Tips & Tricks

The Risks of Unoccupied Vacant Properties

February 18, 2024

How to detect trouble early, protect against scams, and prevent squatters at vacant properties.

When thinking of squatters, you may think of someone who has broken into a vacant property, knowingly trespassed and established residence inside the home, or even a tenant whose lease has expired but refuses to vacate the property. However, squatters don’t always have malicious intentions — and sometimes, they are victims themselves.

A couple from south Phoenix
saw a listing for a rental home that seemed too good to be true. Remaining skeptical since the listing was on Craigslist, Lanita insisted the out-of-town “owner” allow her into the property to tour before she even thought about sending money for a deposit. The fake landlord gave her the code to the lockbox, allowing her to tour the property and eventually move her family in. However, two days later, the family was served an eviction notice when the legitimate property manager learned that they were illegally occupying the home after signing a lease and paying a scammer.

Unfortunately, stories like these have become more common since the rise of self-showings. If you have an unoccupied unit, whether between tenants or awaiting maintenance prior to listing, leaving it unattended can expose you to a variety of risks and costly damages.

In this blog post, we'll explore the costs of dealing with scammers and squatters and how to save yourself from potential financial losses and headaches with Vacant Property Checks.

Let's start by taking a look at how much damage a squatter can cause to a vacant home.

Determining your exact risk of dealing with squatters is challenging due to variations in reporting and local laws and regulations. However, squatter incidents have been reported in both residential and commercial properties across the United States. Cities with high rental demand and cost are more likely to face squatter-related issues.

If you find yourself dealing with squatters, you cannot:

  • Change the locks of the property
  • Turn off the utilities or otherwise make the home uninhabitable
  • Use coercion or threats to remove them from the property

What kind of damage and costs are associated with squatters?

Legal costs and eviction procedures

Dealing with squatters often requires legal action, which can result in significant expenses that add up quickly. Eviction procedures can involve filing legal documents, serving notices, hiring an attorney, court fees, and loss of rent during the eviction process. The costs can escalate further if the squatters contest the eviction, leading to prolonged legal proceedings.

Property damage and repairs

In addition to legal costs, squatters may cause physical damage to the property by breaking windows, doors, or locks to gain entry. They may also engage in vandalism, such as graffiti or destruction of walls, floors, or other fixtures. Since they typically do not have an incentive to maintain or care for the property, they may neglect routine maintenance, which can lead to issues such as water leaks, mold growth, or pest infestations. 

Utility theft and damage

Squatters may tamper with electrical, gas, or water connections, leading to utility theft or damage to the installations. Additionally, this can result in unsafe conditions, increased utility costs for the property owner, or even service disruptions for neighboring properties. 

If you have an unoccupied property, how can you reduce the risk of scams and squatters?

We've talked a lot about scams on our blog (especially listing scams) over the last couple of years. While there isn't a lot of data about the exact prevalence of rental scams in the US, we've definitely seen an increase in more sophisticated and less detectable scams. So, what can you do to minimize the risk of increasingly-savvy scammers and squatters?

Be on the lookout for fake property listings on sites like Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace

Scammers utilize marketplace websites like Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist to target vulnerable renters searching for affordable housing. Unfortunately, even though you may watermark your listing photos with your business name and phone number, some renters will still assume that they are talking to the legitimate property manager.

Take the time to scan these websites every few days to ensure that nobody has posted illegitimate listings for your properties. If you’re a Showdigs user, activate Listing Shield™ for your vacant properties — our AI–powered software automatically detects and removes fake listings before potential renters get the chance to view them.

Recognize the signs of squatters at vacant properties

Even one vacant property in your portfolio can put you at risk for thousands of dollars in legal fees, lost rent, and damages. In order to minimize the risk of a compromised property, make sure you know to look for the early signs of squatters, like:

  • Keys missing from the lockbox 
  • Vehicles parked in the driveway
  • Food items or water jugs in the kitchen
  • Signs of forced entry
  • Changed locks

Perform routine Vacant Property Checks

Every property faces different levels of risk for scams and squatters based on location, current market conditions, price of rent, what types of showings are conducted, and how long it has been vacant. By determining the ideal frequency for Vacant Property Checks, you can strike a balance between ensuring thorough monitoring and optimizing costs. We suggest conducting an inspection at least bi-weekly, especially if you’re utilizing self-showings.

Once you've signed up for Showdigs, you can order a Vacant Property Check through our system (or automate it) and we'll send a licensed, specially-trained Showdigs Agent to perform a thorough check of your unoccupied property to ensure it is free of squatters.

Don't let leasing season become scamming season — NOW is the time to protect your portfolio!

Protecting your vacant properties may seem like a daunting task, but the proactive costs pale in comparison to the thousands of dollars in legal fees, damages, and lost rent that accompany squatters and rental scams.

Learn more about how Showdigs prevents rental scams by utilizing cutting-edge technology and our national network of on-demand, licensed real estate agents.

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