How to avoid Airbnb squatters

Learn how to prevent and manage squatters in your Airbnb with effective strategies, guest screening tips, and legal advice to protect your property.
Hosting Advice
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July 2, 2024
min read
How to avoid Airbnb squatters

Airbnb squatters pose a real and significant threat to vacation rental hosts. Disagreements between guests and hosts can lead to overstaying bookings and legal issues. 

As an Airbnb host, anticipating this threat and learning to manage the risks is the best defense—hiding heads in any sand is not an option.

And there are plenty of examples to consider. For instance, a homeowner in Brentwood, California took on a 6-month short-term guest who ended up as a squatter after disagreements around property repairs. The homeowner faced no other option but to take legal action, which resulted in a years-long legal battle to reclaim unpaid rent, manage housing code violations, and commence an eviction process. 

So what can you do to avoid getting squatters into your Airbnb? Read on to discover which strategies can help you minimize the risks, protect your property, and guide you when having to evict any squatters you may face. 

How to define squatting and the risk of squatting

According to LawDistrict, a squatter is “an individual who occupies a property for which they have no right, legal claim, or lease agreement”.

For Airbnb hosts, two types of squatters exist: 

  1. Those who enter a vacant property between other guests.
  2. Guests themselves who become squatters when they fail to vacate a rental property by the agreed checkout date. 

Some guests may fall into a situation where their circumstances change and they can’t move out, while others are more intentional about it.

Early warning signs: Red flags to be aware of

So what should you do–as an Airbnb host or property manager–to minimize problems with squatters or scammers renting out your property? 

Here’s a list of signs and red flags to watch out for: 

  • Vague personal profiles: Blurred or fake images, a limited ‘About Me’ section, missing sections in the bio, or new profiles with little-to-no activity history, could all point towards an illegitimate renter. It’s worth reviewing all aspects and trusting your judgment.   
  • Minimal communication: If you are messaging with a potential guest, their communication style could signal a red flag. Limited conversation, below-average level of communication, or suspicious questions could be a sign of possible scammers.   
  • Longer-term bookings: Longer stays of a month or more could be a warning sign of someone who intends on outstaying their welcome. Genuine guests in STR properties will most likely stay for a fixed and limited period. 
  • Poor reviews from other Airbnb Hosts: This won’t always be a sign but it’s something to factor in as part of an overall review of your guest. Make sure to check through reviews to understand how and why they’ve been rated negatively. 

Remember: red flags are only signals and indications to look for. They’re by no means hard evidence. 

Strategies to minimize the risk of squatting

Red flags can offer clues on the validity of your renter. However, there are more sophisticated strategies to reduce the risk of finding yourself with squatters in your property. 

One essential practice for Airbnb hosts is guest screening. This helps to conduct a thorough and objective review while looking for any possible issues and problems. 

Guest screening software like Autohost uses AI to flag suspicious or risky data or anything in need of more attention or investigation, so it’s worth considering. 

Locking in a security deposit is also a great way to prevent squatters. Deposits are upfront payments against any possible damages or breakages during a renter’s stay. There are different types to suit the ways you manage properties such as fixed-rate deposits, or percentage-based deposits which use a percentage of 10-25% of the total reservation cost. You can also review the best ways to collect deposits like automated bank transfers, credit card preauthorizations, or even through guest screening solutions.

More ideas to reduce the risk of squatters

Consider turning off Airbnb’s Instant Book feature for instant reservations or filtering bookings through your PMS or channel manager

Instead, try to get to know who your guests are. Some questions to help reveal their potential as squatters could be: 

  • Have you stayed in an Airbnb before? 
  • Which states or cities do you enjoy visiting most?  
  • How often do you use Airbnb? 

Hosting for less than 27 out of 30 days is also a good idea, depending on the squatting laws that apply in your local area. Squatters gain more rights when they stay in a property for 30 days or more, making the situation harder to manage when they reside longer. 

Consider drawing up a vacation rental contract for any long-term stays. If you do have to take legal action, a good vacation rental agreement with enough details can help you argue your case. 

No matter the length of booking, always remove all types of valuable items from your property during vacant periods. Outdoor CCTV and indoor monitoring may be in place, but removing the items is the best way to prevent intruders and squatters from entering your vacant apartment.

man writing on paper

How to evict a squatter

With a better idea of which clues to look out for and some suggested measures to reduce the risks, which strategies should you build to be water-tight in protecting yourself against Airbnb squatters? 

