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Although squatting itself is against the law, the ability to own a property legally via squatting has been upheld by Florida courts. Therefore, as a property owner, it’s important to understand squatters’ rights in order to protect your property.
In this article, we will go over some frequently asked questions regarding squatters, their rights and how to remove them.
Who qualifies as a squatter?
A squatter is someone that lives on another person’s vacant property without the legal right to do so. They usually occupy residential buildings that are foreclosed or abandoned. Therefore, they live in the property rent-free.
Although squatters do have rights, they must first meet all the adverse possession requirements. If they don’t, they can be regarded as criminal trespassers.
What is trespassing?
Trespassing is the act of entering someone else’s property without their permission. Unlike squatting, trespassing is usually viewed as a criminal offence. Squatting only becomes a felony if the owner establishes that the squatter is unwelcome in their property.
Can a holdover tenant make an adverse possession claim?
First – who is a holdover tenant? A holdover tenant, or a tenant at sufferance, is one who chooses to stay in the property without renewing their lease agreement.
This type of tenant can become a criminal trespasser depending on whether you, the landlord, continue accepting rent payments or not. If you choose to continue accepting rent, then the tenant lives in the property ‘at your will.’ This means that you can evict them at any moment.
If you no longer want the tenant in your home, then you must stop accepting rent from them. In addition to not accepting rent, you must also file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. If the court rules in your favor, you’ll be issued with a Writ of Restitution that will direct the sheriff to evict the tenant from your property.
What is color of title?
Simply put, to have a color of title means to have ‘irregular’ property ownership. In this case, “irregular” means not having at least one of the legal documents. A squatter can claim color of title once they are successfully claiming adverse possession claim.
Do squatters in Florida need to pay property taxes to make an adverse possession claim?
In short, yes! Paying property taxes is one of the alternate requirements squatters need to fulfil to make an adverse possession claim. If a squatter lacks color of title, then the alternative is to show proof that they have been paying property taxes for at least 7 uninterrupted years.
Florida Squatters’ Rights
A squatter can claim legal ownership of your property so long as they meet the basic requirements. One of these requirements is that the squatter needs to have lived in the property uninterruptedly for at least 7 years.
Besides living in the property for an interrupted period of time, the following are other requirements a squatter must fulfil:
1. Exclusive Possession
Adverse possession cannot turn into ownership of the property if the claimant doesn’t possess the land exclusively.
What does “exclusively” mean in this sense? It means that the squatter must possess the property as their own, in opposition to the owner. Conducting maintenance and regular upkeep are typically considered to be signs of exclusive ownership.
While the squatter can’t possess the property in collaboration with the owner, they can possess it in collaboration with other squatters.
If numerous others or the general public frequently use the land, the Exclusive Possession requirement likely won’t be met, but infrequent use of the property by others doesn’t invalidate Exclusive Possession.
2. Open & Notorious Possession
In a legal sense, ‘open & notorious’ means that their occupation of the unit must be apparent to anyone. Even the actual owner should be aware that there is a squatter living in their property. If a squatter tries to hide that they are living there, this would disqualify their adverse possession claim.
3. Actual Possession
Besides physically living in the property, the squatter needs to treat the property well. For instance, they should maintain and beautify the property regularly.
4. Hostile Claim
‘Hostile,’ in this sense, doesn’t have anything to do with violence. The supreme law defines it in three distinct ways.
- Awareness of trespassing. With this definition, the squatter needs to be aware that they are illegally living in the property.
- Good faith mistake. This definition only applies to some select states. Here, the trespasser is assumed to have occupied the property through honest intentions. They may, for example, be relying on a deed that is not valid.
- Simple occupation. Here, unlike the first definition, the squatter doesn’t have to know that they are illegally occupying someone else’s property.
How to Remove Squatters from Your Florida Home
There are no specific laws regarding removing squatters from a property. So, to get rid of squatters, you must follow the eviction process.
In Florida, much like everywhere else, an eviction begins with a notice. An eviction notice simply tells the tenant the violation they’ve committed and how many days they have to solve the issue or leave the property.
There are 3 types of eviction notices in Florida.
- 3-Days’ Quit or Pay Notice: This gives the tenant 3 days to pay their due rent. If they don’t pay within the 3 days, then you may file for their removal.
- 7-Days’ Cure Notice: This might not be the ideal notice to serve when trying to evict a squatter. This gives the tenant 7 days to correct their violation or move out.
- 7-Days’ Unconditional Quit Notice: Unlike the previous two, this doesn’t give the tenant a chance to fix the violation. This only applies in cases of gross lease violation. For instance, excessive property damage.
If you are successful with the case, the court will grant you a Writ of Restitution. This will grant the property back to you and direct the sheriff to conduct the eviction.
At Florida Property Management & Sales, we are well-versed in Florida laws. Our #1 priority is to help property owners in South Florida enjoy peace of mind through professional, reliable property management. Contact us today for further assistance.