California Squatter Warning Issued

California homeowners are facing an ongoing squatter crisis across Los Angeles.

Thousands of homes are being invaded by squatters who live in them without paying rent, and many cause major property damage or even physical injury to property owners, according to Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.

And while squatting is technically illegal in California, those living in these homes have certain rights that protect them under the law, and landlords often fork out tons of money trying to get them out.

Since law enforcement often prefers to avoid the crisis, landlords often turn to “vigilante squatter removers,” Yukelson said, and this can turn violent.

A squatter removes belongings from an apartment as Maricopa County constables serve an eviction order on September 30, 2020, in Phoenix, Arizona. Californians have been warned of an ongoing squatter crisis that could lead to…

John Moore/Getty Images

“These vigilante squatter removers are far less costly and much faster than the court system which can take approximately 11-12 months and untold thousands of dollars in legal fees to remove a squatter,” Yukelson said in a statement. “However, eventually, someone is going to get hurt and that might be the squatters or the squatter removers. In a sense, we are dealing with the ‘wild, wild West’ here.”

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In California, squatters often claim they have a lease, and an eviction notice can often take up to one year to take effect.

Across the country, some states are looking to change their laws to give landlords more rights and power in getting squatters off their property. Florida has passed an anti-squatter law already, while New York, Georgia and Alabama are in the middle of passing similar bills.

Under these laws, squatting would be considered a criminal activity, either as a misdemeanor or felony.

The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles has been involved in its own lobbying for anti-squatter laws and has said several lawmakers are interested in proposing this type of legislation in 2025.

At the moment, it’s illegal for Californians to squat or trespass onto vacant property without the property owner’s authorization. And while property owners have the legal right to evict squatters, California also allows squatters to make “adverse possession” claims to gain legal ownership of the property.

Landlords are also required to give squatters a three-day written notice before starting the eviction process, which can require high fees and a mandated court order and sheriff lockout.

Governor Gavin Newsom previously signed Senate Bill 612, which allows property owners to request police assistance with trespassers or squatters after filing a no- trespass letter, but there have been lingering issues in homeowners getting squatters off their property.

Alan Chang, founder of Vested Title & Escrow, said the squatter problem nationwide is only escalating due to social media, which now often provides a wide range of tips to help squatters bypass the law and target homeowners with vacant properties.

“This problem is not just a metropolitan one as bad actors are on the lookout across the nation,” Chang told Newsweek. “Technology and availability of information have made looking for a target much easier than in years past.”

Many squatters specifically go after homeowners who fell behind on payments and went into default and abandoned the property.

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“Many of these homes never actually completed the foreclosure process, so the homes were left vacant with the lender thinking that the home is still occupied by the borrower and the borrower thinking they lost their ownership interest due to the default, therefore making them a perfect squatter’s target,” Chang said.

Some desperate homeowners have turned to services like the Squatter Squad, a team that removes unruly trespassers who have occupied properties and evaded requests to leave.

“Because squatting seems to be on the rise, the courts are backed up from months to years, police can’t or won’t help, property owners feel helpless and are told taking the squatters to court is the only path to getting their property back,” Squatter Squad owner Lando Thomas previously told Newsweek. “Even the neighbors can be victims because where there’s squatters, there’s usually bad activities going on such as drug dealing and other crimes.”

While groups like Squatter Squad charge property owners from $5,000 to $10,000, homeowners often lose much more due to squatters’ continued stays in their homes and even damage they inflict on the property.

In Bellevue, Washington, landlord Jaskaran Singh lost $80,000 in unpaid rent from a squatter who filed a Temporary Protection Order against him. This order effectively barred Singh from going within 1,000 feet of the property he legally owns.

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The squatting crisis tends to be more challenging in blue states, which often pass laws advocating for tenant protection against what many perceive as overly greedy landlords.

“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,” Chang said.