Understand squatter’s rights

If the squatter occupies a rental property for an extended period and the owner doesn’t take any action, squatters’ have the right to continue occupying the property. 

Also referred to as adverse possession, the timeframe for establishing squatters' rights varies by state jurisdiction and anywhere from 7 to 20 years.   

To remove squatters, property owners must follow a legal eviction process which should start by contacting local law enforcement. 

You may also need to file an Unlawful Detainer Action or Forcible Entry and Detainer, which means petitioning to have the guest or guests removed based on an unlawful stay.

Keep records of all your communications and interactions

Retaining every form of communication with a renter or squatter is vital to ensure you protect yourself from any questioning or legal challenge. Without a formal copy of your records, you’ll be more vulnerable and find it harder to see the legal support you need. 

Some examples of the communication you should retain include emails, website inquiries, messenger services, letters, meeting minutes, details of any Facetime or phone calls, surveys, data capture, and more. 

All of these are critical in demonstrating your compliance and will help protect you if the situation escalates to court. 

Formally ask for the renter to leave the premises 

Airbnb hosts must accept all the risks that come with setting up and running vacation rentals. Since one of those risks is the possibility for renters to go on to become squatters, they must take responsibility for setting rules and enforcing them.  

Guests are even more likely to become squatters if they receive limited or sometimes no communication from hosts. Communication should be the highest priority for all hosts, ensuring they have regular contact with their guests and make clear the consequences should they choose to stay.

Sometimes, having a conversation and highlighting the next steps you’ll take can be enough to resolve the situation.  

Inform Airbnb

If you’ve spoken to the squatter directly and there’s no movement, the best next step is to involve the Airbnb platform. It can bring a second pair of eyes to check the booking details, dates, etc and it may also keep personal contact information for the guest that you don’t have access to. 

While Airbnb suggests hosts resolve these situations, it can help by reinforcing the message conveyed to the squatter about the ramifications of continuing to squat. Leveraging the Airbnb name can help express the critical nature of the issue and add pressure to resolve it. It’s also in Airbnb’s best interest, and it doesn’t want squatters to become a common theme for the platform. 

Have vacation rental insurance

Short-term vacation rentals don’t fit into one insurance category. The majority of vacation rental owners hold either homeowner or landlord insurance policies, but both feature significant coverage gaps. And since vacation rentals include rental guest stays, owner vacations, and fallow periods, vacation rental insurance helps owners cover all three forms.
Proper Insurance offers coverage on commercial business liability, buildings and content coverage, and business protection revenue. It also includes additional squatter protection in instances where guests refuse to leave, giving coverage for both legal and lost income. 

In the event of any squatter activity, make sure you notify insurers as soon as any issues or concerns arise. 

Have a security service

Should you find a situation where a renter fails to check out at the scheduled date, you may find it reassuring to enlist a security service to support you. Having a security service means getting trained security guards and agents who can visit the property themselves to address the issue. 

Indoor monitoring solution, Minut, offers Guard Assist, which connects with a network of vetted and experienced security experts ready to attend to your property and resolve any conflicts.

Seek legal advice and file an unlawful detainer action

Since legal proceedings can be lengthy, it’s worth finding a lawyer sooner rather than later. They can help you put together a plan of action to tackle your squatters and move towards action fast. During any court proceedings, it will also be on your side to prove that you moved quickly as the person responsible for the property.

Property owners who do find themselves engaged in an eviction process will need to file an Unlawful Detainer Action or Forcible Entry and Detainer, as mentioned earlier.   

Throughout all your communications, you must be clear and precise about your intentions and the interactions you’ve had with the squatters. Keep accurate records, be intentional, get in early with your lawyers or other professionals, and always follow their advice. 

Prevention is the best defense against Airbnb squatters 

Squatters pose a real threat to vacation rentals and can leave Airbnb hosts with problems they didn’t want to have. Doing everything within your power, as early as possible, to prevent this outcome is the best strategy since guests can slip into gaining squatters' rights over time. 

Accepting the possibility that a guest may well become a squatter is something to always be prepared for; the key is in understanding loopholes that potential Airbnb squatters could exploit. 

Vacation rental insurance and appointing a security service can all be beneficial in the long term and can all go some way towards preventing legal action.