Squatters in Your Vacation Rental: What to do if it Happens to You

Guest Screening, Property Manager Tips
Squatters in Your Vacation Rental: What to do if it Happens to You

In Maryland, a woman found that her vacation home had been taken over by two people who moved into her home, including selling more than $50,000 of her property. In Texas, a homeowner was locked out by a family who claimed to have a lease. Both stories have one thing in common: unwanted squatters taking over a property that doesn’t belong to them.

Discovering that squatters have taken up residence in your vacation rental can be a homeowner’s worst nightmare. This unwelcome surprise not only disrupts your income stream but also imposes a tricky legal situation. So, what do you do if it happens to you? In this article, we’ll discuss the steps you should take to protect yourself and your property, as well as ways to prevent squatters in the first place.

What Exactly is a Squatter?

A squatter is an individual who occupies a property without the legal right or the owner’s permission. The practice, known as squatting, can involve residing in an unoccupied home or building for an extended period, often with the intention of gaining legal ownership through adverse possession. 

While squatting may be viewed as a survival strategy for the homeless, it poses significant downsides for property owners. The presence of squatters can lead to substantial financial losses due to unpaid rent or property damage. It can also involve costly, time-consuming legal proceedings to evict the squatters. Furthermore, safety risks may arise if squatters engage in illegal activities. This is why preventing squatting is crucial for maintaining the value, safety, and legal integrity of one’s property. Let’s cover a few ways that you can help safeguard your vacation rental.

Know Your Local Laws

Understanding your local laws is the first step towards preventing squatting. Different regions have different laws regarding squatters’ rights, and being familiar with these can help you take swift and appropriate action. Seek legal advice to understand when an individual can be considered a squatter, the period after which squatters can claim rights to the property (adverse possession), and the legal procedures for eviction. 

For example, in most states, squatters must occupy a property for 30 days before they can claim adverse possession. By knowing these laws, you may be able to take action before it’s too late or avoid the situation altogether.

Knowledge of these laws can help you act promptly if you suspect a squatter is occupying your vacation rental, potentially saving you considerable time, stress, and financial loss. Always remember – when it comes to dealing with squatters, a proactive approach is far better than a reactive one.  

Keep Your Property Secure

Most squatters take up residence in vacant or empty homes. If you don’t want unwanted guests, it’s crucial to keep your vacation rental secure when unoccupied. Consider installing security cameras, alarms, and motion sensors that can alert you if someone trespasses on your property.

Make sure all doors and windows are properly locked, and change the locks regularly. If possible, hire a property management company to monitor your vacation rental and perform regular checks for any signs of unauthorized entry.

Screen Your Guests Thoroughly

One of the best ways to prevent squatters is to screen your guests thoroughly before allowing them to stay in your vacation rental. Request valid identification and conduct thorough background checks on potential renters. Look out for any signs of suspicious activity, such as multiple bookings under different names, failing to provide a permanent address or employment information, or offering cash payments.

If you don’t have the time to screen each guest, using a professional guest screening from Safely can help you identify potential red flags and make informed decisions.

Beware of Guests Who Raise Red Flags

When it comes to your vacation rental, your top priority is the security of your property. The screening process is an integral part of ensuring this security, as it allows you to weed out potential squatters before they become a problem. Here are some key red flags you should watch out for in the screening process:

  • The guest is vague or elusive about their reasons for staying.
  • There is a lack of a verifiable permanent address or employment information.
  • The guest insists or strongly prefers, to make payment in cash.
  • Multiple bookings are made under different names but with the same contact details.
  • The guest refuses to provide valid identification.
  • There is a history of prior evictions or legal issues related to property.

Being vigilant of these signs can help you avoid potential squatters, ensuring the safety and integrity of your vacation rental.

Stay on Top of Communication

Regular communication with your guests is a key preventive measure against squatting. Keep in touch before, during, and after their stay, asking about their experience and any potential issues. This not only fosters a positive relationship but also discourages squatting, as it shows you are attentive and active. 

Consider implementing an automated communication system, such as a guest management platform, to ensure regular interaction. It’s also important to respond promptly to any concerns or suspicions raised by neighbors or property management staff. Acting swiftly can often prevent a problematic situation from escalating.

Ask Questions

Anyone who is trying to stay in your vacation rental should have a legitimate reason for doing so. When communicating with potential guests, don’t be afraid to ask questions about their travel plans, who they are traveling with, and the purpose of their trip. This can help you weed out guests who may have ulterior motives, including squatting.

Squatters are con artists who are skilled at identifying and exploiting vulnerabilities. By being vigilant, you can deny them the opportunity to take advantage of your property. Don’t hesitate to ask for more information or clarification if something seems suspicious.

A Rental Agreement is Crucial

Having a signed rental agreement with your guests is an essential step in protecting yourself against squatters. This document serves as evidence that the individual staying on your property has explicit permission to do so and outlines the terms and conditions of their stay.

Be sure to include specific clauses addressing unauthorized occupants, early termination, and legal consequences for violating the agreement. Having a legally binding contract can help you take swift action in case of any problems, including squatting.

Have a Plan in Place before a Squatter Occupies your Short-Term Rental

Despite all precautions, it’s still possible that a squatter may attempt to occupy your vacation rental illegally. In such cases, it’s crucial to have a plan in place for how you will handle the situation. This may include having a trusted legal team on standby, understanding the eviction process in your region, and maintaining thorough documentation of any incidents or interactions with squatters.

Remember, preventative measures are always better than reactive ones, so don’t wait until it’s too late to safeguard your property. Stay vigilant and proactive to ensure your vacation rental’s safety, integrity, and value. 

Dealing with squatters can be a costly, time-consuming, and stressful experience for property owners. However, by understanding local laws, keeping your property secure, screening guests thoroughly, and staying on top of maintenance and communication, you can help prevent squatting from occurring in the first place. 

Safely offers non-invasive guest screening to our customers which is just one part of your overall plan to identify and prevent squatters. Get a quote from Safely today.

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Amanda is a licensed insurance agent and the Vice President of Sales at Safely and has been with the company since 2021, leading new client onboarding and client initiatives. She is especially proud of her team’s efforts to successfully drive down annual churn to 3% with a trending net revenue retention rate of 130%. Outside of Safely, you may catch a glimpse of Amanda playing a nurse on TV, prepping for her next art show, or on a date with her husband of 16 years.

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