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Democracy

Man figured out how to beat squatters at their own game. Now he helps others do it.

"If they can take a house, I can take a house."

woman moving boxes

When people move in and refuse to move out, what do you do?


Squatters' rights laws are some of the most bizarrely misused legal realities we have, and something no one seems to have a good answer for. Most of us have heard stories of someone moving into a vacant home and just living there, without anyone's permission and without paying rent, and somehow this is a legal question mark until the courts sort it out.

According to The National Desk, squatters' rights are a carryover from British property law and were created to ensure that abandoned property could be used and to protect occupants from being kicked out without proper notice. It should go without saying that squatter law isn't meant to allow someone to just take over someone else's property, but sometimes that's exactly what happens.

It's what happend to Flash Shelton's mother when she put her house up for rent after her husband passed away. A woman contacted her with interest in the property, only she wanted to do repairs and look after the home instead of paying rent. Before anyone knew it, she had furniture delivered (which she later said was accidental) and set up camp, despite Shelton's mom not agreeing to the arrangement.


But since the woman had expressed her intention and already moved in, the matter was out of police hands, as Shelton found out when he tried to contact the local sheriff.

“They said, ‘I’m sorry but we can’t enter the house, and it looks like they’re living there, so you need to go through the courts',” he shared in a YouTube video.

Shelton rightfully didn't want the expense of a court battle, so he took matters into his own hands—not with violence, but with logic. He had his mom lease the home to him, and then told the squatter that she had to move everything out because he was moving things in.

“If they can take a house, I can take a house," he said.

He was calm and clear about her having to get everything out within the day or he would have people come and take it, and thankfully, she didn't put up a big fight.

That experience made him realize how squatter law can be abused, but that there's a faster system for removing a squatter than to go through the court system. If a squatter can move in and force a homeowner to take them to court to prove they are living there illegally, then he could simply move in alongside the squatter, putting the squatter in the position of having to take the homeowner to court instead.

"The legal process is so slow, and at some point when they're in there, you're going to feel like they have more rights than you do and that's how you're going to be treated. So even though you it's your house and you're paying the mortgage or whatever, at some point squatters feel like they have more rights than you, so they don't have an incentive to leave until a judge tells them to, until they're actually ordered to, and that could take months."

After successfully removing the squatters in his mother's house, Shelton has been tackling similar squatter situations for other homeowners in California, earning him the nickname "The Squatter Hunter."

"All I'm doing is becoming a squatter and flipping this process on them," Shelton told CBS News. "I figured if they could take a house, I could take a house."

According to CBS, he's successfully removed a dozen squatters in the past year. ""I'm not going in and I'm not hurting anyone," he said. "I'm not kicking them out, I'm not throwing them out." He's literally just moving in himself, setting up cameras, and then creating small annoyances until the squatters get fed up enough to move out.

California isn't the only state that has seen issues with squatters. There are squatter stories from all over the U.S. of people moving into a property and refusing to leave without a court order, tying owners up in lengthy, expensive legal battles.

Shelton even has a Change.org petition to try to get squatter laws changed to "make squatting in residential maintained homes criminal." Making squatting illegal "will shift the burden of proof onto the squatter and make the crime punishable with restitution an option for damages," the the petition states.

Watch Shelton share his personal story:

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