Is your homeowners association doing enough to deter squatters?

Squatters are individuals who occupy property without lawful permission. They often target vacant, foreclosed upon and seasonal homes. Some of these homes may be governed by a Homeowners Association (HOA) or Condo Association. Regardless of the reasons why individuals chose to squat in another person’s home, owners often assume HOAs can evict them. This is not always the case.

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How Squatters Can Lead to HOA Headaches

Imagine receiving a complaint from one of your association members that a suspicious looking man is living in the condo next door. The absentee owner of the condo is stationed abroad and hasn’t occupied the unit for at least a year, but he is current on all his dues and assessments. After attempting to reach the owner multiple times using the contact information you have on file, you decide to confront the suspicious looking man. The man proceeds to tell you the owner asked him to periodically check up on the place while he was away on deployment and closes the door. Knowing that you don’t have the right to evict, you await a response from the owner without taking any action.

Another year goes by and now there is a disgruntled association member in your office demanding to know why his door lock has been changed and there is a strange man living in his condo. The owner of the unit is back, and now it’s clear that the man who has been living in his home is a squatter, not a friend asked to check in on the place.

The owner argues that he never gave you a list of authorized occupants or notified you he was renting the unit out. You apologize and tell him your side of the story, and politely explain to him that you are unable to evict the squatter because it is considered a landlord/tenant issue. You later learn the owner had to get a court order to remove the squatter from his unit after the squatter presented the police with a fictitious lease.

Regardless of the details, squatters can create headaches for the homeowners and homeowners associations. Neighbors may also worry that the squatters will lead to an increase in crime and fire hazards.

Deterring Squatters

While your HOA may be unable to evict squatters from units it does not own, your members may expect you to take measures to discourage squatting and to make it easier for them to remove them. Preventative measures may include administrative, physical security measures, and Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) measures. A security company can help you assess your risk and develop a cost-effective community program.

HOAs can deter squatters if they proactively manage their communities and enforce their rules and regulations. Squatters want to remain undiscovered for extended periods of time. Your goal is to take steps to convince them they are going to get caught sooner rather than later. For example, your online presence should make it clear that you actively take measures to prevent loitering, vagrancy and trespassing.

Physical security measures often include controlling community and communal area access points, installing cameras, maintaining adequate lighting, posting no trespassing signs making it clear violators will be prosecuted and hiring security officers. Some HOAs also forge working relationships with local law enforcement.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design usually entails making it harder by design for perpetrators to gain access to your property and then remain undetected. Other CPTED measures include encouraging HOA members to work together to detect and report nefarious activities. For example, in the case above a member reported a suspicious looking man next door. It’s also possible that one of your members may be enabling squatters. Security professionals can help you incorporate CPTED principles into your security program.

Chasing Away Squatters

If your HOA owns the home, you can take legal action to remove the squatter. As the owner, you will likely know the individual squatting in your unit does not have lawful permission to stay there. However, it’s important to follow local and state laws when taking steps to remove squatters.

  • Before pursuing eviction, you may consider a compassionate approach by coordinating services for the squatter with a local shelter. This approach is advisable only when the squatter is willing to communicate with you in a civil manner.
  • Some HOA management firms suggest that you can pay a squatter to leave. This approach works if the squatter is holding your home hostage for ransom. Other HOAs in your area may not like this approach, however, and squatters could start to expect and even demand payment.
  • Another approach would be to call law enforcement and report criminal trespassing. This is a safe way to confront squatters you fear may be violent. Faced with the prospect of punishment, some squatters will vacate in exchange for you not pressing charges. In some cases, however, the squatter will say he has permission to stay there or present the officer with a fake rental agreement.
  • Determine if you need to pursue an eviction process. The squatter may have legal rights, for example, because they are former tenants or former owners. If so, a legal eviction process may be required.

Be Ready for Lawsuits Against Your HOA and Its Officers

HOAs are often called upon to make complex decisions – like what they can do to deter squatters and how they should deal with squatters once they’ve moved in. In some cases, HOAs may face lawsuits over these decisions. Be sure you are protected by HOA Insurance from Honeycomb. Honeycomb HOA packages can include general liability insurance and directors and officers insurance – which are essential protections if you are ever sued.