If there’s anyone who knows how to get rid of squatters, it’s Leka Devatha. Right before MCing the biggest real estate event of the year, BPCon 2023, Leka got a phone call from her property manager with the words no investor EVER wants to hear, “there are trespassers in the property.” What followed was months of legal back and forth, media attention, and some secret agent work from Leka to get these so-called “tenants” OUT of her property. In the end, Leka lost tens of thousands of dollars, but today, she’s going to share how to avoid the same fate.

Squatters know their rights and how long it takes landlords to kick them out of a property, so they come prepared. With everything from fake leases to moving over utilities, claiming the legitimate owners are liars, and doing ANYTHING they can to prove they belong in the house, modern-day squatters could live in your home for years unless you follow the same steps as Leka.

In today’s episode, Leka shares how she got two trespassers out of her house without going through the long, costly, and often unsuccessful eviction process, how she beat the squatters at their own game, and what YOU should do to stop ANY squatter from even THINKING about stealing from you.

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Read the Transcript Here

Ashley:
This is Real Estate Rookie episode 360.

Tony:
As economic times have created hardships across the country, knowing how not to be taken advantage of and how to navigate evictions is becoming more and more important. And today, we’re going to cover how to leverage the right channels to make it happen when you were told you have no power.

Ashley:
As always, I’m Ashley Kehr, and he’s Tony Robinson, your co-host for the show.

Tony:
Welcome to the Real Estate Rookie Podcast where every week, twice a week, we bring you the inspiration, motivation, and stories you need to hear to kickstart your investing journey. And today, we don’t have a rookie on the show. We’ve got a pretty seasoned investor, Leka Devatha. Leka is a great friend of mine and Ashley’s, and she recently had a pretty big issue go down at one of her $2 million properties. So we’re going to get into how to approach illegal squatters and illegal trespassers and how to make sure that you’ve got the right insurance on your properties. You’re going through this.

Ashley:
I never had a dream or ambition of it being a newscaster on Dateline or 20/20, but today, we have some hard-hitting journalism here as Leka speaks out live for the first time, maybe fifth time, about this incident. So this went viral on her Instagram account. This was on a huge news station that’s local to her area where Leka talks about this ordeal with the squatters. So we have Leka here today with us to get the shocking story, the nitty-gritty details, as she speaks out for the first time telling us exactly what happened. Leka, thank you for coming on TMZ and spilling the tea. So, let’s get started. Squatters, first, what is the difference between a squatter and somebody that’s trespassing on your property? Because I want to make that clear before we even dive into the story of this.

Leka:
Wow, guys. Thank you so much for having me. I can already tell this is going to be a jam-packed action-filled episode. I love it. I love you both so much.

Ashley:
I just hope you’re ready for my hard-hitting questions.

Leka:
I am ready to bring you everything and spill the beans. But okay, what is a squatter, what is a trespasser? A trespasser is someone that gained illegal access into your property. They broke locks, they broke a window, and that’s how they gained access. A squatter could be a tenant that stopped paying rent, someone that saw an unlocked door that walked in and ended up living there for a long time. Another key difference between a squatter and a trespasser is a squatter has intention to just stay. They have no intentions of moving out. A trespasser could be someone that is in the house for a day, a week, a year, but has intention of moving out. So yeah, that’s just some of the basic differences. What I had in my unit was trespassers. They were not previous renters or tenants of mine, so it was crazy.

Ashley:
Yeah. Before we even get into more of the story, I just want to highlight some of the facts that we have that you had released on your Instagram account while this was all happening and breaking down. So first of all, property damage of $22,000, over $3,000 in legal fees, $9,000 in loss of rent, which potentially could have been up to 30,000 following a full eviction, and then also, letters from other tenants asking for a rent discount due to what was going on at the property.

Leka:
That’s correct.

Tony:
That’s $34,000 right there. That’s $34,000 of just actual hard money, not to mention the time, the effort, I’m sure the stress that came along with that. Leka, I think this episode is going to be so important because for a lot of our rookie investors who are listening, I do think that a fear of theirs is getting that nightmare situation where you’ve got a squatter or a trespasser. Some people were so afraid of that happening, they just won’t buy real estate at all. So I’m happy to get into kind of how this played out for you, Leka. So when did this whole ordeal start and what was going on in that moment for you?

