Ron DeSantis signs bill squashing ‘squatters’ rights’

Goldilocks isn’t welcome in Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed legislation (HB 621) making it easier for police to remove squatters from a residence.

During a bill signing ceremony in Orlando, DeSantis said the bill, which passed through the Legislature unanimously, was needed to crack down on a scourge affecting states led by Democrats, such as New York and California.

“Homes are being invaded and those states and their laws are not siding with the homeowners, they’re siding with the squatters,” DeSantis said. “You are not going to be able to commandeer somebody’s private property and expect to get away with it. We are, in Florida, ending the squatters scam once and for all.”

During the Great Recession, Florida experienced instances in which a squatter assumed living in a property, typically an unoccupied, foreclosed home.

The Legislature passed reforms in 2011 making it harder for a squatter to take over a home. Previously, under a legal doctrine known as “adverse possession,” a squatter who lived in a house for seven years and made improvements on the property could assume ownership.

DeSantis said the doctrine, which stems from common law, is an obsolete relic of the pioneer era.

“That was never intended to empower somebody to just invade some residential subdivision and illegally occupy someone’s private residence,” DeSantis said.

The 2011 law (SB 1142) cracked down on the practice by requiring potential squatters to pay taxes on the property and file forms with local authorities. Still, the case of a man occupying a Boca Raton mansion owned by a bank grabbed headlines in 2013, but the man was removed after two months.

The new law signed by DeSantis makes it easier for a homeowner to get police to remove a squatter. The current process can be “drawn out” as DeSantis said, but now a homeowner can file a complaint with police showing they own the property, that the squatters aren’t related to them and there isn’t any ongoing litigation surrounding the property.

Sheriff Dennis Lemma of neighboring Seminole County sounded eager to oust any squatters.

“Squatters is actually a very, very kind term,” Lemma said. “These are criminals and con artists that need to be held to the fullest extent of the law.”

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