Your house held hostage: 5 steps to stop squatters

Real estate, Money, Rights

A couple months ago, a man moved into a condo he rented and he hasn’t left. This wouldn’t normally be news, but in this case, the man rented the condo from a woman via Airbnb and now refuses to pay and refuses to leave.

Stories of lodgers-turned-squatters understandably have would-be hosts concerned as they realize that landlord-tenant law sometimes goes against common sense. Can’t they just force the squatters out?

California law favors tenants, leads to squatting

Cory Tschogl agreed to let her Palm Springs condo to a renter called “Maksym” through the popular lodging rental website Airbnb for a period of 44 days, from May 25 through July 8.  Maksym paid for a month in advance, as per Airbnb’s policies, with the understanding that he’d pay the balance at the start of the following month.

He not only didn’t pay the balance, but Tschogl agreed to a refund after Maksym made some complaints. She expected him to leave. He didn’t. When she told him she’d be cutting off utilities, he texted back with a threat to sue her over loss of wages and medical bills. He also told her he had a right to stay in the apartment.

According to California State landlord-tenant laws, he’s right. Since Maksym had resided in the condo for 30 days continuously, he had protection under California’s tenant-friendly housing laws. If Tschogl wanted him out, she’d have to go through the eviction process, which can take months and cost a lot of money. In the meantime, a stranger is holding her condo hostage – legally.

This isn’t the first case of its kind, not even this summer. A California family hired Diane Stretton to be a nanny in March. Things didn’t work out and she left employment, but not the house. Again, because she had lived there for a month, she had tenant rights. If the family tries to force her out physically, Stretton can sue.

5 steps to stop squatters

1. Study your state’s landlord-tenant laws. Is your state more tenant-friendly or more landlord-friendly? California, the location of the two cases above, has tenant-friendly laws. New York City is also known for having tenant-friendly laws, and, like California, gives people rights after 30 days of occupancy. Other states favor the landlord, such as Texas, where landlords can terminate a lease immediately in instances of public indecency.

Look for answers to the following questions:

  • After what length of occupancy does someone have rights to stay (i.e., after that time they cannot be evicted by force, but only through due process)?
  • Does your state make a distinction between different types of tenants (e.g., master tenant, co-tenant, etc.)? If so, how do their rights vary?
  • What if you are not the owner of the property, but a renter who is subletting?
  • If you are a renter, what does your lease agreement say about subletting?
  • If necessary, when can eviction process begin?

2. Speak with a lawyer for advice. After you’ve learned all you can on your own, it’s still a good idea to speak with an attorney if you’re unclear on the law or have special circumstances. Good advice now could save you money, not to mention time and trouble, down the road.

3. Vet your renters. This goes for live-in nannies and other live-in employees, too. Search names online to see what you can find, read reviews if available, and speak with him or her directly before opening up your home.

4. Get agreements in writing, even if you are not required to by state law. Contracts may not stop someone from squatting, but the documents will be evidence in your favor if the matter winds up before a judge.

5. Get covered. Make sure you have adequate homeowners or renters insurance and liability coverage, suggests Airbnb.

Photo: 360b /