Leka:
It’s kind of bittersweet. I got to actually emcee the BiggerPockets conference last year, which was such a big deal for me. It was just like one of those things that is everybody’s dream to do. You’re in real estate, and you get to host one of the largest real estate conferences in the country. I was about to go on stage, it was the very first night, and announce to 3,000 people that we were going to kick off this amazing conference for the week. I was in hair and makeup right before I went on stage, and I got a call from my property manager saying that someone had illegally occupied one of my units back home in Seattle. It was one of my most expensive properties. It was a $2 million property and the top unit had views of beautiful water views, a stunning bridge. The rent that we were getting from this property was three grand a month.
Someone had gone in, changed the locks, and moved in and were now telling my property manager that they were the legal tenants, and they had signed a lease with someone to go live in this property. I just remember being on the call with him thinking, “Okay, I’m about to go announce the largest conference I’ve ever done in my life and probably will ever do, and here I am getting this devastating news,” because I don’t even know how to deal with this. Then, the Seattle tenant laws are so rigid for landlords that I could possibly not even evict them for the next nine to 18 months. So I didn’t know how I was going to deal with all that. I didn’t know what I was going to make of the situation. I just knew that I had something so amazing in front of me that I wasn’t going to let this bog me down.
And so I remember telling my property manager like, “Hey, look. I’m coming back from the conference in a week. When I get home, I’ll deal with this.” So I went on stage. I had the best time. I announced the conference. I had a great week of all amazing things on stage, and then I went home and then I dealt with my squatters.

Ashley:
So before we get into more of the story here, Leka kind of left it on a happy note that she had a great week, had this wonderful thing, but when she gets home, she has to face reality. We’re going to go through exactly what happened and the steps she had to take during this initial process because it’s not what she expected to do, so we’ll be right back after a short break.
Okay. We are back from break with Leka. She was just telling us how she received a phone call moments before going on the biggest stage of her life, and she had to kind of put this out of sight, out of mind for a week while she’s finishing up her emceeing duties at the conference until she returns home to kind of take a step back and to handle the situation. But first, Leka, when you’re in that moment and you’re thinking it could be up to 18 months until this person is actually out of this property, how much money was that that you would be paying out of pocket every month to cover expenses that were no longer covered by this property? Do you know that number offhand?

Leka:
Yeah, I think almost like 50 grand if you think about it for a year because you’re paying your rental income, your mortgage. You’re paying your taxes, your insurance, your utility bills. You’re still paying for all of that because it’s one unit.

Ashley:
That’s a scary number, $50,000 to have to come up with for a year while knowing someone else is enjoying and destroying the comforts of your home. Exactly.

Leka:
And plus, because it was one unit out of a triplex that they had occupied, I still had to pay all the utilities for the building, and I still had to pay all the regular stuff that I pay as a landlord because I didn’t want to disturb my other tenants. So it was just a double whammy.

Tony:
Leka, before we keep going, I just want to ask one question quickly. You mentioned that Seattle has super strict landlord laws, maybe favors the tenant a little bit more, very similar to what we see here in California. Knowing that, did it make you hesitant to even hold rentals in that city? And if so, what kind of gave you the confidence to press on and be a landlord in such a tenant-friendly area to begin with?

Leka:
Tony, that is such a good question. Honestly, when I posted the video on my Instagram and it went viral, a lot of the comments on that was, “Oh, it’s your fault for investing in a landlord or a tenant-friendly state. It’s your fault for owning rentals in Seattle where you know that you get no help for a situation that you put yourself into.” But here’s the actual truth to all of this, the real estate in my market appreciates double every five years. Real estate in my market is… My tenants in my market are really good high-income earners with good quality jobs and a great lifestyle. My market economics are better than most states in the country. Our rental income is better than most states in the country.
Now, given all of this, yes, our landlord laws are not the best, but all of these other factors contribute to me continuing to invest in my city and my state. So is this going to deter me from investing again in my state or holding long-term rentals? No, it’s not because yes, I could own a property in the most landlord-friendly state, but if it’s not appreciating, I’m not getting good rents and I’m still not getting good tenants, then what’s the point? At least this way, I’m boots on the ground. I know that this is an appreciating asset. Even if my cashflow is stalled for the minute, I know that the asset itself is appreciating.

Ashley:
Leka, I think one thing we need to make clear for this episode too is that these weren’t tenants. So even if tenant-landlord laws are strict or not strict, these are not tenants in the property anyways, as you clarified for us in the beginning. These are trespassers in your property. So even if you are not in Seattle or California or a strict state, you could still get into a squatter situation where it’s different laws that apply to those types of people. So Leka, let’s get back to the story as to your home from BiggerPockets. What is your first step?

