The media tends to side with tenants and take a negative view of landlords overall. One notable exception was an episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley, where the hapless Jared has tried for over a year to evict a nonpaying “professional tenant” who is currently subleasing Jared’s unit through Airbnb because California’s landlord/tenant laws are so biased in favor of the tenant that an eviction can take close to an eternity. 

At the same time, Erlich (who rents the rooms in his home to Jared and the other characters trying to build the fictional tech company Pied Piper) is demanding one of his tenants and soon-to-be-supervillain Jian Yang leave his house (video contains NSFW language) and unfortunately lets Jared’s situation slip. This inspires Jian Yang to decide that instead of leaving, as Erlich requested, he would instead stay and simply stop paying rent.

While that episode was quite amusing, some municipalities seem to be trying to transcend parody into something beyond satire. New York, for example, just arrested a woman for changing the locks on a squatter in the $1 million home she inherited. 

According to a New York Post story about the incident:

“[Adele] Andaloro claims the ordeal erupted when she started the process of trying to sell the home last month but realized squatters had moved in—and brazenly replaced the entire front door and locks.

“She said she got fed up and went to her family’s home on 160th Street—with the local TV outlet in tow—on Feb. 29 and called a locksmith to change the locks for her.”

Understandable, but not a wise course of action. The two got into a heated argument, and the police were eventually called. As the New York Post article notes, “Under the law, it is illegal for the homeowner to change the locks, turn off the utilities, or remove the belongings of the ‘tenants’ from the property.” The word “tenant” is an extraordinarily generous euphemism in this case.

What complicates matters more is that in New York City, someone can claim “squatters rights” after being in a home for just 30 days. But “’[b]y the time someone does their investigation, their work, and their job, it will be over 30 days and this man will still be in my home,’ Andaloro said.” So, that left Andaloro between a rock and a hard place:

“Andaloro was ultimately given an unlawful eviction charge because she had changed the locks and hadn’t provided a new key to the person staying there, the NYPD confirmed to The Post. She was slapped with a criminal court summons, cops added.”

This case may be exceptional, but it is by no means unique. Also, in New York, a couple bought a $2 million “dream home” to care for their son with disabilities but couldn’t move in because a squatter had beat them to it. In another home, a squatter completely destroyed a property in the Rockaways, where dozens of emaciated dogs and cats were trapped inside on the verge of death. 

The New York Post quotes one attorney saying such cases have increased “40% to 50% in similar cases in the wake of COVID.”

This is made all the more frustrating by New York’s apparent lack of interest in prosecuting normal crimes. In 2022 and 2023, over half of felonies were downgraded to misdemeanors and misdemeanor cases resulting in a conviction plummeted from 53% in 2019 to 29% in 2022.  

Meanwhile, New York’s crime rate skyrocketed in 2022.

Crime in New York City by type (2022) – New York Post

Fortunately, crime has ebbed a bit in New York City (and the rest of the country in 2023 and so far into 2024). But I feel pretty confident in saying it’s not because people like Adele Andaloro are being arrested.

I should also note that this isn’t just a problem in New York. On the other side of the country, in Oregon, an investor posting as a squatter explained on X (formerly Twitter) how he could “steal a property” due to Portland’s laws on the subject

Indeed, I would have thought such problems would be more acute in California, which has the second-highest homeless rate in the country. Unfortunately, California chose a “housing first” policy instead of a “shelter first” policy to help homeless people get off the street. Providing housing for each homeless person is, not surprisingly, extremely expensive, especially in high-priced places such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. 

Getting back to New York: Despite this absurd story, the city has done a mostly good job with its homeless population and has been able to shelter 96% of its homeless population, whereas California shelters a paltry 38%. While some of this may be due to the more temperate weather in most of California as compared to New York, the fact that three times as many homeless people died in Los Angeles as in New York City in 2020-2021 (1,988 to 640) shows that it’s not all that. 

