A squatter is a person who occupies a property or part of land without the owner’s permission and sometimes even claims legal ownership of that property. In states like Florida, squatting is legally allowed and a genuine concern for many homeowners.
The last thing you need is for someone to take over your property unlawfully. That’s why it’s crucial to understand Florida squatter’s rights laws so you’re always prepared.
Let’s break it down below.
Understanding Florida’s Squatter Rights Law
In Florida, squatting can happen for various reasons, such as a person occupying an abandoned property, moving into a foreclosed home, or a miscommunication. The only way landlords can legally remove a squatter from the property is to follow standard Florida eviction laws.
No matter how a squatter ended up on the property, Florida law states that they may be able to gain title and ownership of the property after residing there long-term for seven years. After that, a squatter can start a legal process called adverse possession. Property taxes and a color of title are typically required to make an adverse possession claim.
Florida Adverse Possession Claims
Several conditions must be met to make a valid adverse possession claim. These requirements are broken down into five different categories according to law:
- Hostility: Hostility, in this case, does not mean violent intentions. Legally, it means the possessor (in this case, the squatter) must be aware of their trespassing or must have made an honest mistake, such as relying on an inaccurate deed or believing the land was theirs originally.
- Actual Possession: The person must live physically on the land and treat the property as if it were their own.
- Open and Notorious: Possession must be open and obvious, not hidden or secret. The person must live as if they were rightfully living on the property.
- Exclusive and Continuous: To qualify for squatters’ rights in Florida, a person must not share their possession with others and must be occupying the property for seven years. If they leave halfway through and return, the time starts over.
- Improvement: The person must improve, cultivate, or protect the property.
How does the Florida Adverse Possession work?
A squatter has specific time requirements before they can begin making an adverse possession claim in Florida. These requirements are different compared to other states. The rules in Florida are as follows:
- A person must consecutively occupy the property for seven years before they are eligible to submit an adverse possession claim. As previously stated, the time spent on the property must be consistent without any breaks.
- They must prove they have improved or kept up the property and paid the property taxes.
- They must present a color of title, a document that gives the appearance of a legitimate title but is not legally valid due to an error or typo. If a squatter does not have a color of title, it is challenging to gain adverse possession.
How to Prevent Squatters from Settling
When it comes to preventing squatters from settling, prevention is key. If you’re a landlord, you can take plenty of measures to protect your properties. Quick action can save you time and money and help you avoid squatters from settling. Luckily, there are several ways to protect your property:
- Invest in a Security System: A home with good security is less attractive to squatters, and if a person attempts to break in, you can get notified immediately and act before they have a chance to settle. A complete system can be expensive, but it’s a good investment considering the alternatives.
- Carefully Screen Tenants Before Move-in: Start with a thorough tenant screening, which you can do on your own, or try our easy tenant screening tools, which include a background check, credit check, financial summary, and references.
- Visit Your Vacant Property Regularly: The sooner you find suspicious activity, the better your chances of getting rid of it before it becomes a problem. Check your property often, have a neighbor perform regular check-ins, or hire a property management company to keep tabs on the property. Showing that your property is visited frequently will deter anyone from considering the place as an option to squat.
- Maintain a Lived-in Presence: Keep the property looking like someone lives there, even if it’s empty— maintaining the landscaping, getting the mail, and cleaning the inside and outside regularly are a few examples.
- Promptly Address Lease Violations: If you suspect you have an unauthorized occupant, take immediate action. Issue a proper warning and, if necessary, initiate the eviction process.
Eviction Time: How to Remove Squatters
If a person has already taken up residence on your property, it is crucial to begin initiating the Florida eviction process as soon as possible. Do not try to remove them yourself. Here’s how to properly evict a squatter while abiding by Florida laws:
- Serve an Eviction Notice: Start by serving an eviction notice to the individual. Be sure to follow Florida's specific laws and regulations regarding notice requirements. The notice should clearly state the reason for eviction and a deadline for them to vacate the premises.
- File an Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit: If the person does not leave by the deadline given in the eviction notice, file an unlawful detainer lawsuit, a process to regain possession of your property. Always consult with an attorney to ensure proper filing.
- Court Proceedings: Attend court proceedings and present your case. If the court rules in your favor, the sheriff's department will assist in physically removing the squatters from the property.
Trespassing Laws and Criminal Trespassers
In general, it's a good idea to understand local trespassing laws to protect your property rights. In Florida, trespassing can be considered a criminal offense, which may be a powerful tool to remove squatters.
- If someone enters your property without permission, they are trespassing.
- If they refuse to leave when asked, they can be charged with criminal trespassing, often leading to fines and possible imprisonment.
- Remember that in Florida, a person must receive notice that they are on someone else’s property before being considered for trespassing.
- Hanging a “no trespassing” sign and providing a written notice to trespassers can help speed up this process.
Florida’s squatter rights law can be a landlord's nightmare. However, by understanding the law, taking preventive measures, and knowing the eviction process, you can protect your property from squatters. Feel free to seek legal advice and consult with local authorities if you find yourself in this challenging situation. Staying proactive and informed will help you in the long run.
By following these steps and carefully watching your property, you can avoid the hassles and costs associated with squatters. Remember, your property is an investment, and with the proper knowledge and actions, you can safeguard it from unwanted intruders and protect your rights as a landlord.
If you're looking for additional ways to stay on top of your rentals, consider a free trial with TenantCloud. Keep a record of property details, schedule regular maintenance requests, screen tenants, and more.
Do squatters need to pay property taxes to claim a property?
If a squatter plans to claim adverse possession, they have a better chance if they have paid property taxes for the entire duration of their stay.
Can landlords in Florida remove squatters themselves?
No, Florida landlords do not have the right to legally remove people from their property. The only way to evict a squatter in Florida is to follow the legal eviction process.
Is squatting considered trespassing under Florida laws?
No. While trespassing is criminal, squatting doesn’t always qualify as trespassing. If people stick to the rules of adverse possession, they are protected by Florida’s rights. If they fail to follow these rules, a landlord will likely have a case against them for trespassing.
What properties are more likely to attract squatters?
A vacant, abandoned, or otherwise empty home is an easy target for squatters.