Hannibal City Council addresses squatters in Hannibal

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Hannibal City Attorney James Lemon talks about landlord rights in Missouri. Megan Duncan

HANNIBAL, Mo. — The Hannibal City Council spoke to two patrons on Tuesday night about the rights of squatters in Hannibal.

A squatter is an individual who takes up residence in properties they don’t own or rent. 

A patron, who was not named in the meeting, spoke to the council about a situation where she allowed people to move into her property November 2022 for seven months rent-free.

“I didn’t know about squatters until I went down to get into the house. They aren’t moving and you can’t do anything,” she said. 

After retaining a lawyer, she discovered the squatters had rights to the property and she did not. 

She was told if she entered the yard of the property, it would be considered stalking. This especially became a problem when the City of Hannibal contacted her that she would be fined unless the yard was maintained.

“I had to get someone to cut the grass because I couldn’t go into the yard,” she said. 

The situation left her homeless—as she had planned to move into the property after the seven rent-free months. 

She asked the council how property owners could have some kind of rights.

“We have to suffer while they are living free and living good,” she said.

Hannibal City Attorney James Lemon asked her not to disclose the name of the attorney she used, and then informed her the squatters should have been legally removed between 45-60 days.

“While they have certain rights that protect them against a bad landlord, landlords have rights also. Property owners have rights,” Lemon said. “It’s unfortunate that sometimes you have a lawyer to help you with that but if you were told that there was nothing you could do for 90 days or longer then you were told incorrectly.”

She said she has been waiting for eight months to go to court. Lemon said he doesn’t interfere with another attorney, but he suggested she get a second opinion.

LaDonna Hampton was a friend of the speaker who also spoke to the council. She said many commercial and private property owners are worried their unoccupied buildings could become an opportunity for squatters. 

“Even landlords seeking tenants must be especially vigilant when it comes to potential renters as some may pay their rent for a short amount of time before deciding to occupy their space without paying rent,” she said.

“Most states have squatters rights, which allows someone who lives in their home a certain amount of time to gain legal right to your property all without paying a dime of rent,” she continued. “I feel like this is an illegal law. I know the state has approved it but that doesn’t mean as a city we have to accept it.”

Hannibal Mayor Barry Louderman told Hampton, it was a legal issue and he wasn’t sure the city could pass an ordinance or law that supersedes what the states says. 

Lemon agreed with Louderman, and said it’s a complicated problem. 

“We don’t have the ability to change what the basic laws are on evicting a person,” Lemon said

“If a property owner can show the squatter had no prior relationship with the landlord and that they kicked in the door—there is possibly a trespass issue. We already have an ordinance against trespass and if you can effectively show this person is trespassing, we can do something under our trespass ordinance,” he said.

Lemon said the problem is that most squatters do not tell the police they are on the property illegally or they kicked in the doors to get in. Many will say they are renting or have some kind of agreement.

“At that point, we are forcing officers make a determination of legal facts and that is really something only a judge can do. When the matter comes down a property dispute, it becomes a civil matter,” he said. 

Lemon said through Missouri law landlords might wait up to 30-45 days. In other states, such as California, the wait could be 80-90 days.

Hampton said she has thought about creating an Airbnb but does not want to face these kinds of problems.

“I know we have a lot of housing issues here and I think there would be a lot more people interested in renting if they knew their house was protected,” Hampton said. “Why would you want to rent if there was a possibility you might have to go out and get a lawyer.”

Lemon said to make sure your property is locked and secure at all times, although he knows people can still break in. He also stressed the importance of documentation.

“Before you allow anyone access to your real estate, you need to make sure you have a written lease,” he said.

In other business:

  • Jessica Gilmore was appointed to the library with a term to expire in June 2024.
  • Don Bastian was reappointed to the Airport Commission with a term to expire in September 2026.
  • The Council approved an ordinance of the City of Hannibal providing a special primary election on Tuesday, August 6, 2024 for a municipal judge.
  • The Council approved for the mayor to execute a special warranty deed to Corey Allen for the sale of city-owned property located at 1527 S. Arch in the amount of $575.
  • The Council approved a resolution authorizing the mayor to execute a $1,563,228.70 Construction Contract between the City of Hannibal and S&A Equipment & Builders LLC for the replacement of approximately 514’ of Storm and Sewer and related appurtenances under and adjacent to North Street.

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