politicsUSA

How landowners and lawmakers are turning the tables on squatters

When Flash Shelton found a squatter in his mother’s house in Northern California five years ago, he figured out how to get around a system that often seems to protect the squatter and not the owner: he decided to turn the tables on the squatter.

“These people feel like the law allows them to do it, so why can’t I?” said Shelton, known as “The squatter hunter.”

Shelton is now hired by landowners to target squatters living in their homes without permission. Landowners start by granting it a lease, with the legal rights that come with it.

“Based on all of that, I’ll decide if I’m literally going to move in with them,” Shelton said.

Because Shelton is now the “real” tenant, he can change the lock and gain access.

“They can’t kick me out, because I have a lease. It’s a game, it’s a game of chess,” Shelton said.

If the squatter calls the police, they may determine that this is a civil court matter, but this could take months with no guarantees.

“Squatters take advantage of people. They just know there’s a system that allows them to live rent-free,” Shelton said.

State Senator Bob Archuleta passed a new law in California allowing property owners to file a no-claims notice with local police.

“It’s valid for one year and it’s recorded. That way it gives the officers the authority to respond, because it has already been recorded that no one is allowed to enter this building,” Archuleta said.

Florida there is also a new law allowing the police to immediately evict squatters who do not have a valid lease; several other states have adopted or proposed stricter measures against squatting.

But until there are more laws in place, Lando Thomas and Kimrey Kotchick, who run a company called “Squatter Squad,” will confront squatters for a fee, starting at $2,500.

In one incident, they were hired to have a 26-year-old man named Samjai leave an Airbnb rental, along with his pregnant girlfriend and their five dogs.

But it’s a race against time. If they manage to stay there for 30 days, they will be considered legitimate tenants with certain rights of their own, and the landlords will have to go to court to evict them.

Samjai says they went through tough times.

Thomas and Kotchick eventually convince him to leave, with an offer to pay for a motel room and storage space while he looks for somewhere else to live. For now, this is the quickest and cheapest way to get that squatter to vacate a property that doesn’t actually belong to them.

This story is part two of a CBS Evening News report on squatting. Part 1 broadcast on Monday June 24.

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