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How property owners and lawmakers are turning the tables on squatters

When Flash Shelton found squatters in his mother’s home in Northern California five years ago, he figured out how to work around a system that often appears to protect the squatter and not the property owner: he decided to turn the tables on the squatters.

“These people feel like the law allows them to do it, so why not me?” said Shelton, who has become known as “The Squatter Hunter.”

Shelton is now hired by property owners to target squatters living in their homes without permission. Property owners start by giving him a lease, with the legal rights that come with it.

“Based on everything, I’ll make a decision whether I’m literally going to move in with them,” Shelton said.

Because Shelton is now the “real” tenant, he can change the lock and gain access.

“They can’t kick me out, because I have a lease. It’s a game, it’s a chess match,” Shelton said.

If the squatter calls the police, they may determine it’s a matter for civil court, but that could take months to resolve with no guarantees.

“Squatters are taking advantage of people. They just know that there is a system out there that allows them to live rent free,” Shelton said.

State Senator Bob Archuleta pushed through a new law in California allowing property owners to file a no trespass notice with local police.

“It’s good for a year and it’s there on record. This way, it gives the authority for the officers to respond, because it’s already been registered that no one is allowed in that building,” Archuleta said.

Florida also has a new law, which takes effect on July 1, allowing police to evict squatters immediately who don’t have a valid lease; several other states have passed or proposed tougher measures on squatting.

But until there are more laws on the books, Lando Thomas and Kimrey Kotchick, who run a company called “Squatter Squad,” will confront squatters for a fee, starting at $2,500.

In one incident, they were hired to get a 26-year-old named Samjai to leave an Airbnb rental, along with his pregnant girlfriend and their five dogs.

But it’s a race against time. If they manage to stay there for 30 days, they’ll be considered legitimate tenants with certain rights of their own, and property owners will have to go to court to evict them.

Samjai says they have fallen on hard times.

Thomas and Kotchick eventually talk him into leaving, with an offer to pay for a motel room and storage while he looks for another place to live. For now, that is the quickest and cheapest way to get this squatter to leave a property he doesn’t actually own. 

This story is Part 2 of a “CBS Evening News” report on squatting. Part 1 aired Monday, June 24.