Leka:
So yeah. As soon as I got home from BiggerPockets, I got on a call with my property manager who then said to me that he had already tried to go speak with these trespassers and see what was their story, what was their backstory, how did they get access into the property? These trespassers said to him that, “Hey, we actually found this property on Craigslist. We messaged someone on Craigslist and we signed a lease.” The reality is that we never post any of our properties on Craigslist for rent. So what had actually happened was my tenants had moved out on September 29, and the property went back on the market listed for rent on October 1st. October 2nd or 3rd, these squatters or trespassers basically had potentially signed a lease with someone on Craigslist and then got access, I don’t know how, into the unit, had broken the locks, changed it, and then moved in.
And the whole story about… Because my trespassers still say that they signed a lease, well, if they signed a lease, they didn’t have to break the locks. So obviously, their story doesn’t hold good, but they changed the locks and moved in. And so my property manager was basically talking to them saying, “Hey, if you actually signed a fraudulent lease, why don’t you sign a lease with us, and then we’ll let you continue to live in the property?” And they said, “Nope. We don’t know you’re the property manager. We have no evidence that you work with the owner.” And so my property manager said, “Okay, do you want to come down with me? We’ll go talk to these people and say, ‘Okay,’ see if they’re more forthcoming with you being the owner.” So I went there. I had a legal document that said that I owned this property. I had my driver’s license so that they could see that I was indeed the legal owner of the property.
So we show up there and I’m like, “Hey, guys. This is who I am. I’m the owner, and I’d love to sign the lease with you. Will you please just sign the lease with me? Start paying me rent, and I’ll let you live in my property.” What I got back from them was just offense after offense like, “We don’t believe that you are the owner. Those are forged documents. We don’t trust that you have our interest at heart. We don’t have to show you any document that we signed or our lease. We will only talk to the police.” At which point, I ended up calling the police. I was on hold for a long time. Then, when an officer finally spoke to me, he said, “This is a civil matter, not a criminal offense, and so there’s nothing we can do. You’re on your own.”

Ashley:
In that moment, when you get that, what is your first instinct as to like, “I have to now go through a full eviction”? How did you control your emotions to actually make a decision as to how to move next on this?

Leka:
So the other thing that happened in that moment is when I went and knocked on the door and they opened the door, I saw that they had already started doing damage to the property. They had literally ripped out the carpets. All the door jams were falling down. As we opened the door, I could just hear bang, bang, bang, all these things falling off. And so in that moment, I was like, “Oh my God. Forget the eviction process. Forget what’s going to happen to my other tenants. My building is in jeopardy.” They could literally break down the building or light a fire and I’m on my own. I have no help from the law whatsoever. So I’m literally on my own and I’ve got to somehow work this out. I had no idea how I was going to proceed at that time.

Tony:
I just wanted to ask one clarifying question, Leka, because you said you went to the police and they said that it wasn’t a criminal matter, it was a civil matter. So breaking into someone’s property is civil, not criminal?

Leka:
Yes. So a couple questions that the police asked me. They said, “Do they have any weapons? Did they threaten you in any way? Do you feel like they are a threat to society? Do you feel like they are doing any kind of illegal activity in and around the property?” Because my answer to all of this is either no or I don’t know, they said, “Well, we can’t help you. This is a civil matter.”

Tony:
I would think that breaking into someone’s house is like something you should be able to call the cops about. But good to know for us now that if you do run into that issue, just tell them, “Hey, someone broke into my house. I’m worried that they’re extremely dangerous and that they’re doing a lot of illicit illegal activity inside the property. Please can you get them out?” That way, the cops have a motivation to actually take action.

Leka:
I mean, I think even if you said that, I don’t know if they would take action because they’re probably like, “Well, no one’s hurt. And so this is still it’s not our problem. It’s still a civil matter.”

Ashley:
What does your attorney say in all of this? Are you using the property manager’s attorney? What’s kind of happening with your legal advice at this point?

