Even with all of the research done by the US and Canadian census bureaus – even with all the different real estate statistics and insurance numbers, no one can seem to come up with an accurate count of second and vacation homes in the US and Canada. So let’s just say that there are a lot of them – a whole lot. Add in the amount of empty rentals and of course the primary residence being empty while the owner is at the “other” place, and you have some very vulnerable homes and condos. Forget about the fact that if an issue occurs in an empty home and goes undiscovered…well let’s just say that it could turn into a very expensive, very aggravating problem. But I digress. let’s talk about squatters. A squatter is defined as “a person who unlawfully occupies an uninhabited building or unused land.” Still don’t understand? Well, imagine pulling up to your second home in SW Florida. You press the garage door opener only to find that it doesn’t work. So, you take out the key and put it in the lock…but that doesn’t work either. After you go and check to make sure that is indeed your home, you realize that something is horribly wrong. You peek through the window and see that there are things strewn about. Someone might even come to the door. And that someone is – a squatter. This actually happened recently, and happens a lot more than you would believe. According to “A” locksmith in Naples, “the home’s unsuspecting owners, who had been out of state, had no idea who the man was or that anyone was living in their home.” How about this? The Lee County Sheriff’s office reports that there are hundreds of vacant or seasonally vacant homes being occupied by squatters in southwest Florida and most owners have no idea.
And this is where the it get’s worse for seasonal residents. Almost every state has an “adverse possession” law. “Adverse possession” allows individuals who illegally occupy a property to gain legal rights to it by maintaining residency for a certain period. Wait! Excuse me? This guy is legally entitled to stay in MY HOUSE??? Seriously? The horrifying answer to this is yes. We are talking about hiring lawyers, filing motions for eviction and all the while the guy is in your home and you aren’t. How about this? Someone rents your home to an unsuspecting family. They have a phony lease – signed and everything. You might think you can call the police and they will get them out for you. Nope. Adverse possession. Now most of these laws are over 100 years old, and were put on the books to settle old land disputes. The crazy thing is that they may actually encourage a shrewd person to break into an unoccupied home and live off of an unsuspecting owner. Oh, and I know what you are thinking…you’ll just shut off the electric! Well, with a phony lease, they might have just switched the electric into their name. And you can’t do that anyway…it’s against the law.
Now that I’ve ruined dinner for some of you, I want to talk about how having a professional Home Watch company looking after your home – regardless of where it is – can make you feel a little less vulnerable. A professional Home Watch company will visit your property on a predetermined basis, always staggering visit times so as to keep anyone that might be watching, off guard. Home Watch will show a presence in the home by removing junk mail and flyers, and by leaving different lights on in the home using timers that are changed periodically. Home Watch companies will also send a report showing time and date, along with pictures proving that they were at the home. Their visits would not only discover any “uninvited guests”, but might deter them from even trying to gain access. And these reports would prove that no one was in the home at the time, which would blow a pretty big hole in a squatter’s claim that they had been living there at the time. Look, you can have a neighbor or a relative checking, but remember that it’s not their job to keep any eye on things…but it is ours. It is our responsibility. We have insurance to cover us being on your property, and we have protocols and the know how to handle situations when we come across them. And by the way, if the Home Watch company isn’t accredited by the National Home Watch Association, ask them why not.
The moral of the story is: Hire a pro. You’ll feel better, and so will we.
Thanks for reading.