Step through the doors of a house that’s just been vacated of squatters, and you might be shocked at the property’s condition.
Anchor Realty co-owner Walter Lapidus’ recently regained a Philadelphia-area home with multicolored graffiti walls, makeshift beds and trash covering the floors.
"This is how we found the place once the tenants were locked out by the sheriff," Lapidus told FOX Business’ Jeff Flock on "Varney & Co." Thursday.
After Lapidus’ tenant signed a year-and-a-half lease but only paid two months' rent, the property manager claimed he’s been left with an expensive mess to clean up – as well as significant legal fees – after the squatters’ stay.
"What I think people fail to see is that, in the attempt to help people who are facing homelessness – which is an obviously very important mission – these costs, the costs of cleaning this up, are passed on to the folks who pay the rent on time, and that's how we lose the affordability in housing," Lapidus said.
According to Madison Ventures+ managing director Mitch Roschelle, real estate markets in cities like New York City, Philadelphia and Los Angeles could face an exacerbated squatter problem.
In New York, squatters are granted rights after just 30 days, which makes it harder to evict. It’s a similar story in Los Angeles where landlords are often forced to pay just to get rid of tenants who fail to pay. And in Philadelphia, even after a court orders a person out of a home, sheriffs might show up to evict, but end up leaving rather than cause a confrontation.
"The laws are written to protect the tenant, not the landlord," Roschelle told Fox News Digital Thursday in reaction to Flock’s report. "The local laws that protect tenants at the expense of landlords have fueled this phenomenon because we've basically said forever it's the landlord's fault, not the tenant's fault if the tenant can't pay rent."
He further warned landlords: "The law is not on your side."
Rent debt in America hit a reported $10.8 billion as of May 2023, with 5.1 million U.S. households behind on their rent bills, recent data from the National Equity Atlas shows.
Roschelle pointed out that while tenants were told they didn’t have to pay rent during the COVID pandemic’s height, no one was giving landlords a break on their mortgage payments.
"I suspect the more sort of COVID-era subsidies like student loan forgiveness, like mortgage forgiveness, all these things start going away, you're going to see more and more tenants just not paying their rent," the market expert said.
"The laws are written to protect the tenant, not the landlord… local laws that protect tenants at the expense of landlords have fueled this phenomenon."
Lapidus noted that his local sheriff’s department had visited the property a few times with the aim to evict the squatters, but police subsequently decided not to escalate the situation.
"Given the delay in getting possession of places when we have a non-paying tenant, this, unfortunately, is what can happen," the realtor said. "And this is going to cost the owner tens of thousands of dollars to rectify."
For smaller mom-and-pop landlords that may not have the infrastructure to ensure payment is made, Roschelle advised those property managers adamantly "stay on top" of those who are late.
"My advice to anybody who's a non-professional landlord, don't let a delinquency slip a day," he said. "You can't change the lease that the tenant signed, but you should avail yourself of any remedy that you have in that lease and don't cut them an inch of slack."