The Erosion of Property Rights

The story of Adele Andaloro really shows less about how municipalities choose to help their homeless population and more about the erosion of property rights in many places throughout the United States. We’ve seen this in the deluge of passed and proposed legislation targeting property owners throughout the country.

Now, I should note that Andaloro made a huge mistake. As indefensible as her situation was, she should not have taken the law into her own hands, especially in a state as unfriendly to landlords as New York. 

I should also note that landlords have more leverage in economic transactions than tenants do, and so the law does need to protect tenants. Landlords, after all, are the ones who write the leases. So, it’s incumbent upon the government to make sure the landlord cannot put any overly arduous or unfair clauses in that lease. 

Laws that require properties to be maintained or 24-hour notice to be given to a resident before entry or mandating evictions go through the court system and not be done with hired muscle are all legitimate and necessary in any functional and just society. But these “rights” have clearly gone way too far in many municipalities. For example, Denver just passed a law preventing landlords from demanding a tenant leave for any reason other than “just cause,” i.e., “nonpayment of rent, violation of lease terms, nuisance, and engaging in illegal activities.” 

This means if a property owner ever intends to sell their house, move into it, or give it to their kids, they are simply out of luck. (Other states and cities have passed laws requiring landlords to offer extended notice and pay moving costs in such cases, which I actually think is reasonable.)

Regarding so-called squatters rights, legally speaking, they are supposed to simply be that “[a]n individual may claim rights as a squatter if they are roommates, tenants, or occupying property that is abandoned or not used.” This is just adverse possession, a somewhat odd law that transfers property from the owner to its occupant if the occupant has continuously occupied the property for a certain length of time without refraining from the owner. States vary from three years (Arizona) to 30 (New Jersey) on just how long that needs to be

But in many cases, squatting has become synonymous with trespassing. And instead of punishing the perpetrator, the victim is the one who must stomach the cost. 

In Missouri, where we do most of our investing, “just like most other states, [Missouri] doesn’t have special laws regarding squatters’ removal. Therefore, to evict a squatter, you’ll need to go through the state’s eviction process.” This means for the offense of having someone break into our property, we have to pay to evict them and lose out on the opportunity cost of any rental income that could come in during that time.

This is the case in most states, so the big question to investors is, how friendly are the landlord/tenant laws where you invest? Because if you do get a squatter, the question becomes how hard it will be to evict them. Indeed, I had gotten several, and while the courts here are rather slow, they are thankfully much faster than in New York.

(In some areas, it is also sometimes worth boarding the windows and doors, at least during renovation, to prevent a squatter from getting in.) did a study and came up with a list of the most renter-friendly and landlord-friendly states. It looked like this:

Landlord-friendliness of state laws - SparkRental
Landlord-friendliness of state laws – SparkRental

Back in 2020, BiggerPockets also did an analysis with similar results. It found the five most landlord-friendly states to be:

  1. West Virginia
  2. Arkansas
  3. Louisiana
  4. North Carolina
  5. Alabama

And the five most tenant-friendly (or perhaps most antagonistic to landlords) were:

  1. Vermont
  2. Delaware
  3. Rhode Island
  4. Maine
  5. South Dakota

Moving Forward

While cases like Adele Andaloro make the headlines, overall, they are still rather rare. You don’t want to become paranoid. 

Still, in a time when such farcical cases are becoming more commonplace, and property owners are under continued legislative attack, it’s important to know which places are the most amenable to property ownership. This is especially true for buy-and-hold investors.

Indeed, in the least landlord-friendly places (New York being one of them), I would probably lean away from investing in buy-and-hold residential real estate there. (Commercial, fortunately, doesn’t have these problems.) 

In other cities and states that are still tough on landlords but below the farce, I would still recommend caution. Budget for higher administrative and legal costs and a higher economic vacancy factor. And make sure any potential acquisition still works with such restraints. 

Finally, make sure to understand your local laws, and no matter how ridiculous they may be, don’t take the law into your own hands.

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