Leka:
First, my property manager obviously hired his own legal team, someone that he uses for evictions all the time. When I spoke to that attorney, that attorney was very clear that, “Look, we have very strict guidelines to follow, and we’re not going to shift. We’re not going to move from them.” So it is so important to also find a legal team to kind of have your back. And yes, there are laws that you have to follow, but then you’re dealing with a trespasser that didn’t follow the law. And so what is it that you can do where you can go above and beyond while still following the law to actually make some kind of a change, right? So the first attorney said to me, “Hey, it’s a six to nine month eviction process, and given how late the courts are going to take our case in, we probably will not even be in court till March.”
And this happened back in October, and so I’m thinking, “Wow. Till March? These guys are just going to continue to live in my property for free. That is not going to happen.” And so I ended up finding my own legal team. I ended up talking to some of my friends in the area, and this is where your network truly plays a huge role. One of the people that I spoke to was James Dainard. As you all know, he was my co-host at the conference, and I was talking to him about this situation right before we were going to go on stage on the second or the third day. I was like, “James, what do I do?” He’s like, “Oh, I’ve dealt with this before. Use these attorneys.” So the first thing I did when I went home was I actually called one of the attorneys on James’s list who also happens to be a really good friend of mine from back in the day, and she is who I ended up hiring to take this case down.

Tony:
Of course James Dainard has the solution to that issue, right? So once you connect with this new attorney, Leka, how much time had passed at that point? Is that within the same week or are you now months into this journey? How much time had passed?

Leka:
I think about three weeks had passed since the trespassers had taken over my property.

Tony:
Had you had any communication with them during those three weeks since that initial conversation?

Leka:
Not after that first conversation. The first conversation, I went in and we had that so-called meeting. Then, after that, I went and I stalked the property a little bit, but I never saw them or had another conversation with them.

Tony:
Were you able to get any information on who these people were? Are they just complete strangers? Do you have names? Do you have any identifying information about them?

Leka:
No. So that was the challenging thing is we didn’t even know their names. We didn’t know who to address. As the landlord, you can give them a notice to vacate, and we didn’t know what names to put on the notice because we didn’t know their names. We didn’t know who they were, where they came from, nothing. So all we had was their photographs and videos I had taken of them, and we weren’t able to identify them at that point.

Ashley:
Tony and I are new investigative journalist. Going forward, what is something that you and your attorney did to actually find out who these people are to be able to give them notices?

Leka:
Okay, Ashley. You’re going to be so proud of me for doing this. So what I did was I actually camped outside the unit one day and I just waited for the mailman. I sat there for, I want to say, three hours, and I saw the mail truck pull up, and it was a USPS truck. And so I stopped the guy because he had mail that he was going to deliver to the unit. I stopped him and I said, “Stop. I want to see your mail because I am the legal owner of this property. There are scammers in the first unit, and they’re trying to take over my property. Just stop delivering any mail.”
He was like, “Okay, done. I’m not going to deliver any mail. But also, you would have to go down to the USPS post office and basically say that you are the owner and you have to stop the mail. You have to legally prove you’re the owner and then stop mail.” I said, “Done. I’ll do that.” Then, I said, “Out of curiosity, can I just see the mail?” The minute I saw it, and I took photos of the mail, I couldn’t open it because that’s not legal. But I took photos of the mail and I got their names on it. I was then able to pass that mail on to my attorney, and then she was able to run a background on these people.

Tony:
That is super, super ninja trick there.

Ashley:
And all the girls with boyfriends that they want to track down, this is how they’re going to do it: camp at their house, look for their mail. Who’s the new girlfriend’s name that’s on the mail that’s living in my ex-boyfriend’s house? Okay. So you have their information by camping out, doing some work. You go and handle things through the post office. I’m curious as to far as utilities, did they actually go and put the utilities in their name? Were you able to actually just shut off the utilities? How did that work?

Leka:
Yeah, so they were not able to put the utilities in their names, but they did get Comcast in their names. When you have a document like a Comcast with your name on it, suddenly you’ve established what they call residence in the property.

Ashley:
Comcast is like the internet?

Leka:
Yes, sorry. Comcast is like your cable and internet.

Tony:
So they get internet in their name, but are you then able to shut off electric and water to that unit? What are you doing with the other utilities?

Leka:
Typically, to shut off utilities, you don’t pay your bills for two months. If you don’t pay your bills for two months, then the utility company flags you and sends you a mail saying, “Hey, your bill hasn’t been paid.” Then, you can tell them that you want the utility shut off, and then they take a month to shut it off. They have a three-month runway till the utilities are shut off. Now, you have to also understand the people that squat or trespass, they know these city laws. My squatters actually went to something called a Housing Justice Project in Seattle and spoke to them about, “Hey, if we actually squatted on a property, what is the landlord’s recourse?” They heard from a pro bono attorney that it takes six to nine months to evict someone in the city. They said, “Oh, great. We have six to nine months to live here.” So [inaudible 00:23:28] someone’s actually feeding this information.

