Squatter Rights in Florida

December 2, 2021

A squatter is someone who resides on someone else's vacant property without their permission. They frequently live in homes that have been foreclosed or abandoned.

As a result, they are able to dwell in the house without paying rent. Squatters do have rights, but they must first comply with any adverse possession conditions. They may be considered criminal trespassers if they do not comply.

However, across the fifty states in America, each state has its own laws and regulations in regard to Squatters. So if you are in Florida, continue reading this guide on Squatter Rights in Florida.

Trespassing vs Squatting:

A smashed window is an easy entrance point for a squatter

Trespassing:

Unlike squatting, trespassing is considered to be a criminal offense, and if an individual or group of people are caught on private land or property, it may result in arrest. Typically, a trespasser will damage your property to gain entry usually by smashing a window or breaking down a door.

Squatting:

On the other hand, squatting is a civil matter as opposed to a criminal offense. A squatter usually enters the properties using a door that is unlocked or a window that has already been smashed or broken. With this in mind, a squatter can still be arrested and removed from the property as they are occupying a property without alerting the actual owner.

Is it possible for a holdover tenant to file an adverse possession claim?

First and foremost, what is a holdover tenant? A holdover tenant, often known as a tenant under duress, is someone who refuses to renew their lease agreement.

Depending on whether you, the landlord, continue to accept rent payments, this type of tenant may become a criminal trespasser. If you continue to accept rent, the tenant will live in the property "at your will."

This means you have the power to evict them at any time. You must stop receiving rent from the tenant if you no longer want them on your property. You must also file an unlawful detainer case in addition to refusing to accept rent. If the court rules in your favor, you'll be given a Writ of Restitution, which will tell the sheriff to evict the tenant from your home.

Adverse Possession in Florida

If a squatter can establish adverse possession, it means they have a legal right to stay on the land. The squatter must have the following to prove hostile possession of the property in line with Squatter Rights in Florida:

  1. Been on the property for the past 12 years 
  2. Had continuous possession of the land
  3. The property's rightful owner must have abandoned it.

Squatters can claim property after residing in it for a length of time (typically an abandoned, foreclosed, or otherwise uninhabited building). A squatter must have lived in the property for at least 7 years in Florida for an adverse possession claim to be valid.

There are only two ways to obtain land by adverse possession in Florida: with the color of title or without the color of title. The occupier came into possession with an apparent title rather than a true, legitimate title, as shown by the color of the title. A claim for adverse possession under color of title is a legal claim.

What color is the title?

To put it another way, having a hue of title denotes 'irregular' property ownership. "Irregular" in this situation refers to the lack of at least one of the legal documents. After successfully asserting adverse possession, a squatter can claim color of title.

Adverse Possession Requirements

The legal word for "squatter's rights" is "adverse possession." Adverse possession refers to a situation in which a person can seek legal ownership of a property after continually occupying a private property they do not own without the approval or objection of the legal owner.

Adverse possession rules differ by state, but most require the squatter to dwell in the home for a period of time ranging from five to thirty years. In circumstances of absentee landlords and/or where dwellings are otherwise neglected, courts usually decide in favor of hostile possessors. So long as they complete the basic standards, a squatter can claim legal ownership of your property.

For squatter rights in Florida to be evoked one requirement is that the squatter must have lived in the property for at least 7 years without interruption. Aside from residing on the property for an extended period of time, a squatter must also meet the following requirements:

Notorious & Open:

'Open & notorious,' in legal terms, indicates that their occupation of the unit must be obvious to anybody. Even the true owner of the land should be aware that there is a squatter residing there. If a squatter tries to hide their presence, their adverse possession claim will be dismissed.

Exclusive:

Cutting the grass can be seen as a way to maintain a property

If the claimant does not have exclusive possession of the land, adverse possession cannot be converted to ownership.

In the context of squatter rights in Florida, the term exclusive implies that the property must treat the property as their own, notwithstanding the owner's objections. 

Maintenance and regular upkeep are usually regarded as indications of exclusive ownership. For instance, cutting heavily overgrown brass can be seen as maintaining the property. While the squatter cannot own the land with the owner's permission, they can do so with the permission of other squatters.

The Exclusive Possession requirement will likely not be met if numerous persons or the general public routinely utilize the land, but infrequent use of the property by others does not invalidate Exclusive Possession.

Actual Ownership:

Aside from physically occupying the land, the squatter must also take good care of it. They should, for example, repair and decorate the property on a regular basis.

Hostility Claim:

In this context, 'hostile' has nothing to do with violence. It is defined in three ways by the supreme law.

  • Trespassing is recognized.

With this definition, the squatter must be aware that they are occupying the land illegally.

  • Good faith blunder.

This term is only applicable to a few states. The trespasser is deemed to have entered the property with good intentions in this case. They could, for example, be relying on an illegitimate deed.

  • Work is straightforward.

Unlike the previous definition, the squatter does not need to be aware that they are occupying someone else's property illegally.

Squatter Rights in Florida- Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes?

The simple answer is, yes. Squatters must also pay property taxes as one of the other prerequisites for filing an adverse possession claim. If a squatter does not have the color of title, they must present documentation that they have paid property taxes for at least seven years in a row. 

In Florida, how do I remove a squatter?

Unlike several other states, Florida does not have particular regulations for removing squatters. To evict them, you must follow the Florida squatter eviction procedure, which is similar to the procedure for evicting bad renters.

