Can I change the locks on our house if we have illegal tenants?

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Can I change the locks on our house if we have illegal tenants?

Someone has illegally moved into my vacant home that we are trying to short sell, and they have changed the locks and turned on the utilities. The cops have been called to the house multiple times to confront them, but they refuse to answer the door. Can we change the locks in order to gain access? We want the people to move out, but we also want to find out who the real culprit is. It’s possible the tenants think they have a real lease. I would like to avoid an eviction process and the costs that would be incurred.

Asked on April 30, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Nevada

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, you cannot simply change the locks--the law does not allow property owners to perform "self-help" evictions, and if you do this, you could potentially be liable to the squaters.

The correct response is to bring a legal action, though if they are not tenants of yours (i.e. no lease with you, whether written or oral), the proper legal action is called an "ejectment" action--it is one used to determine rights to possesion and residency when someone is not a tenant. You would bring an ejectment action and, presuming you prevail--which you should be able to, if they did not rent from you and you can prove ownership--court officers will then lock them out.

In the course of the ejectment action, you may be able to determine if anyone else has claimed rights to your home, purportedly leased to these people, etc. You may be able to sue either that person(s) or the ones illegally living in your home for monetary compenstation, including for any damage done to the home; any property stolen from it; the cost of changing locks; possibly even legal and court costs.

An ejectment action is less straightforward than an eviction (or summary disposses) brought against actual tenants at the end of, or who violate, their lease. You are advised to retain an attorney to represent you.


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