Home Theft: What Self-Help is Available?

I was reading about a case where a family returned home to find squatters living in their house. The squatters had some kind of phony deed to the house so the police would not arrest them.

Generally speaking, what kind of self-help is available to the homeowners in a situation like this? Instead of calling police, if they simply point a gun at the intruders and order them out, are they potentially liable, either civilly or criminally?

Or what if they simply wait until the squatters are out for the day; enter the house; retake possession; and change the locks?

They could do that, if they don’t mind an arrest record. Pointing a gun at the squatters and ordering them out would likely get them charged with home invasion, aggravated assault, and whatever else the police would like to charge them with. Now, if the case ended up in their favor, that they really did own the house, they would be acquitted of the charges. That is after posting bond and surrendering their firearms or whatever other bail conditions were imposed.

Ditto with entering after the squatters left. Was the door locked? That’s breaking and entering and trespass. Unlocked? Entering and trespass. Same arrest and bail.

The law does not like self-help unless it can be done without breach of the peace. Trespassing into a structure is always considered a breach of the peace, and requires you to go to the worthless civil courts that leave you in the cold until the process runs its lengthy course.

But… The answer(s) so far are missing the point: Why the asymmetry?

Why is it that the squatters can move in like that, and there’s nothing the legit homeowners can do while the squatters remain in residence . . . But the legit owners can’t similarly just move back in and leave the squatters out in the cold?

In particular, did the owners leave their doors locked all the time they were away? And the visiting team just moved in a parked? And the police won’t touch them? Yet if the owners just move back in (supposing they find the visitors all out for the evening), whether they break a lock to get in or not, the police will come and arrest them, haul them off, and hand the house back to the visitors?

Why that asymmetry?

Yes, the same thought occurred to me.

It’s down to the passage of time. Police can only arrest people or move them on if they have reasonable cause.

If the homeowners move back in 15 minutes after the squatters leave, the squatters are quite easily able to prove to the police that they were living their until 15 minutes ago. All they have to do is ask the neighbours, or get the residents to describe the contents of the rooms, or look at the name son the mail that has been recently received. There is an abundance of evidence that will allow the officer to reasonably believe that the squatters are tenants and no evidence at all at all to confirm the residency of the owners. Therefore the homeowner has committed a crime by entering their dwelling without permission.

The squatters, OTOH, lived in the premises for weeks or months before the homeowners disputed the claim. Under those circumstances it is impossible for a police officer on the scene to determine who is the rightful tenant. The only way to settle that is to take the issue to a civil/property court which will determine the validity of any leases, deeds etc. After living away for months, the homeowners have no way of proving that they have any legal right to the dwelling. Even if they indisputably have deeds to the property, the squatters only have to claim that they are renting the property and the police can’t interfere without a court approved eviction.

That is really all it comes down to: time. If the owners had objected hours or days after the squatters moved in the police would have removed them and charged them. But after weeks or months you really do need a court hearing to determine who has a right to live there. There just isn’t any evidence that police officer can use to make an arrest.

Where did you read about this case? If the house was occupied when they moved in a phony deed will hold the police off for maybe 72 hours max, and then they’ll be going to jail. Squatters are people who move into unoccupied homes.

“Unoccupied” often meaning “owners were on vacation” rather than “building was abandoned”.

Really? That’s not in line with my experience.

Are there any real cases where the homeowner was away on holiday and some other people somehow managed to get some fake evidence that the home was theirs?

It’s possible to happen that way. But if the owners have a lot of personal possesions on the property it’s easier to call it burglary. Local law will dominate on the details. But it is risky to take an extended vacation.

I was about to purchase a house that was unoccupied, and decided to stop by it on the way to the realtor’s office to put down a deposit. There were squatters in it, including an old lady with an oxygen tank and the special stickers on the door telling the utility companies they couldn’t shut down them down (and she was smoking). I told the realtor no thanks. It’s just something you don’t want to get dragged into.

2-3 phone calls can resolve most of that.

One to county records for who is the owner of record. If there is an active mortgage this can be further verified by the mortgage company.

Once you have probable cause to believe the deed is a forgery, an arrest would follow rather quickly.

Producing a lease would IMHO make things more problematic.

No biggie

add an escrow condition…any occupants must be removed by seller and any damage repaired, failure to do so = 100% refund deposit.