As a result, the first thing you'll need to do is serve a formal eviction notice.  Trespassers can be removed immediately by the police. Squatters, on the other hand, are impossible to dislodge. Inquire with the police about reporting the squatters to the property owner. If they refuse, you may have little choice but to do so if you want to get rid of them.

An eviction in Florida, like everywhere else, starts with a notice. An eviction notice merely informs the renter of the violation they've committed and the number of days they have to fix the problem or vacate the premises. In Florida, there are three sorts of eviction notices: 

3-Day Notice to Pay or Quit:

This gives the squatter two options: pay all past-due rent or vacate within three days. If they choose neither option, you can take them to court and have them evicted.

 7-Day Cure Notice:

Unlike the previous option, this option will allow the tenant the opportunity to correct the violation. This only applies in the event of a serious breach of the lease. Excessive property damage, for example. A squatter can only be removed from a property by a constable or sheriff. For a successful eviction, such law enforcement officers require a court order.

7-Day Unconditional Quit Notice: 

The final option gives the squatter no option than to vacate the property within 7 days of an issue notice. 

An eviction procedure is the most typical method of removing a person from possession of real property. In Florida, Chapter 83 of the Florida Statutes governs eviction proceedings. The landlord may file an eviction complaint with the court if the tenant fails to pay the rent or vacates the premises. 

Is it possible to turn off utilities on a squatter's property?

A landlord cannot switch off any utility service, including water, heat, light, electricity, gas, elevator operations, garbage collection, or refrigeration, directly or indirectly, according to Florida Statute 83.67, even if the landlord is paying for the service.

Squatter Rights in Florida

Squatter rights in Florida and continually being challenged, and the laws are now being used by nonprofit organizations in many jurisdictions as a valid way for people to own property.

Nonprofit businesses exploit these rules in locations like California and Chicago to assist underprivileged individuals in claiming vacant land as their own.

Removing squatters can be very difficult because there are often cases where squatters claim tenant rights because they signed a fraudulent lease agreement- though they did not know it was fraudulent, the squatter will then pay rent to a deceitful landlord

The first thing you should do if you suspect squatters in your home is to notify a law enforcer, such as the police . The squatters will be asked to leave at this point. You must serve them with an eviction notice if they claim squatters' rights or claim to be a lawful tenant. If that doesn't work, you'll have to file a lawsuit to stop them from filing adverse possession litigation against you.

Protecting yourself from squatters

Any property should be sufficiently secured at any time for your own peace of mind, but there are a few tips and tricks you should follow to protect your home from squatters in the state of Florida. 

 Pay a visit 

The first step in preventing squatters on your property is to visit it on a regular basis. Given that some states have a lower threshold for squatters to be granted legal rights to a property — for example, California has a five-year minimum versus Colorado's 18-year requirement — the more you or someone else visits the property, the more likely you or someone else will notice squatters early on and be able to remove them.

Lock your Windows

Squatters enter properties through unlocked windows so install locking systems- for article squatter rights in Florida

Installing locks around all of your windows helps ensure that your home's perimeter is secure. Squatters will utilize every point of the entrance they can discover to get access to your home, but if your windows are sealed, they will be unable to do so.

Set alarms

Alarm systems are the most effective anti-intruder equipment. Many alarm providers recommend installing window locks and steel fittings around all of your windows, sliding glass doors, front doors, garage doors, and other potential entry points.

You can receive notifications on your smartphone when something happens on your property with linked alarm systems. If your alarm system has cameras, your smartphone can display images of what's going on.

Stainless Steel Fittings

Install steel fittings in your windows and doors as a side note. This level of security will deter practically all squatters, as well as anyone attempting to rob you.

If you don't have access to the roof

Make sure there are no access points on the roof. Squatters can claim legal ownership of a property if they can get access through an existing opening or a vandalized entrance point.

The more steel fittings and locks you have, the less likely there will be a point of entry through which squatters can gain access to your property. 

Get to Know Your Neighbour’s

If you are unable to visit the property on a regular basis, enlist the help of a neighbor. If possible, have a neighbor who you can trust to check on your property once a month. At the very least, have someone you can contact if your alarm system sets off an unwanted event. If you live out of state, having a physical presence at home sooner rather than later can make all the difference.

Steps to protect your property from Squatters

There are simple things you can take to protect your vacant property against squatters. Remember that depending on the type of property - private or commercial - and the security measures currently in place, some of these measures will be more appropriate than others.

  • Make regular visits to your vacant property to clear any letters or trash that has accumulated. A build-up of mail is a key indicator that a home is unoccupied!
  • Install a letterbox seal to keep arsonists and squatters from torching your home.
  • Make sure the property's perimeter is secure, and install window locks that are actually locked.
  • Consider installing steel windows and door frames.
  • Consider installing intruder alarms and security lighting and double-checking that they are operational and suitable for their intended use.
  • Make certain there is no access to the roof. By infiltrating open or previously vandalized entry points, squatters claim legal rights!
  • Request that your neighbors remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity to you.
  • Disconnect all utilities. Remove the fuse board as well if a property is being renovated. It will be tough for squatters to reconnect the electricity as a result of this.
  • Consider whether contract manned security guards would be beneficial to you.
  • If you own a vacant property, you should consider legal expenses coverage to protect yourself financially in the event that squatters move in. Remember to notify your insurer as soon as a property becomes vacant to mitigate the risks of squatting. They may have specific requirements to ensure you have cover for your property.
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