Squatter Laws: Getting Rid of Uninvited "Guests"
While some surprises (birthday parties, a promotion or a new puppy) are good, many surprises such as a flat tire or an IRS audit are not. One particularly nasty surprise is finding out that someone has broken into your vacant property and moved in. Thankfully, during the last legislative session, new laws were passed to deal with “squatters” which allow you to (relatively) quickly and legally remove squatters from your property.
Starting in October 2015, Nevada law created two new crimes: “housebreaking” and “unlawful occupancy.” The process that a landlord will utilize to remove the occupants will depend on whether the occupants were arrested for one of these two crimes. Therefore, before beginning the “eviction” process, the landlord should first contact the police to report that there are squatters in the premises. The landlord should then follow up with the police to see if the squatters were arrested.
If the occupants were actually arrested and everyone in the premises was removed, the landlord may change the locks without having to file for eviction. However, the landlord is required to post a Notice of Retaking Possession and/or Changing Locks. This is a court-drafted form which must be completed by the landlord and which must remain on the property for 21 days. The Notice informs the occupants that the owner has changed the locks, instructs the occupants as to the process they can follow to re-gain entry to the premises (they can file an action in Justice Court to seek to re-possess the property) and tells the occupants that they have 21 days to retrieve their belongings from the premises. Within 24 hours of posting the notice, the landlord must file a Statement Regarding Retaking Possession and/or Changing Locks with the Justice Court.
If the occupants are not arrested, the landlord must complete a modified eviction. The first step is to serve a Four Day Notice to Surrender on the occupant. The occupant will have four business days to request a hearing to stay in the property. At the end of the four days, the landlord can then file a Complaint for Removal with the Justice Court. If no answer was filed, the judge will sign the removal order and the constable will remove the occupants. If the occupant filed an answer, the court will decide whether to hold a hearing. Once the occupant is locked out, the landlord must again safeguard the occupant’s belongings for 21 days.
It is important for landlords to understand these new procedures. Failure to properly follow the above requirements could result in the landlord being liable for monetary damages and fines by the Courts. Getting fined after having someone break into your house would be the worst surprise of all!
Reference: Ed Kania is the President of Southern Nevada Eviction Services (SNES) which prepares and posts eviction-related notices and files evictions in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson. To learn more about the eviction process or to find out what SNES can do for you, please visit www.vegas-evictions.com.