On March 27th, 2024, Governor Ron DeSantis signed the “Property Rights” bill (HB621) into law in Central Florida. The new law aims to address the squatter problem in Florida, which has become prevalent in the state.

The Governor emphasized that Americans have the right to own their properties without fear of unlawful occupation. He highlighted cases where squatters, through adverse possession rights, have taken over other people’s properties, leading to lengthy and costly legal battles and even violent confrontations.

The bill has received unanimous support from not only the state’s legislature but also state officials as well, including the state sheriff and the local sheriff.

DeSantis underscored the importance of protecting owners’ rights and ensuring the law protects their private property.

In the years past, homeowners all across Florida have had to deal with significant distress and financial burden. The process of removing a squatter in Florida hasn’t helped, either. You’d have to file a police report and go through the court eviction process to remove them. This process could sometimes take years!

With the new bill, things are undoubtedly poised to change for squatters. The law empowers sheriffs to swiftly eject squatters, as well as impose stronger criminal penalties. This will help deter people from attempting to illegally occupy other people’s homes.

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Understanding HB 621

House Bill 621, which was signed by DeSantis, aims to address the ever-growing issue of squatters in Florida. The new law will allow homeowners the right to quickly and legally remove unauthorized people from their properties. Additionally, the new legislation has also introduced significant penalties for persons found guilty of squatting.

Its sole aim is to help protect law-abiding homeowners and punish those who engage in unlawful squatting activities.

Under the new law, homeowners facing a squatting issue will need to fill out a form and submit it to the local sheriff. This will instruct the sheriff to remove the unauthorized person from the property. From start to finish, the process is designed to happen quickly, giving homeowners the much-needed remedy against squatters

The homeowner will need to pay an hourly fee for the sheriff’s assistance. However, the Governor didn’t explicitly mention how much that would be.

Squatter Rights: Legal and Logistical Challenges

Squatting is the act of occupying someone else’s property without their permission. Usually, squatters target vacant, abandoned, or foreclosed properties to reside in. They reside in them without paying any rent or having any binding legal agreement with the property owner.

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While the legal implications of squatting vary from one state to the other, it’s generally considered trespassing. As such, it’s often a violation of property rights and can lead to criminal penalties.

Squatters' rights are also known as adverse possession laws. These are a set of laws that allow squatters a legal pathway to own the property they have squatted on once they meet certain specific conditions.

The conditions include a requirement that the squatter occupy the property uninterrupted for a set period. Typically, from a few years to a couple of decades. Other conditions may include openly occupying the property, and paying property taxes.

These adverse possession laws have had a significant impact on property owners, especially absentee landlords. Instances of squatters taking over homes and turning them into drug dens, or engaging in criminal activities aren’t uncommon. These activities have posed serious threats to the safety and well-being of neighborhoods.

What’s more, outdated and lengthy legal processes have made reclaiming such properties almost an impossibility. The outcome of such scenarios has been financial burdens and emotional distress to property owners.

Implementation and Penalties

House Bill 621 will come into effect on July 1, 2024. The law will empower homeowners in Florida to take swift legal action against squatters occupying their properties.

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Squatters will also bear significant penalties under the new laws. Squatters who cause more than $1,000 in damage will face a second-degree felony. And those who knowingly advertise a fake home sale or rental will face a first-degree felony. This will ensure that those found guilty of violating the law will for the first time face consequences for their actions.

Comparison with Other States

Governor DeSantis also highlighted issues with other states’ anti-squatting laws, as well. He particularly took note of two states – New York and California. He noted that the anti-squatting laws in these states are “not siding with the homeowners, they are siding with the squatters.”

Resultantly, that has led to situations where the homeowners are penalized for trying to evict squatters from their properties. The Governor criticized those laws and emphasized that they have not helped protect owners’ property rights.

Other states are also currently considering laws to target squatters. Including:

  • Oklahoma – Filed in 2023, the OK State Senate Bill 456 aims to repeal part of the property acquisition law to target squatters.
  • Alabama – The AL House Bill 182 aims to give property owners more rights when it comes to removing squatters.
  • New York – The NY Assembly Bill A6894 seeks to deny squatters any tenant protections.
  • Georgia – The GA Squatter Reform Act passed in both houses and is headed to the Governor’s desk for signing into law. It aims to make squatting a trespass.

Conclusion

Florida’s HB621 law marks a pivotal moment in safeguarding the rights of property owners. Squatting scams will now be a thing of the past thanks to the bill’s provisions for swift legal recourse and penalties.

If you have any more questions or need expert help in the management of your Florida property, Gifford Property Management can help. Get in touch with us today!