THE HONEST BROKER: COMBATTING AGAINST PROPERTY SQUATTERS
BY: DIANE LOTT, BROKER
PARADISE FOUND REALTY
Over the last couple of years, “squatting” has increased throughout the country and has been attributed to Covid and a poor economy. This resulted in people taking over or “squatting” unoccupied, abandoned or vacant property (usually residential) without discussing it with the property owner and without lawful permission. This means that they do not own the property and are not renting it. Squatting in the United States is a common occurrence and squatters do have legal rights and is not necessarily trespassing. Trespassing is a criminal offense, while squatting is usually a civil matter unless the landlord or property owner has established that the squatter is unwelcome, then it can be treated as a criminal offense. Squatters or trespassers may falsely claim that they have a right to be on the property. Some may present false or fraudulent papers to do so. This is illegal.
Holdover tenants who choose to remain on the property after their lease has ended must continue to pay the rent at the existing rate and terms. However, if the landlord issues a notice for a tenant to move out, and they refuse to leave, they can be subjected to a lawsuit. A holdover tenant who has been asked to leave will not be able to make an adverse possession claim. At this point, they will be considered criminal trespassers. If a landlord continues to accept rent from the tenant and doesn’t issue a notice, they become a tenant at will. This means that they are on the property ‘at the will’ of the landlord, and they may be evicted at any time without notice.
Unlike some other states, Florida does not have specific laws for getting rid of squatters. To have squatters removed from your property once they have begun living there, you must go through an eviction process. It is of the utmost importance that owners issue an eviction notice as soon as possible. If an eviction has been filed, it will take a lot of work and proof for a squatter to gain ownership of the property.
There are a couple types of eviction notices in Florida:
- 3-Day Notice to Quit or Pay. This notice gives the squatter/tenant three days to pay rent or leave. If the squatter doesn’t pay the amount within the 3-day period, an eviction lawsuit can be filed against them.
- Unconditional Quit Notice. If there is no lease or the tenant is holding over, the owner may issue a notice to quit. The amount of time in the notice depends on the type of tenancy (if there ever was one to begin with).
- Week-To-Week Tenancy – 7-Day Notice to Quit.
- Month-To-Month Tenancy – 15-Day Notice to Quit.
- Quarter-To-Quarter Tenancy – 30-Day Notice to Quit.
- Year-To-Year Tenancy – 60-Day Notice to Quit.
After an eviction is filed, it usually takes a few weeks to resolve. If the tenant or squatter chooses to fight the eviction, it can take longer, up to 6 months. If the squatter has no valid claim to the land, it will probably be ruled in favor of the owner.
Once the eviction is granted, a writ of possession shall be issued and delivered to the squatter by the sheriff as a final notice to leave. If the squatter remains on the property, they will be forcibly removed by the sheriff.
Owners and landlords cannot self-evict. Even with a successful eviction, the only person who can legally remove a squatter from the property is a sheriff.
If the squatter leaves personal property behind when they are removed, the landlord must give them between 10-15 days to claim the property, depending on how the eviction notice was delivered. After that time, the landlord can sell or dispose of the property.
Getting rid of squatters can be a pain, so it’s in your best interest as a landowner or landlord to protect yourself from squatters however possible.
Tips for Protecting Yourself from Squatters in Florida
- Inspect the property regularly.
- Always pay your own property taxes.
- Make sure that the property is secured by blocking all entrances, closing all doors, and ensuring that all windows and doors are locked.
- Put up ‘No Trespassing’ signs on the property, especially if it is unoccupied.
- Serve squatters with written notice as soon as you realize they are present.
- Offer to rent the property to the squatters.
- Call the sheriff (not the local police) to remove squatters from the premises if they do not leave.
- Hire a lawyer in case you need to file an eviction lawsuit or take other legal action. It’s also a good idea to have some legal counsel when dealing with squatters.