How Do I Handle A Squatter On My Property?
A significant minority of Florida properties are actually owned by people and corporations who are primarily based out of state. While in theory, there is nothing wrong with that, it can be problematic for the owner’s wallet, because it is not uncommon for squatters to move into vacant homes and try to assert their rights. If you are a Florida landlord and are having to deal with unwanted visitors who refuse to leave, enlisting an attorney to help you can be the first step toward getting the problem fixed.
Who Qualifies As A Squatter?
Florida law defines a squatter as a person who occupies a piece of land or a dwelling without the permission of the owner (they may have the permission of the tenant, but this is irrelevant in legal terms). Squatting is essentially the civil version of criminal trespass; it is not lawful, but it does not become a criminal act until a landlord takes steps to make it so. This does not, pointedly, include a holdover tenant, who is a legitimate tenant who remains in the dwelling without a new lease – there are different remedies potentially available to handle such an issue.
It is important to understand that while squatting is illegal in Florida, this does not mean that squatters are not granted certain rights under state law. Too many absent landlords simply do not check on their property, only to find that squatters have by now acquired the legal right to be present there. The state presumes that if someone fails to occupy or improve a piece of property for a certain period of time, their interest wanes in the face of someone who will.
How To Evict Unwanted Residents
Squatters, by law, may file a claim for possession of a property if they have lived in it for at least 7 years, and if their occupation fulfills all of the criteria the law requires. The possession must be ‘adverse’ or ‘hostile,’ meaning that it must be against the interests of the putative landlord (in Florida law, the squatter must be aware they are trespassing, but operate under color of mistake, believing they actually have a right to the property). It must also be continuous, actual, exclusive, and “open and notorious” – that is, the squatter must not have attempted to hide their presence on the property. If any of these criteria are absent, the squatter has no claim.
A landlord in Florida only has one real remedy to evict a squatter, unlike in other states where specific statutes have been drawn up to deal with the problem. They must file an eviction notice against the squatter, and then file what is known as an ‘unlawful detainer’ action, intended to be used against people with whom no landlord-tenant relationship exists. If the suit is successful, not only must the squatter vacate the premises, the landlord may possibly collect up to double the ‘reasonable rental value’ of the property from them in damages.
Contact A Tampa Landlord-Tenant Attorney
In today’s busy property market, far too many simply buy up property and fail to maintain it. When this happens, squatters can and do take advantage. If you fear you have squatters on your property, contacting a Tampa landlord attorney from the Seward Law Office can help get the process to remove them going. Contact our office today at 813-252-6789 to schedule a consultation.