Can She Evict a Non-Tenant "Squatter"? How?
September 1, 2017 5:09 PM   Subscribe

My sister owns a rental condo. Her tenant passed away and the tenant's boyfriend, who is not on the contract, has been occupying the place for a month or two without paying rent or responding to my sister. Can you help us plan out some steps to evict this person? We and the property are in California, if that helps. (A bit more inside.)

I just found out today or I would have been on this sooner. My sister isn't doing well. I don't know what she's suffering from, but it includes paranoia, hearing voices, sleeplessness, "migraines" and extreme sensitivity to noise, sound and smell. My dad and I are trying to help her find care in that regard, but after just finding this NEW problem we're trying to take care of it quickly to alleviate the stress and worry.

MANY thanks in advance.
posted by snsranch to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
it would be irresponsible for us to give you legal advice here but my first stop would be this book which you can probably find at the library if you're in California.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:14 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

The following is information, not legal advice.

In general, evicting a person occupying a rental property requires the steps that are involved in evicting a tenant, regardless of the label you apply. It sounds like the tenant and her boyfriend were living there before she died. If so, he was a licensee and is not a "squatter," a term that usually applies to a person occupying land who has no business being there.

If your sister is not up to handling it, have her sign a power of attorney to have you or another suitable person act on her behalf.

Legal advice and representation is highly recommended. No doubt you knew that.
posted by megatherium at 5:24 PM on September 1, 2017 [8 favorites]

DIY evictions can be very damaging to the property owner/landlord if even the smallest error is made. The very best thing if do is to consult a lawyer who specializes in defending landlords in the city the property is in. In many jurisdictions, people who aren't on the lease also share tenant's rights. This isn't cut and dry.
posted by quince at 5:31 PM on September 1, 2017 [3 favorites]

Hope this advice isn't out of line, but might it be good to swing by the place and make sure the squatter situation is being described accurately? I ask because I know a person who has paranoia and hears voices, and some of the things/people that he identifies as problems aren't actually real. Wishing the best for your sister.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:32 PM on September 1, 2017 [21 favorites]

Landlord-tenant relations are very specific as to where you are, so start by googling your city/town and landlord-tenant.
posted by rtha at 5:34 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Attorneys who handle evictions are generally very affordable, and most cities have a few who do only that. For us, it's money well spent.
posted by raisingsand at 5:43 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Hey thanks guys, for the advice and for grounding me a little bit. This whole thing is like "Shutter Island" to me. All nefarious and sketchy. I'll try to help in the best way I can and I really appreciate the guidance!
posted by snsranch at 6:07 PM on September 1, 2017

You're not going to solve this quickly, I'm afraid. You're going to hire a lawyer and go through the steps carefully, and evicting someone takes time--for good reason.

Given your sister's condition, I would promise to take it out of her hands entirely. The last thing you want is, e.g., her having difficulty and saying things to the boyfriend that could be interpreted as threats. Get her to give you a power of attorney with respect to this property and deal with it yourself.
posted by praemunire at 7:55 PM on September 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

If he's been living there as a guest of the contracted tenant, then after some amount of time, probably 30 days (but check the laws), then he's a tenant. Tenancy is established by residing in a place as a welcome resident.

The devil is in the details, and thanks to a lot of bad actors on both the landlord and tenant side of these relations, there are a lot of laws to protect each from the other. A lawyer is definitely the best move.
posted by Sunburnt at 8:01 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Check the terms of the rental agreement/lease. Very likely, those apply to the unofficial tenant - if you're not in a drastic hurry, and it's a month-to-month agreement, you can likely post a "you have 30 days; get out" notice.

You may be able to post a "you are here without a contract; you have 3 days; get out" notice - but as other have said, look into laws in your county and city first. But start with checking the lease for details about eviction notices.

(You may not be able to evict immediately, but you can go to court to get a demand for the rent that should've been paid.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:36 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Has anyone checked in on the tenant? If I'm reading this right their partner just passed away, so maybe the lack of rent payment/communication is them falling apart for a few months. Not that this is fair to your sister, but maybe it's a situation that can be resolved.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:06 AM on September 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

We were nearly evicted a number of times from our Millbrae house due to our landlord NOT paying mortgage since 2006 (we ALWAYS paid our rent on time) so we are familiar with the process.

You as a renter (squatter in this case) are allowed to be three months delinquent before anything is done. So take meticulous record of what the rental contract says, WHO is on it, and WHAT has not been paid, and WHAT the condo looks like presently. After three months you can get the sheriff involved. The sheriff will post notice on the door. If rent is not squared up after an additional 3 months the sheriff can remove the squatters from your property.

Since he is not even on the lease the sheriff may be able to act sooner. The first call I'd make (AFTER you take pictures of the interior) would be the sheriff's office. They are the ones who handle evictions.

P.S. We were never evicted because our land lord had some kind of scam going on and was able to keep the dogs at bay. When we figured it out we refused to continue to fund his scheme and moved out on our own.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 9:17 AM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Take pictures first AND make sure you have a firm understanding of rent, approved renters etc. before you call the sheriff's office. You need to get your own understanding first instead of relying on the word of your sister who hears voices.
posted by Lord Fancy Pants at 9:26 AM on September 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

According To California Rental Law, you can evict someone for not paying rent. It can take quite a while after they receive the eviction notice. It's not legal to just change the locks or make the place unlivable.

Here's a CA Dept. of Consumer Affairs page on California eviction regulations.
posted by wryly at 1:44 PM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

The rules are different in every jurisdiction, but I know that serving proper notice is a BIG DEAL* everywhere so do seek legal advice on how to service notice of eviction/FED/whatever it's called where you are.

* I've seen more than one non-paying tenant get a reprieve simply because their landlord did not properly serve notice (didn't post and mail, didn't add extra time for mailing, mailed from a different county....)
posted by vespabelle at 2:58 PM on September 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Also, we have successfully deployed the tactic of "pay to move out" in the past. It can be an effective tool in certain circumstances. You go to the tenant and tell them you will pay them X dollars to move out by a certain date. They sign an agreeement, and on the date specified, you show up with cash in exchange for keys. I'm not sure this is that type of situation, but you might keep the tactic in your toolbox, just in case.
posted by raisingsand at 8:27 PM on September 2, 2017

Response by poster: Follow up: Thank again for keeping my head straight and helping me ask the right questions.

The property has been vacated and we're storing her vehicle and belongings while the family grieves and figures out what they need to do. There was never a "squatter" and please forgive me for using that term in the first place.
posted by snsranch at 4:43 PM on September 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

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