Tony:
Right. Yeah, that’s what I want to pause on really quickly. So you’re saying there’s some kind of organization out there that is coaching squatters on how to be more efficient in taking properties from landlords. Is that what you’re saying?

Leka:
Yeah. So I think that’s why this is a much bigger issue than people just squatting in my unit. I think there’s a whole other realm to this is that there’s people encouraging this behavior and enabling people to do this. Now, you also have to understand that these trespassers and squatters are not doing it from big corporations. They’re finding smaller mom-and-pop landlords like me, and so we don’t have the legal means to go after a whole organization like this. That’s a much bigger issue, but it is something that we need to tackle. It is something that needs to be brought to light because this is not legal. This is not civil. This is very much criminal.

Ashley:
Leka, before we move on, we’re going to take a short break. When we come back, I want to find out what happened. So are they still living there? Did you get them out? What were the next steps that you had to take? So we will be right back after word from our show sponsor.
Okay, we are back with Leka. To do a little recap here, she has told us this nightmare story that I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight hoping this never happens to me. But she has squatters in her house who have just completely moved in. They are not paying rent. They are destroying the property from what she can see from just peeking in the door when they will talk to her one time. She has to camp out to find out what their names are and hire a new attorney. So once you have all these pieces of information together, what is your attorney’s advice as to what you should do next besides proceeding with the normal eviction? So now that you’ve got all this information, all these pieces put together, you have your new attorney, what advice is your attorney giving you besides just doing an eviction?

Leka:
So this is where having an attorney that has same mindset as you is so important, someone that has that same work ethic, that same hustle power. Right? And so that’s what I love about my attorney. Her name’s Synthia Melton, and she runs an all-woman legal team here in Seattle, which is more power to her. And so what she said to me was, “Look, we’re going to have to attack this from many different angles. Let’s talk to the prosecutor’s office. Let’s talk to the police department again. Let’s actually involve the press and the media.” During all of this, that video that I posted on Instagram ended up having over 700,000 views, and the media caught onto it because of that video. So then, what my attorney ended up doing was sending this video to the police department and to the prosecutor’s office.
Now, suddenly, it got flagged in the police department as, “Okay, this is a real story that’s getting all of this attention.” Because the media was after it, the media ended up shooting a whole docuseries on what happened, how these squatters got in, how I was dealing with the situation. They’d interviewed me, my property manager, my attorneys, and people around the unit, and they started doing their own digging. Because we had got the names of the trespassers from their mail, we were able to now look up their criminal records, and we found that the woman that was squatting at my place was an OnlyFans content creator. She was actually found topless in Seattle a month before.

Ashley:
Like found in the street topless?

Tony:
Yeah, I was going to say like, “What do you mean by that?”

Ashley:
Just like they found her wandering around?

Leka:
They found her on the streets of Seattle. Her name was actually flagged. They hadn’t detained her or anything, but they had found her in the streets of Seattle topless only a month prior to what had happened.

Ashley:
I mean, that can happen to anyone. I mean…

Tony:
Who hasn’t been found topless by the police wandering in Seattle? Yeah.

Leka:
Right. Exactly. That too in Downtown Seattle. Sure. But when the cops found out who she was and they found out what she did, they said, “Okay, fine. This is definitely a criminal matter. It does seem like she did trespass. She didn’t have any legal lease that she signed.” And so they said, “Okay, this is criminal.” So one day, I get a call from my attorney’s office, and it was on my son’s 11th birthday, November 7th. The attorney’s office said, “Hey, the cops are willing to go do a raid and get your trespassers out of the unit.” And that was huge for me. That was so unbelievable that the cops were actually going to be on my side. They said they went through all of the documentation. They went through all of the documents that we sent to them, and they have decided that they’re going to go in and actually get these people out, but they need you to accompany them. And so I was like, “Okay.” So I ended up going on a raid, a police raid, my first ever, hopefully my last.

Ashley:
Was this like an adrenaline rush? Did you write something off the bucket list?

Leka:
Oh my God, it was. It was scary. It was-

Tony:
Did they have you with a bulletproof vest, hopping out the back of the SWAT van and there’s theme music playing?

