Bought a home, squatter help

My husband and I just bought a home in Berkeley. The seller's stepdaughter (probably in her 50's) has lived in the home for years and is refusing to move out. She does not have a lease or estoppel or any other type of written document and does not pay any rent or utilities. She was offered a buyout a few times (other potential buyers) when the home was on the market, accepted the offer, and then refused to leave when the time came to exit the property. The seller and stepdaughter have an estranged relationship. Given this information, we are struggling with next steps.

  • Should we hire an attorney to advise us? Any recommendations on attorneys who can help us navigate this?
  • Should we attempt to talk to her first before even talking to an attorney?
  • Is she legally even considered a tenant? Is she a squatter?
  • Has anyone been through a similar situation and can offer some advice/insight?
  • The seller is asking that we transfer all utilities under our name. We would like to shut off all utilities because we are not planning on moving in immediately. We are planning a large renovation and in the process of getting contractors/architects to come out to the property. I'm not even sure if this is possible if she is still living there. 

Thank you!

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RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

Uh.... don't close escrow until the premises are vacant, locks changed with evidence of that provided by the seller!

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

We are going through this right now with two of our homes (and no, we are not career landlords - we have just moved a lot and didn't have time or energy to sell homes). 

If at all possible, don't close until all tenants have left. We just moved to a new area where there are many new people buying up homes and probably half of them are facing a similar situation. For some buyers, with the timing of the pandemic and relief, it can turn ugly.

First off, you're probably going to need to get a lawyer involved. My sister is a real estate agent and attorney; she couldn't even help us. We had to suck it up and pay $7-$10K to get an attorney, for each respective house/situation (two different states). Keep in mind right now through June 30 ( I don't believe it's been extended as of yet), there's a moratorium in place where renters do not have to leave (or pay rent) until then. In the event that the moratorium doesn't  get extended, you're still going to have a legal issue on your hands. Why? Because it's very pro-tenant rights at this time. Be prepared for this and a 6 to 12 month battle to get the tenant out. I am all about tenant's rights, and I know many have come upon hard times. The problem is, there's many tenants taking advantage of the situation (one of ours just paid cash for their Tesla but they somehow can't come up with any rent money to pay us since last April).

The common suggestion we received is to cut off the electricity. It seems like your situation could have a good argument for this. As in you don't need to move in right away and you're doing renovations. But be careful. We know a lot of friends/colleagues who have recently gone down this road and it usually ends up in court and the tenant wins. I AM NOT GIVING LEGAL ADVICE; I am just letting you know that you're not the only one going through this (it can seem very lonely and frustrating) and that at this time, cross every "T" and dot every "i." Be ready for 6-12 months of frustration. I would say don't do this alone because again, it might end up in court. Change the locks in the meantime. It won't solve the problem but it can help. 

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

You definitely need a lawyer.  Your agent/broker should be helping you on this. 

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

Get an attorney familiar with tenant/landlord laws ASAP! You can probably do a Ellis Act eviction. The eviction process will be very complicated and time consuming. Should not have closed escrow until property was vacant. 

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

Yikes. Given Berkeley's rent control laws this is a potentially nightmare scenario. Absolutely DO NOT CLOSE ESCROW until the house is empty and you have keys to the house with locks changed. If you have already closed, consult an attorney familiar with Berkeley's rent control laws immediately. Unless the attorney says I must, I would absolutely not put any utilities in my name until the step-daughter has left the premises.

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

I own a few rental properties in other states, so am not familiar with California norms, but personally yes, I would 100% hire an attorney right away and work through them. Everything you describe points to the fact that this person isn't going to move out of their own volition. These situations can take a long time to resolve, even in more "landlord friendly" states, so I think it makes perfect sense to engage an attorney ASAP. 

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

When we had a similar issue in Berkeley the realtor arranged for the Alameda County Sheriff to be present when the locks were changed. Thankfully the "squatter" was not there at the time and never returned.

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

My 2 cents: I would talk with her first to see exactly where things stand. Then, I definitely advise getting an attorney; this being Berkeley she is in all likelihood a tenant with eviction protections (see  And let’s say for a moment she’s not a tenant, it sounds like you need help in any case getting her to leave the property. I believe BPOA has referrals for attorneys that work on landlord issues.  Best of luck. 

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

She is an "occupant" not a tenant. Clearly she has no legal rights to be there. It is suprising that the escrow is not contingent upon the delivery of an empty house.Any of the attorneys listed on the Berkeley Property Owners website could address this issue. Sorry you must incur more fees and expenses.

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

We went through an amicable owner move-in situation in Oakland with a house that had renters in it a few years ago, and while the process turned out well for us, it still felt tricky to navigate the situation.

Have you closed? If not, I would seriously reconsider the property or negotiating with the seller to put it on her to get the stepdaughter to move before you close.

If you have closed, I would hire a good lawyer immediately, one who is well versed in tenant-renter laws in Berkeley. (Ours actually advised us not to buy our home because it was complicated, but we persisted and it all worked out.)

