Everything Landlords Should Know About Squatters Rights in Washington, D.C.

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Landlords in D.C. have many things to worry about, as they’re responsible for finding tenants, maintaining properties, collecting rent, and dealing with any disturbances that arise throughout a tenancy. They could also find themselves with a squatter, unfortunately, which can be a challenging scenario to address.

A squatter is an individual who takes up residence in an unoccupied or abandoned building or piece of land. This person isn’t the rightful owner of the property and is there without the owner’s permission, but ridding yourself of a squatter is more complex than you might think. 

Washington, D.C., has squatter’s rights ordinances that protect these individuals under certain circumstances. This guide examines squatter’s laws and discusses ways to protect yourself from becoming a victim.

Squatters and Adverse Possession

Most squatter rights come in the form of D.C.’s adverse possession laws. The gist is that a squatter can make an adverse possession claim on ownership of the property after 15 years of continuous use or maintenance. The squatter must meet the following requirements before making an adverse possession claim:

Hostile Claim

A hostile claim doesn’t imply any violence or aggressiveness but merely means the person living on the property doesn’t have any legal right to it. This requirement eliminates guests and tenants from making an adverse possession claim because they were welcome on the property at one point. A squatter must be on the property without the valid owner’s permission but doesn’t necessarily have to know they’re guilty of trespassing to meet the hostile claim requirement.

Actual Possession

Actual possession means the squatter is physically present on the property and treating it like they’re the owner. The squatter might handle maintenance requirements and make improvements to the home during this time and could even document this work to make a better case. 

Exclusive Possession

The squatter can’t share possession of the property with strangers, tenants, or the owner. Letting other people live on the property periodically ends the adverse possession claim.

Continuous Possession

Leaving the property for weeks or months at a time and returning later could disqualify the squatter’s rights declaration. The squatter must live on the property for at least 15 consecutive years to have an ownership claim.

Open and Notorious

The squatter can’t hide their residency on the property. It should be apparent to anyone who visits the home that someone is living there, and the squatter must treat the house like it’s their own. 

Meeting these squatter’s rights adverse possession requirements could give a squatter legal right to your home. The good news is that 15 years is a long time to leave someone on your land, and there are some ways to address the issue before it reaches that point.

Seven Tips Landlords Can Use to Protect Themselves From Squatters

Squatter’s rights laws might sound frightening because of the prospect of losing your property to a complete stranger without that person paying you a dime. There are some ways you can prevent this situation from arising, though, as adverse possession claims are rare in D.C. Some tips for protecting your rental property from squatters include the following:

1. Keep the Home Occupied

Holdover tenants who are asked to leave can’t make adverse possession claims, even after your rental agreement expires. Keeping residents in your rental properties at all times is a surefire way to prevent squatters from becoming a problem because it’s next to impossible for an unwelcome party to move into an occupied house.

2. Make Regular Visits to the Property

Regularly inspecting the property ensures you won’t develop a problem with squatters. This step is especially vital if your rental home will be sitting empty for a lengthy period. Identifying a squatter’s presence early on makes removing them more manageable.

3. Secure the Home

Making your rental properties as secure as possible can limit your chances of encountering a squatter. Keeping the doors and windows locked and in good condition is a solid starting point. You can also invest in a security system if the property is unoccupied for a significant period.

4. Serve Written Notices

Serving a written eviction notice to the squatter is an excellent measure to take when attempting to regain possession of your property. These notices are a legal requirement for getting an individual to vacate your home, and although they don’t specifically apply to squatter laws, serving a notice can help if you need to get the police or courts involved later.

5. Call the Police

A squatter’s presence isn’t usually an emergency, and the police might not immediately respond because tenancy is considered a civil matter. You can still file a report with the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, though, because it proves you have an unwanted trespasser on your property.

6. Hire a Lawyer

A lawyer can help you fill out some paperwork necessary for recovering your property. A Verified Complaint for Possession of Real Property–Form 1B is required when there’s a violation of the obligations of the tenancy, including a provision for individuals who aren’t tenants and refuse to leave.

7. Use a Property Management Company

A property manager can help you avoid problems with squatters by ensuring the home is maintained and keeping vetted renters living there at all times. Property management firms can also assist as you deal with existing squatters, doing everything in their power to evict these trespassers so you can continue using your property. 

Following these tips can reduce the likelihood that D.C.’s squatter’s rights laws will impact your ownership. Acting as soon as you realize there’s a squatter on your property makes it far easier to remove them without incident.

Property Management Help

Property managers don’t necessarily specialize in removing squatters from D.C. properties, but they understand squatters laws and will confirm if an eviction is legal. Following the letter of the law ensures you don’t lose ownership of your property because you didn’t act according to local regulations.

Nomadic Real Estate offers property management services in the Washington, D.C., area. We can assist with running and maintaining your rental units, including dealing with squatter rights issues. Contact Nomadic Real Estate for more information on the services we provide.

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Owner Ledger Description Column
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Owner Ledger Account Balance Column
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Portal Bill Details

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Net Distribution

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