property for more than 30 days. 

Police came, and when the owner produced proof of ownership, they escorted the squatters off the property, after they couldn’t prove they’d lived in the home for more than 30 days. But police also warned the owner she could be sued since it’s illegal to turn off utilities or change the locks on a home where someone living there identifies as a “tenant.” 

#3—NYC handyman launches “Squatter Hunters” to help homeowners remove squatters

Flash Shelton is a handyman who launched “Squatter Hunters” to help homeowners remove squatters from their property by hiring him and his team. 

It all started when he wanted to help his mother sell her property but first had to deal with a squatter who refused to leave. Shelton’s mother agreed to legally rent the home to him, and he moved in, confronting the squatter, who left within hours. 

He posted the entire experience on YouTube in a video that went viral with millions of views. 

Now homeowners can hire Shelton and his team to legally move into a property taken over by squatters and employ strategies that often drive out squatters without breaking the law:

  • Dirty the bathroom
  • Take the best spot on the couch
  • Hog the TV
  • Blast music
  • Eat the squatter’s food

His business only deals with squatters—not lease-holders or legal tenants, even those who stopped paying rent, who still have legal rights. Squatters move in and stay without permission but are deemed innocent until proven guilty. 

The legal process of having them removed can take weeks, at minimum. And squatters being forcibly removed by the property owners can legally sue them. 

#4—A group of Californians create the “Squatter Squad” to address the squatter crisis

Shelton isn’t the only one taking action to help property owners reclaim their homes. A group of Californians, calling themselves the “Squatter Squad,” also uses legal (and effective) means to get squatters out of the homes they refuse to leave or pay rent for. 

It’s not surprising that videos showing squatters being removed (sometimes forcibly) are cathartic for many, so it’s not surprising when they go viral. 

Until the laws in the more lenient states change to make it harder for grifters to take advantage of vacant homes and apartments, there will likely be more people taking matters into their own hands—or hiring someone else to safely remove the squatters and prevent their return. 

In the meantime, you as a real estate agent can help your clients protect themselves and their properties by providing information and tips for making their properties as squatter-proof as possible: 

  • Tips for making vacant homes and apartments look occupied (or not obviously vacant)
  • Up-to-date information on state laws regarding squatters, whether they’re new to your client or renters who have stopped paying and refuse to leave
  • Step-by-step strategy for having squatters legally removed and prevent their return

This is just another reason to be aware of the laws in your state that impact property owners. 

If you’ve ever worked with a homeowner who wants to sell their property but have not been successful in removing a squatter, you’ve probably done more research on this than the average agent. Also, if you live in a state with laws that make it more difficult to remove squatters, it’s all the more important to know how to help your clients protect their homes.

Become your clients’ best ally when it comes to dealing with this problem, even if their particular stories aren’t sensational enough to make the news.