Our lawyer advised us to do all communications through them. You have to be careful on this one. I don't think you can talk to the stepdaughter directly, unfortunately. If you really want to, get advice from your lawyer first on what you can and cannot say.

If she has been living there, she unfortunately is likely to be considered a tenant with tenant's rights. There are certain tenant protections that also protect older renters, so you should definitely check with a good lawyer on how to proceed next.

Best of luck! This is a tricky situation but one that can be navigated with good legal advice.

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

That is too bad. For sure you need need a lawyer that deals with eviction issues. Rent Control is super hard on owners this days... It is true that you can offer her " cash for keys". It is a pretty unfair situation, it should have been address before you closed on the purchased at least an agreement...

Good luck!

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

She isn't a squatter, she is a hold-over tenant and has all of the rights of a tenant whether she pays rent or not. Therefore, don't shut off utilities while she is still there. You definitely need to consult with a landlord tenant attorney. It sounds like you have already closed escrow? If so you bought the property subject to her tenancy. If you haven't closed maybe it is not too late to negotiate that you get a credit from the seller to cover your legal fees to evict her because it sounds like it is going to come to that.

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

This should all have been in the disclosure. If the sale is not completed, consider backing out.

If it's completed, an attorney is your best path forward. Do not do anything until you engage an attorney - don't talk to her until you talk to an attorney, who will coach you on how to communicate. You'll have to strictly follow their advice to make sure you're doing everything legally. 

There's likely a very long road ahead, even if everything is in your favor. We had friends in a different but similar situation and it took years to resolve. In their case, there were mental health issues involved too. 

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

Welcome to Berkeley.  This is a common story for property owners in the city of Berkeley.  An attorney will not be able to help you.  The city has a team of attorneys and the WILL defend her right to stay.  They will fight you and don’t expect any sympathy from anyone at the city.  I sued the city over a different but similar issue and won.  The City’s team of attorneys filed two appeals and in the end I wound up losing because I could not afford the attorney’s fees.  This story was on KGO radio with Pat Thurston. My heart goes out to you.  If you look at all previous cases trying to get a person out of a the property owner has lost.

I must ask; didn’t your realtor explain any of this to you?  Wasn’t this disclosed before you purchased the house?  Didn’t they make you sign a disclaimer?  I know there’s a $2M house for sale for $700K because it comes with a person who lives in one of the bedrooms who won’t leave.  Didn’t your realtor tell you anything about Berkeley rent control laws?  If not, go after your realtor.  Hate to say this but the timing of this could not be any worse for you because of Berkeley’s COIVID ordinance.  You cannot evict anyone for any reason at this time and this includes not paying rent.  The city expects property owners to pay taxes and mortgages even without the rental income.

I think every realtor in Berkeley knows Berkeley Rent Control requires you to pay a minimum $15K to relocate.  The person can refuse.  I know many stories of property owners offering up to $250K to get someone out and they refuse. Another famous story is the who was prevented from moving into their house for 30 years because of Berkeley’s tenant’s rights laws.  Have you offered the person $50K or $100k to move?  Be sure to keep the house in habitable and registered with the Berkley Rent Control Board while all of this is going on.  They will take your house. Get familiar with Berkeley’s rent control laws

You are not alone, here’s what you need to do. Get in touch with the Berkeley Property Owners association.  People like us have banded together and are “fighting” the city for "our" property rights.  You will want to talk to Laura.

The law gives you very few options. 
Try paying the person to move.  I would be prepared to offer $200K if you really like the house.
Move in, it's your house.
Sue your realtor if they did not disclose especially if you didn't sign a disclosure.  You will win.  If you signed one, don't bother.
Try and sell the house to someone else.
Walk away.
Talk to Laura she might have other ideas.

Best of luck

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

wow - yes, hire an attorney, perhaps call the police to evict the squatter. And, yes, turn off the utilities, including water. And if none of this spurs her to leave, it's time to get nasty.

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

doable.  but run, don't walk to an attorney.  this should not even be a question.  do you question using a dentist for root canal?  get a competent attorney and let them handle this and do it before you say one word to this woman.  that's a crazy slippery slope you don't want to touch with a ten food well intended pole.  best of luck!  

RE: Bought a home, squatter help ()

It sounds like op already closed on the house so they are past the point of making it a condition with escrow.  Yes, you are going to have to hire a lawyer and I guarantee its going to take more time, money and energy than you would have liked. That is why the other buyers fell through. And why presumably you were able to buy the house at a discount. Now you can put that money towards contractors and legal fees. Hopefully you negotiated a good price with the seller so that all these costs don’t exceed the house’s market value. 

I would not take any action on the house or with this woman without first specifically clearing your plan with a lawyer. Its probably fine to put the utilities in your name but not to shut them off though I wouldn’t assume the seller is giving you good advice (they already sold you a house that is adversely possessed by their estranged family member!). No one here can tell you what property rights this woman has even if they had a similar situation, even in Berkeley. This totally fact-specific and  will largely depend on the woman’s claims/ defenses. Quite frankly, its a quagmire.