My preventing squatters Public Service Announcement!

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My passing interest in the issue of “squatters” was, at best, lukewarm. That was until I got a wakeup call with news about squatters being evicted from several homes not that far from where I live. Okay, so what?

Well, you see for yours truly, social media conjures up the image of a pond in that it’s a great place to bait a hook and drop a fishing line in and see what bites. So I decided to bait my hook with this piece of, eh, “squatter bait,” toss it out, sip on a cold one and see what I could catch:

“Who’s the typical squatter, why do squatters squat and what can we learn from a balanced look at an issue that’s getting increasing attention?”

Wow, it didn’t take long for “Lois” to take the bait. You see, my “buddy” Lois cuts me no slack whenever I put something out that she has a problem with, or just to “bust my chops.” Here’s her latest:

“Terry, you might feel differently if it was your house that they squatted in while you were on vacation. It’s not their home!”

Perhaps egged on by Lois, “Ty” was next to take me to the proverbial woodshed with this dig:

“Don’t even try Howard. They think that they are above living outside like other homeless people. Well, they better not come to my house with that.”

Now those responses from Lois and Ty, and several other not so nice ones that followed, caused some “what did I say wrong” back peddling on my part. So I reread my bait to see if I failed to make myself clear and did not make a right or wrong value judgement on the issue of squatting. Well, I aced the test in that my questions did in no way indicate my stance on the issue and were just genuine inquiry.

Now what this squatter “fishing” experience reminds me of are typical knee jerk reactions when one genuinely brings up certain issues (a mention of race for example – for discussion. (Humm, ever hear the expression “race-baiting?”).

Now the truth is that the profile of a squatter is a lot more complicated and nuanced than conventional wisdom may suggest. Many think about squatters as those who are impoverished, homeless, conniving, never mind that they may be coming out of COVID and can ill-afford high rent, been laid off or otherwise reached a point of desperation in their lives. But the undeniable reality is that squatters are flesh and blood human beings with individual experiences in life and stories to tell like every one of us. Tell me I’m wrong.

Yes, there’s a lot to unpack here so let’s get started.

As I waded through the rapid fire of responses that ensued, a compassionate side of me wondered if squatters had rights. Well, it turns out that they do. The expression “squatters rights” is not an oxymoron after all. The inquisitive reader may be well served by researching squatter’s and homeowners’ rights in their particular state. But before you do that, let’s get back to others who took my bait.

Next it was “Carol” who broke the flow of negative comments about squatters with this:

“The fact is that they (squatters) are probably going through a lot of personal devastation and cannot afford to pay rent. The fact that they may move in and treat the property properly means that they’re just trying to live.”

Then came “Juan” with this gut-puncher:

“I really don’t think that we can seriously talk about this issue without the fact that immigrants like me with large families frequently get stereotyped and treated like squatters.”   

Now since those who took my bait offered nary a solution, I decided to do a bit of research and come up with a short list of actions that make sense.

According to the experts, the best way to not have to deal with a squatter is prevention, that the vast majority of squatters aren’t moving in when homeowners are away on a two-week vacation. They’re doing it when a property is listed for rent. They scour real estate listings to learn which properties are sitting empty. Thus, anything an owner can do to make a property look occupied would go a long way toward discouraging intruders. “Photos in a listing could include a person, or even a dog (perhaps a big, don’t-mess-with-me-looking dog).”

Second, cameras are a deterrent, but the property owner should make sure they are placed securely, or squatters can simply block or remove them.

Third, be sure to use timed or motion-triggered lighting to make a property seem occupied.

Fourth, alert neighbors that your property is vacant and ask them to get in touch if they see any unusual activity.

Fifth, never leave a key in a key box, which can be broken into.

Okay Lois, I’ll end this narrative with a bit of honesty that’ll make you high five it up with your compadres. Yes, my actual experience heavily skewed this piece. Had I pulled into my driveway and found squatters kicking back and enjoying my home this piece would have been written quite differently, if at all. That I’ll concede.

But heeding the advice from a local pastor, “anticipation of unfortunate things can lead to preparation for unfortunate things.” So, let’s heed what we’ve learned here as preparation to protect our property from unwanted visitors of any kind.

Okay, I just baited my hook and tossed my line back into the water to see what else I may catch. Wait…hold on! Already there’s something tugging on the other end. 

Is that you Lois?

Terry Howard is an award-winning trainer, writer, and storyteller. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, Blackmarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, and third place winner of the 2022 Georgia Press Award.