What are Serial Squatters & How to Avoid

A new type of squatter to be aware of: serial squatters.

Recently, this term came to light in the recent Netflix Series, Worst Roommate Ever, which is a true crime documentary series. This series featured stories of people who became victims of a serial squatter. 

Importantly, these terrifying stories show us why it’s critical to protect homes and rental properties from illegal occupants who put tenants, roommates, and landlords all at risk.

What are Serial Squatters

Serial squatters are squatters who move from rental to rental without ever being a legal tenant. Typically, they target small, independent landlords or roommates who don’t run background checks or require leases.

It is possible for these squatters to obtain squatters rights when the following tenets are met: 

  1. Occupy the property through hostile means—without permission 
  2. Occupy the property exclusively
  3. Use the property as a true owner would
  4. Live on the property in a manner that is apparent to the owner & a reasonable person (open and notorious use)
  5. Occupy the property continuously for the duration of the state’s mandated adverse possession period

In certain states, squatters can even obtain legal occupancy by having mail sent to them at the address to prove tenancy. Consequently, this can severely delay eviction proceedings.

How to Avoid Serial Squatters

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to evict a squatter, even with an official eviction notice.

Avoid becoming the victim of a serial squatter, especially if you’re house hacking, by requiring a tenant to submit an application, tenant screening, or sign a lease. It’s critical that you 

  • Check empty rentals frequently for persons illegally living on your property
  • Require every tenant to submit a prequalification as an initial screening step
  • Require every tenant to submit an application
  • Require every tenant to complete a full tenant screening, with credit, criminal, and eviction notice
  • Require every tenant to sign a lease
  • Use the lease to protect yourself, i.e. non-payment of rent or other rules will result in an eviction

Serial squatters are dangerous beyond non-payment of rent and bills. They are notoriously hard to evict, especially if they meet the state’s requirements for legal tenancy or squatter’s rights. To fully protect yourself against illegal tenants, be sure to consult landlord-tenant lawyers for further information and full clarity around the issue.