Florida homeowners fight squatters with new law that ends 'scam,' governor says

A new bill granting state law enforcement officials more power to remove squatters and raising criminal penalties for offenders went into effect Monday, potentially giving Florida homeowners the tools to protect their property while circumventing lengthy court processes.

In a video posted to X, Gov. Ron DeSantis said his state is "ending this squatter scam once and for all" with HB 621.

"While other states are siding with the squatters, we are protecting property owners and punishing criminals looking to game the system," DeSantis said at a press conference at the Orange County State Attorney's Office after signing the bill in March.

HERE'S HOW HOMEOWNERS CAN FIGHT AGAINST SQUATTER INSANITY

"We've got people that will be here for seven months of the year, and then they'll go to Michigan or New York or even Canada. You come back after the summer and someone's in your house, and then they just get to stay there for six months. Now in Florida, you call up, you fill out a form, the sheriff comes, and the sheriff kicks him out of your property," DeSantis previously told Sean Hannity of the law.

"If we don't have private property rights, we will not have a free society, so it is the bedrock Florida stands by, and we're proud to do it," he continued.

READ ON THE FOX NEWS APP

Attorney Kevin Fabrikant, supervisor of Florida's Eviction Law Firm, told Fox News Digital that Florida's legal process for removing a squatter from a property was among the fastest in the country even before the bill's passage, typically taking about a month.

Comparatively, squatters in states like New York and California have become a months-long headache for some homeowners.

SQUATTING IN THE US: A HISTORY OF UNLAWFULLY OCCUPYING BUILDINGS, LAND THAT DATES BACK TO BEFORE WWII

But it can be costly for homeowners, Fabrikant said, starting with a $300 filing fee and then, generally, expensive legal representation.

But under the new law, law enforcement officers whose hands were previously tied will be able to circumvent the court process and carry out evictions, so long as the homeowner files an affidavit and the intruder meets several criterion:

The squatter must have unlawfully entered the property, must have already been asked to leave by the homeowner, cannot be a current or former tenant of the home, and cannot be an immediate relative of the homeowner looking to get them off their property.

"It's designed for a very narrow situation – if you let somebody into your property and you want them out, it likely may not apply," Fabrikant said.

RED STATE GOVERNOR SIGNS BILL CRACKING DOWN ON SQUATTERS: 'BEST DWELLING' FOR THEM 'IS A JAIL CELL'

Atlanta squatter crisis
An Atlanta property owner says squatters ripped wires out of the walls and caused tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage.

A standard removal fee with an area sheriff's department would cost $90 in most Florida counties and $115 in Miami, Fabrikant said.

"If you're a squatter, I wouldn't come to Florida to live," Fabrikant said.

Once officials verify ownership and deem the complainant eligible, the sheriff must remove the squatter, according to the new legislation.

Those who "encourage or engage in squatting" will face increased penalties under the law, the bill reads.

Squatters who forge leases or other proof of residence will face a first-degree misdemeanor for false written statements or falsifying documents.

Anyone who causes $1,000 or more in damages while occupying a property can now face a second-degree misdemeanor.

"Somebody breaks into the house, destroys the house, that's [the type of person] the governor intended [to police with this law]," Fabrikant said. "Those people cause immeasurable damages to have handymen or contractors fix what these squatters are doing to a property."

Anyone who knowingly advertises the sale or rent of residential property without permission from the owner will now be subject to a first-degree felony.

"Sometimes, Bob Squatter turns around and finds some people," Fabrikant said. "Now you have to remove Bob Squatter and all these random people who [may not be aware that they're illegally living on the property]."

It is unclear how law enforcement in Florida will operate under the new law.

"They're on the spot having to make a decision about whether a person qualifies under these scenarios," Fabrikant said.

"There are times when the sheriffs are put in a tough spot because of the language and the claims that the occupant might make," Fabrikant said. "In all likelihood, the sheriff's office will be liable to a civil suit… if they remove someone wrongfully they would tend to get sued."

Martin County Sheriff William Snyder previously told "Fox & Friends First" that he believes the law will "absolutely" alleviate the situation.

"There's a real technicality when you go out to a home and somebody proffers that they live there, then the legitimate owner has proved that it's their house," he said in March.

"It gives us teeth to enforce the law and to return the home to the rightful owner," he said. "We'll go right out there, and it's our intention here in Martin County to get that home back into the hands of the rightful owner and get the trespasser out… and then I will provide them [the squatter] housing. They will not be unhoused. I'm putting them straight into my jail."


Original article source: Florida homeowners fight squatters with new law that ends 'scam,' governor says

Advertisement