Leka:
Not a bulletproof vest, but I did accompany them to a secret location where we did the whole rundown of what was going to happen, who these people were, and come up with different scenarios if one of them did this, that, and the other. If they had weapons, if they didn’t have weapons, there was a whole situation. Then, the police also told me that, “Look, if there’s significant damage to the property, that I could have them detained. But if there was not significant damage and they had just trespassed, then they would still be taken back for questioning, but they wouldn’t actually be held or go to jail.” So I was like, “Great. Okay, let’s go do this.”
So then, this is a really true and sad and funny story all in one. But we ended up going to the property, and the property has a front door and a side door. There were officers in the front door. There were officers in the side. The media was there shooting all of this. Then, I was standing kind of to the back just watching all this from one street above. Then, they went in. They banged on the door and they said, “Seattle police, open the door.” And the squatters inside-

Ashley:
In that same voice?

Leka:
In that same… No, there was a little bit more like… So then, they knocked on the door. They banged on it. They used a microphone to scream in. Then, the squatters, this is going to amaze you, they call 911, and then the cops are like, “We are 911. Open the door now.” Oh my God. It was quite the ordeal. Then, finally, they just wouldn’t open the door, and so they had to take this big boulder and bang down that door and enter the unit.

Ashley:
I’m watching The Wire right now, binge-watching it, so these visuals that I’m getting from your story… The Wire 2002, that’s what I’m getting.

Tony:
Wait, I’m dying at the fact that they called the police on the police. I-

Ashley:
I know.

Leka:
They called 911 on the cops, and the cops are like-

Tony:
I didn’t even know that that’s an option. Next time I get pulled over, I’m going to try that. I’m just going to call 911 and say, “Look, I got a speeding ticket, but I don’t know how I feel about this.”

Leka:
You can’t say speeding ticket, Tony. You got to say, “Someone’s pulling me over. I have no idea why.”

Tony:
Yeah, I’ve got an unidentified vehicle behind me right now.

Leka:
Someone’s following me.

Ashley:
I mean, are they dragging them out of the property, they’re putting them in the back of the cars, and they’re just gone?

Leka:
So what they did was they went inside and they handcuffed them, and they actually pinned them to the floor and said, “What is going on?” At that point, both these trespassers were like, “Look, we signed a legal lease. We have a right to be here. Here’s our Comcast utility bill that says our names on it.” Then, the cops were basically like, “No, the homeowner is with us, and you are clearly trespassing on her property. You have no right to be here.” And so, they removed both of them. They put them in the police van, and they took them to the station.

Ashley:
Now, for tenant-landlord laws, at least in New York, if a tenant is evicted and they leave their stuff, you have to hold it for X amount of days. In this situation, I mean, their stuff that’s in there, is it now your stuff to just do whatever with, or did you have to give them their stuff back?

Leka:
Yeah, so once we entered the property, that was a whole other situation because it felt like these people had just lived there for years. They had an art station where the woman was painting. They had a whole DJ turntable, and guys, this is the best part. They had a stripper pole in the middle of my living room. I cannot even make this up.

Ashley:
Like the one Tony has in the back there?

Tony:
Just like it. That’s how I get my cardio in before the recordings.

Leka:
But yeah, they had really moved in. There was like cake on the kitchen floor. There was stuff everywhere. She had so much wardrobe stuff like heels and jackets and bags, and they were designer bags and Prada jackets and probably, sadly, all stolen. They even had two puppies. That was breaking my heart. They had these two little puppies in there. And so when we walked in, thankfully, there was not significant damage to the actual physical condition of the property, and so the cop said, “Okay, we are going to just take them back for questioning and then release them.”
Now, this is also scary because once you release such criminals, they’re just going to go find someone else to go harass or take over someone else’s property, so I don’t know how to put an end to this. I don’t know how to make this a bigger deal than what they’re making it out to be, but no. So there are some laws. Even squatters and trespassers have laws. We had to hold their stuff until they could come in and retrieve them. So we did hold it for a couple of days. They came back. They took all their stuff. They took their puppies. Then, the following week, I had a junk removal company come in and take everything out. I didn’t want to have to deal with anything, so they came in and took everything out.

Ashley:
So looking back on this, Leka, what are some of the lessons learned that you would do going forward to prevent this, or if it does happen again, you would take these action steps and things that you would do different?

