Tuesday, June 25, 2024
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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Signs Bill Combatting “Squatter Scam”

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Signs Bill Combatting “Squatter Scam”
Source: Yahoo Finance/YouTube

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Signs Bill Combatting “Squatter Scam”

Source: ABC Action News/YouTube

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a new bill, HB 621, on Wednesday to protect property owners and combat squatting. The bill addresses the growing concern of squatter scams in the state.
The legislation is known as the Squatter Scam Prevention Act. It is designed to provide property owners with greater legal recourse and protection. This is against individuals who fraudulently occupy vacant properties intending to claim ownership through unfavorable possession laws.

The Practice of Squatting

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Squatting is the act of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied building or land without the owner’s permission. It often occurs when individuals or groups needing shelter or space take over unused properties for housing, business, or community purposes.
“You assume in America, if you purchase a home and own a residence, that’s your residence,” said DeSantis. Many people believe that removing a squatter from a home is as simple as calling the police.

Are Squatters Tenants?

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Unfortunately, removing a squatter can be much more complicated than expected. “We are in the State of Florida, ending the squatter scam,” said DeSantis. Before the enactment of this bill, squatters were usually regarded as tenants, subject to eviction procedures.
Sometimes, squatters may gain certain legal protections or rights if they can demonstrate long-term occupancy or adverse possession. However, this is different from being recognized as tenants in the traditional sense.

Frequent Cases of Squatting in Florida

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Squatting is not unfamiliar to South Florida, as the region has experienced its fair share of incidents. “They just come in, they break in, and this is their home,” said Natasha Johnson, who said squatters took over her property.
In 2021, 7Investigates interviewed Johnson, who was supposed to inherit a duplex from her father. However, when she arrived to renovate the property to rent it out, she discovered that squatters had already occupied the home.

Squatting is a Nationwide Problem

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The issue of squatting extends beyond a few states; it’s a nationwide problem. Recent stories from Seattle, New York, Georgia, and Chicago have highlighted its nature.
According to a report by The Daily Mail in March, a “serial squatter” in Seattle incurred nearly $300,000 in costs for landlords. The individual moved from one rich home to another for two years, squatting and freeloading without authorization.

The Bill HB 621

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House Bill 621 was created to address what are known as squatting scams. These scams involve squatters unlawfully occupying someone’s home, leaving the police powerless to intervene.
“We are in the state of Florida ending this squatters scam once and for all. And momentarily I’ll be signing HB 621, which will give the homeowner the ability to quickly and legally remove a squatter from a property and which will increase criminal penalties for squatting,” DeSantis said in a press conference.

Conditions Upon Which Squatters Can be Removed

Source: NBC 6 South Florida/YouTube

Thanks to the enacted law, property owners can now request the police to remove a squatter from their property immediately. However, certain conditions must be met.
This includes the individual who has unlawfully entered and remains on the property. Secondly, the property owner has directed the individual to vacate the premises, but they have failed to comply. Lastly, the individual is neither a current nor former tenant engaged in a legal dispute with the property owner.

There Would be Sheriffs on Stand-By

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HB 621 is scheduled to come into effect starting July 1, 2024. The bill will also enlist the assistance of the state’s sheriffs in addressing the issue.
“Sheriffs from across the state will be able to provide adequate resources and support for victims of these crimes and homeowners to preserve their property,” said Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma.

Home Owners Will Have to Pay the Sheriffs

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In the Florida bill summary, the Florida Senate outlined provisions for compensating sheriffs who are summoned through the mechanism outlined in HB 621.
The bill says, “The property owner must pay the sheriff the civil eviction fee plus an hourly rate if a deputy must stand by and keep the peace while the unauthorized person is removed.”

The Viral Squatting Scams

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The method squatters use to become a nuisance to homeowners has since gone viral. Videos circulating on social media provide instructions on the legal methods squatters can use to occupy someone else’s home.
“I found out that there is a law that says that if a house is not inhabited, we can seize it,” A TikToker named Leonel Moreno said in a viral video.

Squat Scams

Source: TikTok

Squatters usually exploit “squatters’ rights” laws originally designed to protect tenants, making it challenging for landlords to remove them immediately. Sometimes, scammers may even create fraudulent leases to deceive utility companies into believing they are the rightful property owners.
These scammers may unlawfully occupy or even rent out the property to unsuspecting individuals for profit. However, the new law imposes penalties for such individuals.

The Bill Prescribes Penalties

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These penalties include attempting to sell or rent property they don’t own, which can result in a first-degree felony charge. Occupying or trespassing in a home without ownership and causing over $1,000 in damages can lead to a second-degree felony charge.
Making a false claim in writing to obtain property unlawfully is now considered a first-degree misdemeanor. Ashley Moody, Florida’s Attorney General Moody, praised Governor DeSantis for signing the legislation.

Is Biden’s Administration Responsible?

Source: Joe Biden/YouTube

Moody also criticized President Biden, blaming his administration’s actions or policies. “Biden has allowed millions of illegal immigrants to flood across the border. After video evidence of their plan to take over homes emerged, we’re ensuring Floridians are protected from this egregious and brazen scheme,” she said.
She concluded, “I’m grateful to Governor DeSantis for signing this important legislation into law, and to Representative Kevin Steele for carrying this bill through the Session.”