This recent case - this article claims that it involved an eight-month vacation, but this writeup says they moved out of state due to a new job, and after being unable to sell the home, they took it off the market, winterized it, and figured they’d come back later and try to sell then. So the house wasn’t exactly “abandoned” per se, but it wasn’t occupied, either. The squatters “bought” the home via some shady guy’s fake “adverse possession” deed. Eight months of fighting later and right before they were due to be forced out, a squatter filed for bankruptcy, which legally prevented them from being evicted.

You don’t need fake evidence. All you need is to claim that you are renting or an invited guest. It then becomes a civil matter and the police can’t intervene without a court directive.

It’s not a daily occurrence, but it happens with enough regularity to make the newsa few times every year.

IANAL, and as you note it varies with jurisidction, but generally you can’t be charged with burglary until you *remove *an item from a premises. Provided you use it on site no crime has been committed.

True dat. Or more accurately, it’s risky if you don’t have someone check up on the property at least once a week. So long as someone checks in regularly there’s no real issue.

All that proves is ownership. It does not prove that the premises were not rented. It doesn’t prove that the squatters are not invited guests. And it certainly doesn’t prove that any deed the squatters produce was not obtained in good faith, either from a third party con-man or from you as a way of bilking them out of their money.

Those are all issues that can only be resolved by a court. It’s way beyond the scope of the police.

No, because the police have no reasonable grounds for arresting any person. Even if you have evidence that a crime has been committed, there is no evidence of who by. As far as the actual evidence goes, it seems plausible that *you *sold the squatters a false deed, and it is *you *who should be arrested.

Of course you can eventually prove otherwise when you can obtain a copy of the deed for expert analysis a can subpoena the squatters and get their testimony. But all that can only be done by a court, not a police officer.

Not as far as I can see, at least not in the short term. Simply claiming to be a tenant or guest is enough. Many people rent property or stay with people without ever signing a lease, and there’s no legal requirement to do so. Leases make it easier to get a court to evict someone, but lack of a lease doesn’t mean that the police can just toss someone out of their home.

Wow. I’m surprised the article with the guy selling deeds to houses for $5k actually occurred. How could their not be some sort of checks-and-balances system in place where the court actually verifies that the place has been abandoned? That guy must have found a loop-hole or a weak-spot in the system.

Because the poster isn’t a lawyer, or they are speaking of the situation in their state.

I can guarantee you in Texas the idea someone would be charged criminally for ordering squatters out or changing the locks on them is laughable. This is the state that allowed a man to execute burglers in cold blood.

Different states have different laws.

EDIT:I’m talking about actual come home and there are people in your house, not something like a house empty for years with no possessions inside.


Which Texas law or precedent would allow someone to break into the house of a person who claims to be his lawful tenant and change the locks?

Are you a lawyer licenced to practice in Texas?

I am calling bullshit on this because we have already had a reference to acase of exactly this kind occurring in Texas.

Aside from the hyperbolic language, WTF does this have to do with civil cases of disputed tenancy? Are you suggesting that Texas allows citizens to execute defendants in civil cases? :dubious:

Which Texas law or precedent would allow squatters to break into the house of a person who claims to be the lawful tenant and change the locks? Or why do the squatters have a magical right that the actual owner does not to break in and change locks?

I’m not a lawyer and I doubt jtgain is either.

For one thing in Texas you can defend PROPERTY with deadly force, this is different than a lot of states.

Now lets look at the actual law:


Satisfied that you can forcibly remove trespassers from your residence?

Ok I viewed your link, the pertinent sections are below:

This is very different than the scenario in the OP of returning to your primary residence to find trespassers inside. And in Texas you would be well within your rights to immediately order them out at gunpoint. Obviously in cases of home sales gone bad or actual tenants or renters that is not true, ditto for on ongoing civil court case.

So that would be “No evidence of any sort” for your claim that you can guarantee that in Texas someone can not be charged for forcibly entering a dwelling with disputed ownership and changing the locks.

That is what i thought.

Since you:

  1. Have no evidence of any sort to supoort your claim
  2. Are not in any way qualified to make such a claim


  1. Are ignorant that at least two such situations have occurred in Texas in the past 2 years

I think we can ignore what you have posted. No?