Lawmakers take action as incidents of homeowners confronting squatters increase

Patti Peeples was completely caught off guard when she found out last year that her home in Jacksonville, Florida, which she thought was empty, was actually occupied.

According to a police report, Peeples alleged that a duo of squatters trespassed into one of her investment properties that was listed for sale. They proceeded to change the locks and caused significant damage to the house. Adding insult to injury, the squatters even went as far as presenting a fake lease, claiming to be legitimate tenants.

Peeples was informed by the police about the distressing news that this incident was not considered a crime and would be handled in civil court.

A widespread squatter crisis is affecting homeowners across the United States, sparking action from lawmakers and, in some instances, homeowners themselves.

According to Dionna Reynolds, a real estate attorney, the existing laws regarding squatting pose a significant challenge for property owners who wish to promptly resolve the issue of removing squatters.

If you are living in a property, you have what is known as “adverse possession.” This means that you take ownership of the property and have certain legal rights, according to an expert.

Reynolds explained that even though it may seem like trespassing, individuals have to be legally evicted through the court process. She emphasized that this process can be both time-consuming and expensive.

It took Peeples a total of 36 days to successfully remove the individuals she believed to be squatters from her property.

Numerous property owners throughout the country have encountered comparable issues.

Two individuals were apprehended last week on suspicion of murdering a woman who unexpectedly discovered them residing in her deceased mother’s Manhattan apartment, according to law enforcement authorities.

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In a prestigious neighborhood in Los Angeles, homeowners who have been facing issues with squatters expressed their concerns about the situation escalating. As a result, they have formed a community watch, actively patrolling their streets and documenting any instances of suspected squatting through photographs and videos.

Residents of Studio City, California, were left in disbelief when they discovered that an uninvited person had reportedly occupied a vacant $3 million residence.

According to Lori Lowenthal, a member of the neighborhood watch, there has been a noticeable increase in package thefts in their area. She mentioned that these thieves are taking advantage of packages left unattended by delivery services like Amazon, particularly during the nighttime. As someone who has been living in the neighborhood since 1991, Lowenthal expressed her concern about the changing atmosphere and the impact these incidents have had on the community.

There is a dedicated individual in Los Angeles who has taken it upon himself to tackle the issue of squatters.

Flash Shelton, known as the “Squatter Hunter,” has gained fame through his viral videos where he fearlessly confronts individuals accused of squatting in the city and successfully persuades them to vacate the premises.

During a conversation with “Nightline,” Shelton, a former handyman who had to handle a squatter situation in his mother’s house, shared one of his most recent encounters with an individual suspected of squatting.

“I found myself in the middle of him inside the house. I calmly approached him and asked if he was aware that he had been squatting in this property. To my surprise, he began explaining that he actually had a lease,” he shared. “Without hesitation, I walked alongside him until we were both seated, engaging in a conversation that lasted for about an hour and a half.”

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However, the situation is about to change in Florida.

Governor Ron DeSantis has taken action by signing a bill on Wednesday that introduces criminal penalties for individuals accused of squatting.

Starting in July, the law grants the police the authority to promptly apprehend squatters and press criminal charges against trespassers. Intentional damage will be treated as a felony offense, while falsifying a lease will result in a misdemeanor charge.

The state legislature received bipartisan support for the bill, with several victims of alleged squatting incidents, including Peeples, testifying during its hearings. Peeples believes that other states should follow suit and consider implementing similar legislation.

Peeples emphasized that the fight is far from over and expressed the belief that the most effective solution would be the development of federal legislation.

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