The Legal Implications Of Attempting To "Turn Off Utility" On A Squatter

August 16, 2022

While all landlords hope to have dream tenants who are consistent with their rent and do not cause any trouble or damage to the property, unfortunately, this is not always the case.

At some point, almost every tenant will find themselves dealing with a tenant who is more like a squatter. If that happens, you need to ensure that you are taking legal action instead of trying to handle it yourself.

In this article, we will talk about tenants who have become squatters. We will also discuss the legal action you can take to remove them from the property.

But before that…

Who Is Considered A Squatter In Bakersfield, CA?

A squatter is an individual who illegally trespasses on your property and claims it to be theirs. They stay on the property, pay all bills under their name, and use the property as their own without the property owner's consent.

Despite squatting being an illegal activity, the property owners hold no authority to force them out. Instead, there is an outlined legal procedure that they must follow to remove the squatter from their property.

Because the squatters have been paying all the utility bills, they are considered tenants who are not paying their rent and showing no intention of leaving the property.

While every state has different laws, regulations, and actions that can be taken against squatters, the definition of squatters more or less remains the same.

  • An individual who has stopped paying rent and still intends to hold the property can be defined as a squatter.
  • Someone who breaks into the building and claims it to be their own.
  • They can be a roommate who still shares the room after the lease expires.
  • Invading neighbors who think your property belongs to them without any legal documentation.

In that case, you might think of kicking the squatters out by cutting off their utility bills. But, you would be surprised to know that you can’t do that. In fact, it would be illegal to do so.

Continue reading this article to know more about the legal implication of attempting to ‘turn off utilities’ on a squatter.

What Are Some Reasons That I Can Evict A Tenant In Bakersfield, CA?

No one wants their property to be inhabited illegally. However, that is definitely possible. If you are not careful with your property and check on it regularly, one day you return to check on your property to find that someone has been living there for a long period of time.

While the squatters are doing the illegal thing by occupying your property and claiming it to be theirs, you can't just kick them out of the property. It will be considered illegal.

There is a legal procedure that you have to follow and prove a certain point in front of the judges to make the law take action.

Below are ways in which you can evict the squatter.

Failure To Pay Rent

If you are living in an ideal world, tenants will pay their rent in full and on time every single month. But, unfortunately, we do not live in an ideal world. That means there will be months when the tenant is able to pay their rent on time or simply can't pay the rent. If that happens, the landlord has the full right to evict the tenant.

Damage To The Property

While normal wear and tear on the property are expected, tenant damage can go beyond minor scuffs and scratches. When the damage is what you consider normal, it’s time to take action. You can either ask the tenant to pay for the damage or simply send them an eviction notice.

Violation Of The Lease

When a tenant enters the property, they sign a lease where there are several terms and conditions. If the terms and conditions are broken, it is a violation of the lease. In such a scenario, the property owner can evict the tenant.

Using Property for Illegal Purposes

A tenant has leased the property to use it for their normal use. As the property doesn’t belong to the tenant, they cannot do just anything inside the property. However, if the landlord finds any suspicious or illegal activity happening inside the property, they can send an eviction notice to the tenant.

Holdover

If we go by the definition, "holdover" means a tenant refuses to leave the property even after the lease has expired. Holdovers can be tricky to evict. However, since most leases are designed in a way to change on a month-by-month basis, tenants can’t be evicted so easily, especially when they are paying rent.

What Are The Legal Implications Of Attempting To 'Turn Off Utilities’ On A Squatter?

When you find that words are not helping you get the tenant off your property, you might think of taking action, like turning off utilities and forcing them to leave the property. Well, the truth is that you can’t do that. It is completely illegal.

Although tenants have taken illegal possession of your property, they have certain rights. Going against them will make your action illegal. When you turn off the utilities, the law sees this as taking the laws into your hand, trying to self-evict the squatter.

Doing this will do more harm than good.

The best course of action will be to take legal action and serve the tenant with an eviction notice. If one is not enough, send them multiple notices to prove that you are trying to follow legal procedure for an illegal action.

What Is The Bakersfield Eviction Process Usually Like?

Now that you know that you can’t force the squatter to leave your property, it is important that you know what legal steps to take.

If you live in Bakersfield, the process will look something like this.

Step 1: Inform The Authorities

When you find out that the tenant is not willing to leave the property even after the lease has expired, don’t engage with them. It will only weaken your legal case. Instead, call the police and let them know about their illegal action.

The fact that you called the police shows that you have taken legal action for the squatter eviction. The police will ask you to verify documents and prove the property belongs to you, and they will also ask some questions about the tenants.

After hearing both sides, police will determine whether the individual is a squatter or just a trespasser.

Step 2: Give An Eviction Notice

If they are trespassers, they will be immediately removed from the property. However, if the police verify that they are squatters, you will be instructed to start the eviction process.  This can be done on your own or by hiring an eviction company that can make sure it’s done correctly.

Step 3: File A Lawsuit With The Court

If the tenant doesn't want to leave the property, you have the full right to file an unlawful detainer case against them. This gives both the owner and the tenant a chance to prove their case by providing relevant documents.

If one of the parties doesn’t attend the court ruling, their claim is overruled. Most of the time, property owners win the case as the tenant doesn't have the right documents to claim the property.

Step 4: Eviction

After the court has ruled in your favor, you are not supposed to go back to your property. Instead, the orders are handed down to the local police. The police officers are in charge of taking care of the tenant and freeing your property. The police will forcefully remove the tenant if they try to stay on the property even after the court ruling.

How Long Does It Take to Evict a Squatter?

This all depends on whether or not the squatter decides to file the matter in court. How many days it will take for the court to take a look into the matter will depend on the court and to which country the court belongs.

However, if we are talking about if everything goes smoothly, it will generally take about 35 days to 60 days. And this is what we are talking about if the eviction is not contested by the tenant.

If the tenant decides to contest the eviction, the time period rises to 90 days.

However, it needs to be understood that the time frame also depends on how fast you were with the eviction notices. Hence, you must take action the moment you find a squatter on your property and serve them an eviction notice.

Final Thoughts

Discovering an unauthorized individual on your property can stimulate a range of emotions. You might be tempted to confront the individual and force them out of your property. Well, that is where you will break the law.

It is important that you keep calm and take the legal action we have discussed in the article. If they are wrongfully taking over your property, they will have no documents to prove their claim. Eventually, you will have your property back through legal means.

Once the court’s ruling comes in your favor, you can take help from a police officer to get the squatter off your property.

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JJ Sterling
As the co-founder of Urban Splatter and an architecture graduate from Chicago, I thrive on crafting a digital nexus where architectural innovation intersects with boundless digital opportunity. My academic roots in the Windy City's rich architectural tapestry inspire a unique vision for Urban Splatter's journey into the ever-evolving digital frontier of design. Join us as we navigate the exciting confluence of structure, style, and technology.

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