Hillsborough detectives offer tips after squatters take over Gibsonton woman’s home

File Photo: Squatters leave belongings behind.

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla (WFLA) – The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has a warning for owners of empty houses: check on the property weekly to keep squatters out. Tampa Bay is ground zero for squatting because of its volume of abandoned homes.

Squatters

Now, squatters have figured out a way to outsmart the system. They whip out a fake lease when confronted by law enforcement. Finding that fake lease is way too simple. Just plug “Florida lease” into Google and many appear. Crooks need only to fill in the blanks.

“As we expose their scams, they just alter it a little bit,” Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Larry McKinnon said.

Some crooks are even sophisticated enough to look up the property in public records. They’ll list the property owner on paperwork.

McKinnon suggested property owners hire a management firm or have friends or relatives check on their homes so squatting can be reported to law enforcement right away.

Squatters


Here’s what you can do to help prevent squatting in your neighborhood

Do you live in a neighborhood that has had squatter problems in the past? Even if not, there are a few simple steps you can take to help squash out opportunities for squatters to swoop in and cause trouble in your area.

  1. Know your neighbors – One of the easiest ways squatters are successful is if they can move in undetected. By knowing your neighbors, you will be more keenly aware of the individuals you may see in your neighborhood who may appear out of their element.
  2. Keep your eyes open – Try to be alert to when homes go up for sale or rent. These can be easy targets for squatters because their movement into the neighborhood or community may not be questioned. Neighbors may simply assume they are the new renters or homeowners. If you see people moved into the home, but a for sale or rental sign still up in the front yard, this would be a key indicator that squatters may be inside the property.
  3. Contact your local police – In some cases, they officials may not be able to immediately evict the individual(s)…even if they are squatting in someone’s property. Notifying the police has several advantages though, including the ability to talk with the individuals in the property, monitor the property for strange activity and provides a legal trail of documentation should you require future legal action.
  4. Contact the bank or utility companies – If you know the individuals inside the home are not authorized to be there, you could reach out to the appropriate gas, power, water or telephone companies that service the area to let them know that individuals in the property are not supposed to be there. As people move, sometimes they leave these utilities on by accident – allowing the squatters an easier chance at hiding because of the free services.

Here’s what you can do to help prevent squatting on your rental property

Do you have a property that’s been vacant for a while? According to Zillow.com, it’s important to watch out for squatters, because these uninvited guests are a pain to deal with.

  1. Continue to take care of your property – Squatters are going to do their research before they move in on an abandoned property. Don’t give your home any reason to be labeled as “abandoned.” Even if it’s sitting empty, continue to take care of it: trim the lawn, clean the gutter, and keep a regular maintenance schedule. A property that’s regularly cared for is less likely to attract the attention of squatters looking for a new home.
  2. Communicate with the neighbors – If you’re not around all the time, it’s important to talk to your neighbors and notify them that your property is vacant. If squatters were to move in and occupy your property, it’s easy to assume that they’re just the new tenants. Your neighbors are an extra set of eyes when you aren’t around, so keep an open line of communication. Let them know when you have residents moving in or out, and ask them to call you if they think anything suspicious is going on.
  3. Check up on your property regularly – Just because there are no residents to check up on doesn’t mean you should stop making your rounds. Check up on your property regularly to make sure everything looks normal and nothing odd is going on. If there are squatters, there might be signs of a break-in or personal items scattered around the property.
  4. Change the locks after a move-out – Even though your residents have returned the keys to you, there could be extra copies floating around. Previous tenants who are down on their luck could easily use their old keys to re-enter your property. Changing the keys is a simple way to secure your home against trespassers. Also make sure the doors and windows are locked.
  5. Complete thorough credit and background checks for each new tenant – Not all squatters are the result of a break-in. Your tenants could be the culprits, allowing friends who aren’t on the lease into the property. This type of squatting actually complicates the legal process for getting rid of squatters because your tenant could return, making it difficult to prove your case. Prevent these types of situations from happening by completing a credit and background check for each resident.
  6. Be careful – In a nutshell, squatters are trespassers who have no right to be on your property. In the case that squatters do invite themselves into your home, be careful about interacting with them. Alert the local police station and research the laws in your area regarding trespassing before you intervene.

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