April 6, 2023
There have been many stories in the news lately about squatters taking over people's homes. While many of these stories are publicized for sensationalism purposes, the issue of squatters is real.
During my 40-year legal career, I have handled hundreds of landlord-tenant cases, and often times they involve squatters. From the landlord's point of view, a squatter is not just someone that randomly trespassed into a home or apartment. Often times, the individual gains occupancy under semi-reasonable circumstances. I have had many cases where a tenant invites a guest to move in with them and then the tenant eventually vacates, leaving the guest there. Obviously, that individual has no Lease or other agreement directly with the landlord. However, courts have held that said individual has tenancy rights in situations where the landlord was aware of their occupancy and the squatter had been contributing to the household. I have even had cases where Judges have ruled that a squatter has tenancy rights wherein the squatter had performed chores while residing in the apartment even though there was no contractual privity between the squatter and the landlord.
In New Jersey, if a landlord allows an individual to reside in an illegal apartment (such as a basement or an attic), the landlord exposes themselves to significant penalties. The landlord will be required to give the occupant of the illegal apartment 6 months' worth of rent payments to cover relocation costs. Additionally, the landlord exposes themselves to municipal fines and penalties. I have also had cases where a legitimate tenant in a first-floor apartment moves other people into the basement and collects rent from the squatters in the basement.
All of the above stories are true and are much more common than you'd think. The courts favor the occupants (even if they are squatters) over the rights of the landlord. It is for this reason that it is imperative to hire experienced landlord-tenant attorneys to represent you in these types of situations.