What happens when someone has decided to call your vacant rental property 'home'—without your knowledge and permission? Unfortunately, it happens more often than you might expect as a property owner in the Baltimore area.
It's nothing new: the homeless often conduct stakeouts on vacant buildings, hoping to find a place to rest their heads for a while.
To make sure that while is a long one, they'll go as far as drawing up a fake lease. While this might sound like a tall tale, it's a true story that has happened to property owners before—and you don't want it happening to you.
If it already has—and you're wondering what you can do about it as an investment property owner—here are some tips from the experts in Baltimore property management services that might come to your aid in your time of need.
Fancy legal note: Of course, this article is not an attorney—so while we're sharing some good information, we always recommend working with your attorney or an experienced local team like Rentwell to ensure you stay on the right side of the law. Being on the wrong side can be worse than dealing with a squatter!
'What's Mine Is Mine?'
Perhaps it isn't even the squatter's fault. You may find that they moved in under the impression that they’ve done so legally. For example, what if someone managed to convince the squatter that they're the property owner? At this point, you might be thinking, 'Hold on a minute—how can someone convince anyone that they're the legal rental property owner?'
Unfortunately, this is also a scenario that has played out before: rental scams are on the rise, and it's possible for your property to be the perfect target. So-called 'property owners' are even collecting rent money from 'their renters' living in your property under false pretenses!
How do you deal with this as the actual Baltimore rental property owner? It's a sensitive situation—and one can only imagine how confrontational and scary evicting a complete stranger can be. That said, it's important to rectify the situation right away: if your rental really has been the target of a rental scam, it's also worth rounding up your rental property listing photos and watermarking them for security purposes.
Moving Forward With Squatter Matters
It also helps to be working with professional Baltimore property management when you experience this kind of dilemma. Property listings through a professional, full-service property management company have an added layer of protection that's challenging for thieves to replicate when potential renters can simply look up the company online.
Your property manager can also be an excellent buffer when it comes time to serve the Notice to Quit.
- Whether an occupant has a written lease or not, you'll need to address this situation with the same processes and procedures that you would with an ordinary renter.
- Make sure it's clearly stated on the notice that they're illegally occupying the property, that they have no valid claim on the property, and that they have no right to be on the property.
- Furthermore, the notice has to be seen by the squatter—so either you or your full-service property management partner has to hand it to them personally.
Don't forget to insist (in black and white) that they leave your property as soon as possible. The quit notice should give them a handful of days to get their affairs in order so you can check in after a week or so.
The police probably won't be keen to deal with this issue, so you'll need to be prepared to handle that aspect as well. They might even say it's a matter of civil law—not the criminal kind—so you have to make sure you have documentation to back up your claims in court.
Occasionally, you may come across an officer friendly to your cause who will treat this as a case of trespassing—but you can't afford to go into this situation thinking the law will be on your side when your 'resident' still has a form of lease on-hand—even if it's fake.
Say the squatter doesn't respond to your notice. The next step is to file a request for default judgment with the Clerk of Court. If, however, the squatter files a response to the notice, you'll have to go to trial, a process that can take a while—giving the squatter a little more time to enjoy your property.
Yes, you've proved that this person doesn't have your permission to use your single-family homes or multi-family units as temporary (or long-term) shelter. Now you must prove the squatter is still on your property—even after being served the notice. After that, make sure you can show what it costs to rent your property legitimately.
Make This Squat the Last
When you've handled all of that, start making sure it doesn't happen again.
- Have 'No Trespassing' signs posted all over your property, people need to know that even though the property is currently vacant, the owner is invested.
- Consider adding some surveillance technology or a security measure. When you work with an expert Baltimore property management company like Rentwell, you'll have a partner driving by your property for inspections routinely.
It would be advantageous for you and the Baltimore rental market in general to get a copy of the fraudulent lease: this will come in handy when determining who’s responsible for it. Failure to produce said lease supports the notion that there never was a scam, just a squatter down on their luck looking for a place to stay.
Don't Forget to Ask for Help
Weigh your options and get ready to hash out the details with your attorney. Better yet, now would be a good time to hire a Baltimore property management partner. You have a job, kids, and the rest of your investment portfolio to attend to without this matter taking up all of your time.
Your Baltimore property management partners here at Rentwell have run through pretty much every rental scenario on—and off—the books. We also have a vast network of resources and professionals we can tap into to address rental property issues like this in the Baltimore area.
Let us help you find AND screen the right renters in the Baltimore rental market moving forward! Get started for free by taking a look at your copy of our Tenant Screening Checklist!