Tampa couple on the lookout for “squatters”

FILE PHOTO: Squatters moved into this empty home and trashed it.
FILE PHOTO: Squatters moved into this empty home and trashed it.

Tampa, FL (WFLA) –  Scott Johnson drives around Tampa Bay every day, looking for all the same things squatters look for. But he’s looking for homes to protect, not homes to squat in.

“It’s all about appearances,” Johnson said.  Johnson is on the prowl, looking for empty houses. Homes where no one would notice, or care, if strangers moved in.

Johnson and his wife started a new business, Spouses Watching Houses. They watched as law enforcement struggled to keep squatters out, from foreclosed homes to vacation and second homes.

He visits his clients’ homes once a week, looking for signs of intruders and for anything else that needs attention.

He runs the water. He checks the fridge and walks around the outside of the home, making sure squatters aren’t around.

“The person would have four or five days, tops from the time that I was last there,” Johnson said. If you want to keep strangers out of your neighborhood, Johnson recommends keeping the house unappealing to squatters. “If you see a house that has an overgrown lawn or the bushes haven’t been taken care of, it’s probably a sign that somebody’s not there very often,” he said.

He advises to keep lights on a timer and make sure newspapers and trash cans are put away, or anything else that might signal that no one lives at the home.

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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