Leka:
Yeah. Okay, so first is, I know a lot of people would probably say, “Don’t invest in states or cities with unfriendly landlord laws.” Again, that is not an option because it’s a great place to invest and grow your assets and your real estate portfolio. So I’m going to continue to obviously invest here. But going forward, I think some of the things that I could do better is have my property managers install Ring cameras outside the properties and especially when properties are vacant, right? So you’re constantly monitoring who’s coming and going into the property. I don’t think my property manager did a very good job of actually keeping tabs on the property when it was vacant, so I would have them go in and look at the property or drive by it at least a couple times, if not three or four times a week.

Ashley:
Tony… Hold on, Leka. I have a question. Tony, you know in your Airbnbs, you put that monitor for the noise level?

Tony:
Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Ashley:
Do you think that would work to put in vacant houses? How low can you set that noise level where if there’s literally a person talking, it would alert?

Tony:
Yeah, you actually could. It has to be like that louder for a certain threshold, so some where it’s just like, I don’t know, a loud car drove by, it wouldn’t go off, but say it was louder than whatever decibel for more than 10 minutes, you could get notified. That’d be a super easy way to kind of monitor your vacant units without having someone watching a camera.

Leka:
That is amazing. What is this device called?

Tony:
So there’s a few of them out there. We use Minut, M-I-N-U-T. It’s a noise monitoring device. You can get it on Amazon, but yeah, we have it in all of our larger Airbnbs.

Leka:
That’s amazing. Yeah, that is something I’m definitely going to tell my Airbnb property manager and also my LTR property manager to start putting into my units. That’s awesome.

Ashley:
Tony, is this something also you have in your house when you and Sarah go on vacation and leave Sean home alone as a teenager, one of these noise monitors?

Tony:
You know it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Ashley:
I’m so sorry, Sean, if you’re listening, for putting this idea in his head.

Tony:
Well, we just hired a nanny actually, so we have nanny cams now in the living room.

Ashley:
Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Tony:
So I mean, yeah. He probably couldn’t even get in around too many people if he wanted to.

Ashley:
Okay. So Leka, what else besides that as far as keeping tabs on your vacant unit would you do different?

Leka:
I also think that having really good landlord insurance is super helpful because my insurance did cover my loss of rent on this property and also damage to the condition of the property. So new carpet, new baseboards, all of that was paid for by my insurance company. Now, they wouldn’t pay like I ended up actually spending 25 grand fixing up this unit. They wouldn’t pay all of it, but they paid 50% of it, so something’s better than nothing. But also, you guys, all of my legal fees, that came out of my pocket. That was not something that was covered by insurance and it’s never going to be. So these kinds of situations still end up having a financial impact on someone. If this ended up going to a full eviction and an eight-month legal process, imagine all those legal fees that I could be responsible for. A lot of landlords don’t go after their squatters or trespasses because ultimately, the legal aspect of it and the fees that they end up paying would potentially be more than if they just let someone live in their unit unlawfully.

Tony:
Leka, last question, if you’re at all concerned that they might target your properties moving forward? The reason I asked this, we had to call the cops on the same Airbnb guest twice at two different properties. So they booked one of our properties. We had to call the cops to get them out. Then, they booked a different property a few months later, had to call the cops again to get them out. Are you at all concerned that now they’ve seen your face, they know who you are, they might just start making problems at other properties that you own?

Leka:
Actually, on the contrary, I feel like they’ll never mess with me again because they messed with the wrong girl.

Tony:
That’s the right way to look at it.

Leka:
But I’ll tell you why this happened. So first of all, they occupied the largest unit in my triplex. And this is what they said to the cops. The reason that they ended up occupying my unit over a bunch of other rentals in the area was because all of our rental properties are in different LLCs that are either incorporated in Nevada or Delaware. Now, that makes us absentee owners, absentee landlords. So if someone’s looking at a property to go squat, they’re going to go find a property where the landlord is not even in state to have all of these boots on the ground or eyes on the property, right? So this is another reason to invest where you live because I know contrary to popular belief and long distance investing and all of that stuff, there are things like this that can happen to you where it’s much better for you to be in person and boots on the ground than be away in a different state.
So they thought that because our LLC was a Nevada corporation, that we actually weren’t in state, and it was under a different name, not our own names. They didn’t see that we were actually in state. Second, they also went to the Housing Justice Project, which did tell them that it takes nine months to evict someone from this city, from a house. So all of these things put together made our unit a very targetable, comfortable unit for them to have gone and squatted. So just make sure that if you own units like this and if you have rental properties, that you’re making doubly sure that your property is not ending up on Craigslist or not ending up in the wrong hands.

