A property owner’s worst fear — on the rise

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If you are a landlord, try watching a 1990 movie called Pacific Heights, and you’ll have a handle on it. A squatter nightmare. In the movie, a man arrives unannounced at an upscale San Francisco rental apartment one morning and shuts himself in. From inside the apartment, sounds of loud hammering and drilling are heard at all hours of the day and night; however, the door is seldom answered. When the landlord finally attempts to enter Hayes' apartment, he finds that the locks have been changed. Okay. Let’s not give away any more of the plot.

Realtor.com’s Kiri Blakey tells the story of a case in Georgia, where Atlanta attorney David Metzger recently got a call from a client who decided to rent out her house after moving in with her fiancé. The day the woman’s home was listed for rent, moving trucks arrived and a woman moved in with two kids, one a baby.

Only problem? The new occupant was not a renter. She was a squatter who simply arrived with a moving truck and moved in. When neighbors reported this suspicious activity to the local police, the “renter” presented them with a fake lease that contained a fake electronic signature. Of course, the cops thought it looked legit and left.

Metzger and his client spent three months legally wrangling before they were able to remove the squatter in February 2024 — a relatively short amount of time in these circumstances. So was this squatter charged? Breaking and entering? Anything? Nope. Metzger is not aware of any criminal charges brought against her. Stories like this—of squatters taking over vacant properties, costing homeowners thousands to evict—are becoming shockingly common these days and Metzger stresses that the phenomenon is not getting the attention it deserves.

Metzger surmises the “explosion” of squatter incidents began last year. Once people began coming out of COVID lockdowns, rents skyrocketed for nearly all rentals — not just in low-end properties and neighborhoods, where rent freezes had been in effect. He is now seeing it in “bigger, fancier” properties, including in new construction, citing at least 1,200 properties currently occupied by squatters in the Atlanta area.

“The people doing this know there are no legal consequences,” says Metzger. “They’re not likely to be charged with anything.” Why? Because once police are presented with a “lease”—even a forged one—it is considered a civil, not criminal, matter, and they leave, and most squatters already understand this. While there is a new piece of proposed state legislation to deal with this in the state of Georgia poised to make it easier for owners to remove squatters by focusing on the illegality of fake leases, it will take time before anything changes.

The reason stories like this are important is that this can happen anywhere. How a sheriff’s office responds to a squatter case can vary greatly by state as well as by county. Squatters are geniuses at finding legal loopholes to drag the process out as long as possible. Typical eviction methods can take a year or longer. Meanwhile, the property owner is on the hook for loss of income and legal bills.

Prevention is the most effective key to all this, according to Blakely. Metzger told her the vast majority of squatters aren’t moving in when homeowners are away on a two-week vacation. They’re doing it when a property is listed for rent. They scour real estate listings to learn which properties are sitting empty.

“Since squatters target vacant properties, anything an owner can do to make a property look occupied would go a long way toward discouraging intruders. Photos in a listing could include a person, or even a dog (perhaps a big, don’t-mess-with-me-looking dog),” says Blakely, who encourages landlords to have a camera and security system in place.

“Normally, when police show up to confront a squatter, and the person claims they have a lease, there is no way to prove the person broke in. However, camera footage can do that. This would generally move the case from a civil one to a much more enforceable criminal one” she says. But place those cameras securely, or squatters can simply block or remove them. Timed and motion-triggered lighting to make a property seem occupied is also a good deterrent, as well as alerting neighbors that your property is vacant and asking them to get in touch if they see any unusual activity.

Other warnings include never leaving a key in a key box as they are easily broken into. Instead, leave it with a property manager. If a squatter gets in, call the police but do not try to handle the squatter yourself, experts warn. Why? Because you’ll want to do this all legally to ensure a successful outcome. Don’t confront them or try to turn off utilities.

Blakely admits that with rents at all-time highs and little to no legal repercussions for the intruders, the squatting crisis is likely to get worse before it gets better. And things have to change.

Realtor, TBWS


All information furnished has been forwarded to you and is provided by thetbwsgroup only for informational purposes. Forecasting shall be considered as events which may be expected but not guaranteed. Neither the forwarding party and/or company nor thetbwsgroup assume any responsibility to any person who relies on information or forecasting contained in this report and disclaims all liability in respect to decisions or actions, or lack thereof based on any or all of the contents of this report.

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Brian Voytko

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NMLS: #437292

The Mortgage Whiz

Company NMLS: 338923

Cell: 215-407-3832

Email: BVoytko@PRMG.net

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Brian Voytko

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Mortgage Advisor

NMLS: #437292

Cell: 215-407-3832


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