Amongst house parties and home invasions, there are some Airbnb horror stories that top the rest, but what about squatters? It’s a chilling word really, as most hosts dread the thought of unwelcome guests of any kind but particularly those who pitch camp for way longer than anticipated and forgo paying for their accommodation. Airbnb squatters can be a real detriment to your business.
In some of the worst cases, hosts have had to wipe their reservation calendar of other paying guests because the squatters refused to leave, all the while battling it out in court. The damage hurts your wallet and reputation, so the best course of action you can take is to prevent squatting from happening in the first place. We’ll guide you through how to spot an Airbnb squatter and what measures you can take to prevent them from inhabiting your property.
If you do find yourself in a squatting situation, there are still some things you can do to reclaim your property. One of the reasons squatting has become so prevalent is the mere fact that some property owners turn a blind eye. For those who own dozens of properties, they might not even know that people have been squatting on their property for months, especially in the low-season.
Prevent, protect, and push out squatting troubles by following a couple of these tips below.
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Disclaimer: Lodgify is an Airbnb Preferred Software Partner. This post, including any claims or statements within, is solely from Lodgify and is not endorsed by, directly affiliated with, authorized, or sponsored by Airbnb in any way.
What is an Airbnb squatter?
You might be familiar with the term squatting when it comes to tenants and rental properties, but most hosts are unaware of its applicability when it comes to their Airbnb. The idea of Airbnb and vacation rentals, in general, is to have a steady flow of transient guests, which is definitely contrary to a squatter. A squatter is someone who:
- Occupies or settles into a property they have no legal claim to
- Willingly and intentionally overstays past their last rental payment
- And/or someone who stays on vacant or unoccupied land or property without consent
Unfortunately, squatting isn’t exclusive to long-term rentals. Airbnbs and properties with vacation rental purposes can also fall victim to squatting, especially with the recent push for more extended stays in properties designed for short-term vacations.
An Airbnb squatter is someone who overstays and illegally occupies the Airbnb property after their reservation has ended. The nature at which an Airbnb squatter gains access to a property differs from a regular squatter in that they have a short-term rental reservation while regular squatters might have trespassed or overstayed a lease agreement.
How to spot a squatter
The best thing you can do for your property is to be vigilant about catching a squatter before they even make a reservation. Once you have squatters occupying the property, the process gets a whole lot messier, so it’s best to have a good eye for these unwanted guests.
A suspicious guest profile
The best thing you can do is weed out the potential squatters right at the beginning of the reservation process, so you don’t have to be burdened with canceling the booking or, worse, handling the squatting matter once they arrive.
You can read all the signs for screening unwanted guests here, but a couple of noticeable red flags include:
- Pixelated or blurry profile pictures
- Only filling in the mandatory fields on Airbnb
- The profile was created shortly before the request to book
There are many other warning signs to look out for, which you can read in the post above, but on the whole, trust your gut. If a profile looks suspicious, it just might be. You can always kindly ask guests to provide more information to give you peace of mind as to what their intentions might be, but if they refuse, it’s best to turn down the reservation. The cost of a week’s vacancy is far less than months of unpaid occupancy.
Having a guest with a new profile isn’t necessarily a red flag, particularly if they’re warm in their communication. Sometimes guests aren’t verified because they simply aren’t aware of how crucial it is. After all, they’re just vacationers, not experts.
It’s always worth giving a request-to-book a chance by doing a deeper dive through communication. If their “about me” section is lacking: ask some questions! “Why are you traveling? “Could you tell me about your itinerary?” “Tell me a bit more about you!” -these are all great questions for sifting through the guests and the squatters. You might even get a “green flag” response like a screenshot of their itinerary that shows their return flight.
How to protect yourself against vacation rental squatters
The Airbnb vetting process can be time-consuming, but there are also some solid ground rules you can follow to avoid Airbnb squatters. If it’s clear to squatters that your house is not up for grabs, you can save yourself a lot of work in the screening process by warding off unwanted guests before they even attempt to book.
