Strange Evictions: Tenants at Will & Squatters

Last Updated: December 11, 2019By

When it comes to evictions, there’s no two that are alike. Each one has their own circumstances, trials, and resolutions. Not to mention, the laws concerning one eviction can be vastly different for another. Take a look at our top two strange evictions, squatters versus tenants at will, and how to handle them.

What is a Tenancy at Will?

“A tenancy arrangement in which one party (the tenant) occupies real estate with the permission of the owner, for an unspecified period of time.”

Tenancies at will are residents who are living on a rental property without a lease. They’re residents who have oftentimes resided on the property for years and have either lived there for so long that their original lease has been misplaced or it was never renewed. For the most part, “at will” residents are discovered when considering eviction, lease renewal, or after the property is managed by a new property management company.

In most states, renters who reside in a unit and pay rent have certain rights. So long as the property owner or manager accepts the money for rent, they will oftentimes be deemed as an “at will” resident.

This means that if you need to evict them, you’ll have to follow your state’s and city/county’s standard eviction laws. For example, in both Texas and Virginia, a no-lease eviction follows the same guidelines as that state’s month-to-month eviction guidelines. For both, this includes a 30-day notice before formally filing for eviction with the local courts.

What is a Squatter?

“One that settles on property without right or title or payment of rent”

Unlike a tenant at will, squatters do not have a prior agreement with the property owner and have not previously paid rent (that the owner accepted). Typically, squatters are a big surprise that can arise from a few different situations:

Someone breaks into or enters a vacant property and begins living there.
When you talk about squatting this is the most common scenario that comes to mind. In 2016, the city of Las Vegas even faced a squatting problem of epic proportions.

The roommate or subletter lives in the property illegally, past the rental period. If you thought illegal subletting was bad, think again. Who can forget the famous Airbnb squatter from 2014?

Is anyone who believes they have a right to live on a property that isn’t titled to them currently?

While residents who have stopped paying rent and continued to live on the property are oftentimes referred to as squatters as well, keep in mind that legally, they are still considered renters and therefore retain their rights as residents.

Unfortunately, the eviction process with squatters is not as standardized as at will tenancies. The legal definition of squatting and your squatters’ rights can vary drastically across states, counties, and cities. For example, in Virginia a squatter must remain on the property for 15 years (providing proof of residency and retaining residency publicly) to claim adverse possession rights to the property. In Texas, squatters need 30 years to have any rights to the rental property.

Make sure to check with your local laws. This will discern if your unwelcome resident has squatter’s rights or is considered a simple trespasser. Typically, the squatter would need a utility bill written in their name and addressed to the property to be considered a squatter over a trespasser. Depending on your laws and the situation, you might be able to avoid a costly eviction if the police deem that they’re trespassers versus squatting residents.

Your Top Tools: Leases and Written Rental Criteria

In the rental housing industry, the lease agreement is probably one of the single most important pieces of documentation you should have. It details everything from when rent is due, how much rent is due, rules and restrictions, damage and security deposit clauses, and more. Rental agreements aren’t just useful for when considering an eviction, but when enforcing day-to-day property regulations. After all there’s a reason why waterbed sales have plummeted.

The second greatest tool for many multifamily rental properties is a written rental criteria. After you evict your at will tenant or surprise squatter and prepare the property for a new residency, you’ll want to establish some standardized guidelines to all your rental applicants. This can include things like income and credit score requirements. Just be sure to stay away from bright-line standards which include language that could actually increase your liabilities! Paired with a robust resident screening provider, then you’ll be ready to go.

Evictions can take their toll, especially in unusual cases like with at will tenants or squatters. After the eviction is all said and done, be sure to exercise some future self-care by upholding an objective written rental criterion, using resident screening reports to the fullest, and ensuring every resident has a lease agreement. In the case of break-in squatters – consider investing in security measures. The more rental housing tools you have in your belt, the more likely you can help yourself avoid another strange and taxing eviction.

Becky Bower is a writer for the ApplyConnect® Blog and the communications executive at ApplyConnect®, a consumer initiated tenant screening company.  She has also spent several years in compliance and auditing.  Becky holds a degree in English with a focus in creative writing from CSU Channel Islands and is a published writer.


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