United States

Making sense of squatters’ rights as a property manager

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No trespassing sign

The national spotlight is on squatters’ rights as conflicts escalate and states enact new laws.

One of the most significant developments comes out of Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed a bill set to take effect in July. It empowers local police to immediately arrest squatters and levy felony charges for intentional property damage, along with misdemeanor charges for falsifying leases.

Georgia, Arizona, South Carolina, and New York have introduced similar measures.

What are squatters’ rights?

News articles covering squatters mainly focus on recent, high-profile incidents involving fake IDs, forged leases, homeowner arrests for changing locks, and, in extreme cases, violence.

Central to many squatters' defense is the legal concept of adverse possession, also known as "squatters' rights.” This allows a person occupying a vacant property without the owner's consent to gain legal ownership after a certain amount of time. The duration varies by state.

Successful adverse possession cases are rare, but the existence of this law has sparked intense debate and attracted significant media and political attention.

It’s difficult to determine how common squatting is due to a lack of reliable data. Some report a recent “explosion” of squatting cases, while others attribute a perceived increase to heightened media coverage. News coverage is also heavily influenced by news outlets’ ideological leanings.

What can property managers do?

Regardless of headlines, property managers are responsible for safeguarding their owners’ vacant properties from all risks, including squatting. Proactive measures include regular inspections and maintenance (neglected properties are prime targets for squatters).

Other tactics like monitoring utility usage, enlisting neighbors to report unusual activity, and putting up “no trespassing” signs can all help deter illegal occupation.

More housing policy headlines

Squatters' rights opposed by majority of Americans – Newsweek

New legislation targets algorithmic rental price setting – PayProp

New push is underway to require all California landlords to allow pets – CBS

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