A squatter is someone that occupies someone else’s property without legal consent. In addition to having no consent, a squatter occupies the property rent-free.
Usually, squatters occupy properties that are either vacant, abandoned, or foreclosed upon. Since they don’t break-in, they technically don’t break the law when occupying your property.
In Florida, it’s important to protect your vacant property against occupation by squatters. This is because, over time, squatters may be able to obtain legal ownership of your property through adverse means.
The following is everything you need to know about squatter’s rights in Florida.
What are Squatter’s Rights?
Squatter’s Rights are a form of Adverse Possession. Once a squatter meets the minimum guidelines, they may be able to obtain full legal ownership of the property they are squatting on.
The following are the requirements a squatter in Florida must fulfill to obtain squatter’s rights.
- Continuous Occupation. In Florida, a squatter will need to occupy a property for a minimum of 7 years to qualify for an Adverse Possession claim. ‘Continuous’ here means that a squatter must have stayed on the property throughout the entire duration. Leaving the property even for weeks would nullify their claim.
- A squatter must not have obtained permission to occupy the property from the true owner
- A squatter must occupy the property as the actual owner would. Evidence for this would be erecting a fence enclosing the land. Another example would be cutting the grass or landscaping.
- Another requirement under Adverse Possession rights is the exclusive possession of the property. A squatter must not share the possession of the property with others, such as other squatters or even the property owner themselves.
- Open & Notorious. A squatter must not be seen to be hiding their occupation of the property they are squatting on. To qualify for an Adverse Possession claim, they must demonstrate that their occupation has been akin to that of the owner.
In addition, in Florida, a squatter must have a color of title to be eligible for an Adverse Possession Claim.
What is Color of Title in Florida?
This is a term you’re bound to come across in your search for squatter’s rights. If you’re said to have Color of Title, it simply means that you have one or more of the required documents to own the property. In other words, your occupation of the property is irregular.
Without color of title, a squatter would need to pay taxes as an alternative additional requirement to claim adverse possession.
How Do You Prevent Squatters on Your Florida Property?
There are steps you can take to prevent squatters from occupying your rental property. Whether you leave Florida after winter or you’re just gone for a few months, you’ll want to take care that squatters don’t take up residence.
- Secure all main entrances, such as front doors and windows before you leave
- Inspect the property from time to time
- Invest in a home security system to monitor it remotely
- Pay property taxes yourself. Payment of taxes is an alternative additional requirement for an adverse possession claim.
- If the property isn’t occupied, put up ‘No Trespassing’ signs
- Begin eviction proceedings against the squatter as soon as you notice they have occupied your property
- Seek the help of the sheriff if the squatter refuses to leave the property. Don’t involve the police, as this is a civil matter and not a criminal manner.
- Hire a reputable home watch company. A home watch company will periodically check on and care for your home while you’re away, preventing any squatters from ever taking up residence.
How Do You Remove Squatters From Your Florida Home?
Some states have specific laws for removing squatters. Florida, however, isn’t one of these states. To get rid of a squatter, you must go through the tenant eviction process. The following is an overview of the process.
- Serve an eviction notice. Once you have noticed there is a squatter living on your property, serve them an appropriate notice as quickly as possible.
- File a lawsuit against the tenant. If the squatter doesn’t pay all the due rent or move out within three days, you can move to court and file a lawsuit. This will normally take a few weeks to resolve.
- Attend the court hearing. Since the squatter will have no legal right to occupy the property, chances are they won’t fight the eviction. As such, you can expect a default judgment in your favor.
- Wait for the squatter to be removed. After a successful judgment, the court will issue you with a writ of possession. The writ will be the final notice for the tenant to leave. If they still refuse to leave after being served with a copy of the writ, the sheriff will have to forcefully evict them from the premises.
Please note that you cannot self-evict the squatter from the property. You cannot try to do things like shut down utilities, lock them out, or cut off electricity or water supply. These actions are illegal and can get you in legal trouble. The only person that can legally remove a squatter from the property in Florida is either a sheriff or a constable.
Now you know what rights squatters have in Florida and what you can do to protect your property against illegal occupation. That being said, the best way to protect your home against strangers is by working with a reputable home watch service.
Income Realty Home Watch can help you in this regard. We’re an accredited home watch company that can look after your Miami property when you’re away. Get in touch to learn more!