Real property seems to have peculiar legal customs. For example, if somebody has leased property like a vehicle and defaults on their lease the most expeditious way for the true owner to recover the property seems to be repossession, which is essentially physical recovery by "reasonable" force.

But when it comes to a living space the old saying, "Possession is nine-tenths of the law," seems almost literally applicable: To my knowledge, in the United States at least, there are state and local laws that make it extremely cumbersome for a property owner to evict a tenant in default (and thereby recover the use of their rightful property). Is this accurate? Or are there conditions or methods whereby a property owner can legally use private force (i.e., not the force of agents of the state) and occupation to repossess living spaces being held by "squatters?"

Amendment: If someone trespasses on my property I can not only arrest them myself, but I can also immediately summon police and ask for their arrest and criminal prosecution. At what point does trespass become "squatting?" (I presume that the difference between "squatters" and "non-paying tenants" is the fact that the latter party can show that at some point they had legal rights to the residence?)

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    Are you asking specifically about US law? If so, please edit the question and tag it as such. Commented May 28, 2015 at 5:18
  • @JustinLardinois I'm interested in answers from any jurisdiction where the rule of law holds (or has held) force.
    – feetwet
    Commented May 28, 2015 at 11:56
  • Eviction equals repossession. It is not much more difficult, except that you have to use bailiffs as the 'reasonable force' in most cases. Though the laws for squatters may be more flexible, in many western countries squatting is illegal.
    – jiggunjer
    Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 2:33
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    Note that even the concept of "reposession" does not exist in many jurisdictions (e.g. in Germany). This is going to be quite dependent on jurisdiction.
    – sleske
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 18:43

1 Answer 1


This answer applies in the U.S.

It is typically a 30-day process to evict a tenant for non-payment of a lease and it requires that the Sheriff be present to enforce the eviction order granted by the court. Similar rules for squatters.

If the person being evicted is on the title, the process is more complicated and generally impossible to do unless you go through the process of "foreclosure" to remove them from the title. Foreclosure is generally very costly and time consuming and generally requires the services of an attorney who specializes in such matters.

  • This is by law? Meaning, I assume, that there are laws particular to residences that prohibit the rightful owner from doing a lock-out or non-violent repossession without a court order?
    – feetwet
    Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 0:49
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    @feetwet: Yes. You are correct. If someone establishes residence, then you will have to get a court order to evict them. What qualifies as "establishing residence" varies depending on jurisdiction. But two examples I have seen that qualify in my experience are 1. Spending a night on the couch. 2. Receiving a piece of mail at that address. If police are called to the scene, they will determine if residence has been established during their investigation. If they decide so, they will inform the person who called them that the issue is a civil matter and the police will take no further action. Commented Jul 26, 2015 at 1:02

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