Ashley:
Well, Leka, thank you so much for coming on Dateline, 20/20, MSNBC, whatever we’re calling our investigative show here, to share your story. It is sad to think of that this happens to somebody as you as the investor. It’s also horrible. Somebody’s getting kicked out of the home that they thought was their home and maybe this is… There are people out there that really think that the home that they’re living in is their home unit. They have no legal right to it. I think sharing stories like this can really help other investors become aware of things that can happen and not only things that can happen, but also learning the lessons of how you can prevent it, what you can do if this actually happens to you and take action. Like you had said, one of the powerful tools for you was networking and specifically James Dainard and getting that referral for an attorney.
But you were able to get media attention, all these different things because of those connections that you had and that networking and really pushing and sharing your story on social media, another powerful impactful tool. So if there are any rookies listening that are going through a similar situation or any kind of disaster that you think is happening inside your head, reach out in the BiggerPockets forums, reach out in the Real Estate Rookie Facebook group, talk to other investors in your area. Like Leka said, you got to think outside the box, and sometimes just settling for what an attorney says is not the correct way to go and go and talk to other attorneys who have a different idea of how to take action and can get creative. Just like we all want to get creative in structuring our finance deals, get creative with a lawyer with some kind of legal structure. So thank you guys so much for listening. Thank you, Leka, for coming onto the show today. We really appreciated you giving us the hard honest truth of what it’s like having a squatter in Seattle.

Tony:
Before we wrap up here, I just want to give a quick shout out to someone by the username of jbiddle1. Jbiddle left us a five-star review on Apple Podcast and says, “Ashley and Tony bring a fun and motivational dynamic to real estate investing. I enjoy their personal stories, especially when things don’t go as planned. They continuously show you you just need to work through the issues that pop up and not give up.” So I think that review speaks perfectly to your story, Leka. If you guys haven’t yet, if you’re a part of the Rookie audience, take a few minutes, leave us that five-star review on Apple Podcast.

Leka:
They deserve it. They’re so good.

Ashley:
Leka, before we leave, I was taking a walk the other day with my son. We have lots of woods by us and a lot of people put up no trespassing. He was like, “What does that mean?” And it shows the homeowner’s last name and just like a little blurb about like, “No hunting, no fishing, no going on this property without my permission.” Is that anything that would work in Seattle? Does those signs even do anything, the trespassing signs?

Leka:
Yes. That’s a other great question. That’s one thing that I would add to the list of things that I would do going forward at all my properties is put up no trespassing signs. Now, there’s another weird law that says that you cannot serve someone a trespass notice to vacate if there’s no trespassing signs not installed on your property. So the other thing that I did was I went on Amazon, and you can buy these no trespass signs for like three bucks a piece, so I got them shipped to me overnight. I had my contractor go put these up all around the building, and then you can indeed issue a no trespass letter. Once they have that, then that’s another way to establish that this is criminal activity, not a civil case.

Ashley:
There you guys go. One last little free tidbit from Leka. Thank you so much, Leka. We loved having you on the show and can’t wait to have you back on again, and hopefully, it’s for something more appealing than squatters.

Leka:
More positive, yes. Thank you guys for having me, and I truly hope my story can be shared and helps one person get their squatters out in a timely manner.

Ashley:
If you want to learn more about Leka, her investing journey, or her squatter story in Seattle, you can check out the show notes where we’ll link all of the information and be able to direct you to getting into contact with Leka. You can also find social media handles for Tony and I also in the show notes. Don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel and check us out in the Real Estate Rookie Facebook group. I’m Ashley, and he’s Tony. And we’ll see you guys next time.

Watch the Episode Here

https://youtube.com/watch?v=AB5LQ_wNwxI123

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • How to get squatters out of your house ASAP without waiting on the eviction process
  • The one type of rental property owner squatters LOVE to target 
  • Hiring attorneys and why your legal team MUST be ready to make moves quickly
  • Canceling utilities and how to get this done as soon as a squatter takes over your property
  • Squatters’ rights and how to beat squatters at their own game
  • Leka’s BIGGEST pieces of advice to avoid squatters and trespassers in the future
  • And So Much More!

Links from the Show

Connect with Leka:

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Note By BiggerPockets: These are opinions written by the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of BiggerPockets.

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