Handling a squatter on the property

Here are some options for owners whose property is illegally occupied

Owning a property has its share of hassles. A common cause of trouble for owners is a tenant — for their house or commercial space — who refuses to vacate the premises. It is possible that the tenant may continue to stay even after the agreement expires even after the landlord has clearly said that the tenant should vacate. Land owners may also face trouble from people who occupy the land without any permission. They may have built temporary structures or extended their property to include other land.

In general, the legal framework to evict and get possession is not very strong in the country. However, there are ways to get around these sticky issues.

Your options

As the owner, you must be aware that every State has its own version of Rent Control Court and Acts to deal with such cases. You can file for eviction stating the reason for needing the possession. For example, you may need the house for your own use or for repair works or reconstruction. The situations that are permissible may vary with the State. For example, in West Bengal, the owner can only seek the property for occupation if they do not own any suitable accommodation within the same Municipal Corporation or Municipality or in any other area within ten kilometers, says Devajyoti Barman, Advocate, High Court at Calcutta and Managing Partner, Ace Legal.

In general, whoever is in possession of a property cannot be evicted without due process established by law, says A Saravanan, Advocate, Hight Court at Madras. For instance, the owner cannot give a police complaint that the tenant is not vacating. Another option besides approaching the court is to go for arbitration procedure, if the lease agreement has this clause. If your land has been encroached, the case is simpler, as the person is an encroacher. Even trespassing is an offence and hence the owner can file a police complaint. The owner can go to court to evict the illegal occupant.

The house owner’s case however, becomes strong if, for instance, the tenant has not been paying rent dues. An eviction order can be obtained in three to four months, says Saravanan.

Likewise, if the tenant has sublet the building or has been using the premise for a purpose other than that for which it was leased, the law allows action to be taken. If the owner can establish that there has been damage to the building or the tenant has been causing nuisance to neighbours, the tenant’s right to continue in the premises can be suspended by the court, notes Barman.

Special situations

In some situations, the issue may appear more complicated. For instance, if the owner who entered into the agreement is no more, the legal heirs have the same right as the original owner, as per the law. In general, if the title is clear and the ownership is undisputed, the new owners will not face any problems.

If the tenant with whom you made the agreement is no more, the agreement would continue to be valid for the legal heirs of the tenant. However, State laws may restrict this inherited right to only a few years. For example, West Bengal Premises Tenancy Act limits the right to inherit the tenancy beyond the period of five years.

It is also possible that you entered into a contract to sell the premise, after receiving notice from the tenant to vacate. But the tenant may later refuse to move out. In Tamil Nadu, a new Bill on the rights and responsibilities of landlords and Tenants includes remedy to owners in this case.

Some safeguards

There are some steps you can take as an owner to protect your legal rights. For instance, in the case of vacant plot, the owner can post a board that says that trespassers will be prosecuted. Saravanan advises that once you know that there is someone occupying your land, you must act immediately, as the encroacher’s rights get stronger over time. “If they occupy the land for 12 years, they can claim ownership”, he says.

When letting out your house, you must ensure that there is a rental agreement with certain important clauses. For example, it must say that the tenant cannot sublet the house. Saravanan advises that you include a clause that the tenant hands over possession of the property once the lease term ends. It is also important to maintain a written record of tenant communication.

The writer is co-founder, RaNa Investment Advisors

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