Only host verified guests
Verified Airbnb guests are those who have confirmed their identity on the platform by submitting a government-issued identification. Airbnb allows hosts to only book guests who have a verified profile. This helps you to steer clear from the issue of having to verify guests through other means or asking intrusive questions like sending their identification directly to you. The catch is that Airbnb only allows this option if you yourself have been verified on the platform.
Request a higher amount for the security deposit
Guests who plan to overstay their welcome are looking to occupy the property as long as possible for no money at all. When you build in a higher amount for the security deposit, this will help to drive away Airbnb squatters who will be unwilling to pay the extra amount as they know they won’t get that money back.
Use a vacation rental contract
Airbnb squatting isn’t going to be completely avoided with just a vacation rental contract. That’s because vacation rental squatters are knowingly breaking the law. Nevertheless, a good vacation rental agreement will help you to argue your case in court or against local authorities. This is particularly true when it comes to evicting your unwanted guests. Many local police confuse Airbnb squatters with tenants who are overstaying their terms. Why is this an issue? Problems between a tenant and landlord typically fall into the civil realm of lawsuits, while trespassing is a criminal matter.
If you can prove that these are only short-term guests through the means of a vacation rental contract and prove that they’re trespassing, you stand a better chance of getting the law on your side when it comes to removing the squatters.
Don’t host over 27 days unless you’re sure of your guests
In the U.S., squatter’s rights can vary between states, but generally speaking, the power that a guest has becomes much greater when they stay on your property for more than 30 days and, in some cases, as little as 27 days.
While it may be tempting to hop on the trend of accepting all long-term stay requests that come your way, remember the risk that it entails. Many states view the guest as a tenant if it’s more than a monthly stay, meaning that they have significantly greater rights.
To avoid this issue, try to stick with shorter reservations unless they’re trusted guests. If you host the same repeat guests every year that stay for one month’s time, you can probably book these guests without fear, but be wary of newcomers who want to book for a long period of time. The steady income can be tempting, but remember that the risk is much higher.
How to evict Airbnb squatters
So you’ve got squatters. If you’ve desperately scrolled to the bottom of this page to find out the ‘what next?’ there are some immediate measures you can take. It’s not easy to get rid of Airbnb squatters as you can’t physically remove them from the premises, but there are ways to push them out and get your Airbnb business back to normalcy.
File an action immediately
Legal proceedings can take months or, in the ugliest of lawsuits, years. It’s best to lawyer up and get moving with filing a claim immediately. The sooner you start, the sooner your unwanted guests will leave. It also will help your case if the court sees you took swift action.
“File an action on what?” you might be wondering. As a property owner, you’ll need to file something called an unlawful detainer action. This basically means that the landlord or host is petitioning to remove the guest on the basis of an unlawful stay. This can be done at your local court and with a small filing fee.
Check with your insurance to see if you’re covered
In conjunction with legal proceedings, you’ll want to see what claims you have with your insurance. As a rule of thumb, you should have vacation rental insurance, especially for instances like these. Some policies have something called “squatters coverage,” which will provide relief of funds on matters such as lost income and legal expenses.
The key to successfully evicting Airbnb squatters is to document everything. The more evidence, the better. Remember that if you have to go to court, you’ll have to tell your story for why you’re trying to remove these guests from your home. The squatters are going to have their own side of the story and you’re going to need proof to dispute their claims.
Screenshots, photos, written documentation, anything will help you to bolster your case. Don’t leave out any detail when it comes to arguing your case against Airbnb squatters.
Airbnb and vacation rental squatters are no easy matters. These are guests who are knowingly breaking the law, so be prepared for a fight. The best thing you can do is avoid hosting them in the first place, but sometimes Airbnb squatters slip through even the tightening vetting processes.
If you find yourself in a position where you’ve got Airbnb squatters in your house, don’t panic, but don’t rest either. The legal battle can be a long one, so start with documentation and filings as soon as possible so you can get your vacation rental business back up and running.
Don’t see the form to download the Airbnb Rental Agreement Template? Click here.