Squatters: Uninvited Guests In Real Estate

Squatters
The State of Florida has recently passed new legislation to address the issue with squatters in real estate.

Imagine this, you inherit a vacation property, only to discover someone else is living there! This unpleasant surprise is the result of squatters, trespassers who occupy a property without legal permission.

In the world of real estate, a squatter can be anyone from a stranger who moves into a vacant building to a house guest who overstays their welcome. Their presence can be a major headache for property owners, so let’s explore what squatters are and how they impact real estate.

Who are squatters?

A squatter is someone who occupies a property without permission from the legal owner. This can include:

  • Vacant homes or buildings
  • Foreclosed properties
  • Neglected or abandoned land

They may be homeless individuals seeking shelter, or they might be trying to establish a claim to the property through adverse possession (more on that below). Ultimately, squatters can be complete strangers or even someone you know who overstayed their welcome.

Squatter’s rights (in some states)

Here’s where things get complicated. In some states, squatters may be able to claim ownership of a property they’ve occupied for a certain period (often exceeding 7 years) under a legal concept called adverse possession. To qualify, squatters must meet specific criteria, which can vary by state. Generally, they need to demonstrate:

  • Continuous occupation: Living on the property for the required timeframe without interruption.
  • Exclusivity: Acting as if they own the property, excluding others.
  • Open and notorious possession: Not hiding their occupancy from the owner.
  • Hostility: Occupying the property without the owner’s permission.

Florida House Bill 621 (Squatters Bill)

Governor Ron DeSantis signed Florida House Bill 621 on March 27th, 2024. This is a new Florida law that goes into effect on July 1st, 2024 and allows property owners to remove an unauthorized person from their property. The legislation protects citizen’s property rights, giving homeowners remedies against squatting, and resulting in penalties for squatters.

Ultimately, this bill allows a property owner to request a police officer to remove an unauthorized person from their property, but the owner must contact the police department and file a complaint to show eligibility. If the officer can verify their ownership of the property, the squatter can be removed. It is important to note that this does not pertain to a current or former tenant in a legal dispute. In addition, the property owner must also pay the police department a civil eviction fee for their services. Should this matter require additional time to “stand by and keep the peace”, then the property owner would pay an additional hourly rate for the officer’s time. Lastly, squatters may also be forced to pay harsh penalties based on the level of their actions.

Summary

In closing, it is important to deter squatters from ever entering your property to begin with. Here are a few helpful tips:

  • Regular inspections: Keep an eye on your property to identify signs of occupancy.
  • Secure the property: Ensure doors and windows are secure with strong locks.
  • Post “No Trespassing” signs: Clearly mark your property boundaries.
  • Consider a property management company: They can handle inspections and tenant issues. (This can be a great option for properties that may be located far from where you live.)

Squatters can be a real estate nightmare. By understanding their tactics and taking preventive measures, you can protect your property investment and avoid unwanted guests. Remember, if you suspect squatters on your property, seek legal advice to address the situation swiftly.

Are you looking to buy or sell real estate in South Florida? We can help! Contact Natasha at Live South Florida Realty, Inc.! Also, be sure to download the free Florida Home Search app for your smartphone or tablet.

By natasha moore

REALTOR® with Live South Florida Realty, Inc.