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Squatter's Rights

Florida Squatter’s Rights

December 16, 2023

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Managing Squatters In Florida

Squatters – those mysterious figures who move into abandoned or vacant properties – have long been a subject of curiosity and confusion. Many people wonder—and fear—how squatters sometimes end up with legal rights to the property they’ve occupied.  

Squatters’ rights exist in various forms across the United States, including Florida. The requirements for claiming these rights vary from state to state, making it essential to understand the specific laws in your area. The squatters rights Florida protects are different from those that are protected in other states. 

While you can feel comforted that it is notoriously difficult for a squatter to fulfill all the requirements necessary to make a successful legal claim to your property, it never hurts to be prepared. In this article, we’ll cover squatters rights in Florida and explain how adverse possession works in this state. 

Overview 

  • Minimum Occupation Required: 7 consecutive years 
  • Property Taxes Required? Yes 
  • Color of Title Required? No 

Who Are Squatters? 

A squatter is someone who occupies a property without legal ownership or permission from the property owner. They often move into vacant, abandoned, or neglected properties. Squatters could squat temporarily (e.g., for a few weeks) or for years at a time.  

While the term “squatter” probably summons a certain image in your mind, it’s important to note that not all squatters have nefarious intentions. A squatter could be someone who thought they legally owned a property that has been passed down in their family over many generations, only to find out years later that the title officially belongs to someone else. 

Who Isn’t a Squatter? 

Not everyone who occupies or enters a property without permission is a squatter. For instance, tenants with expired leases are not squatters. Rather, they are “holdover tenants,” or previous tenants who no longer have the right to live in the property. Likewise, trespassers are also not squatters. Criminal trespassers are people who enter onto your private property but do not live there, while squatters actually occupy and live on the vacant property. 

What Are Squatter’s Rights/Adverse Possession? 

Squatter’s rights, also known as adverse possession, refer to the general legal principles that allow squatters to gain ownership of a property through a long period of possession, even without the owner’s permission. While squatter’s rights might seem antiquated today, the principles of adverse possession were established to reward the productive use of land and discourage neglect of properties.  

There is no federal law governing squatter’s rights, but there are legal precedents for them in each state and laws governing some of the requirements to claim adverse possession. 

Florida Squatters Rights 

Squatters rights in Florida are regulated by the Florida state law code. To make a successful claim for adverse possession in Florida, a squatter must meet one of the following requirements as per Fla. Stat. § 95.18: 

  • Occupy the property and pay property taxes on the land for at least seven consecutive years. 
  • Occupy the property with color of title for at least seven consecutive years. 

According to Florida squatters rights, by law, a squatter must either have paid property taxes or have color of title, in addition to occupying the land for the designated number of years, to make a valid adverse possession claim. 

When someone has “color of title,” this means they have ownership of a property in a nontraditional way, or without having the legal title or deed to the property. To have color of title in Florida, a squatter either needs to successfully win an adverse possession case or use the land in a particular way. This can mean either of the following: 

  • Cultivating, maintaining, and improving the land 
  • Protected the land via substantial enclosure 

Florida squatter law designates that either of the above actions can successfully support an adverse possession claim for squatters in Florida. 

Squatters must also meet five general requirements to make a valid adverse possession claim: 

  1. Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease or rental agreement with the owner.  
  1. Actual—The squatter must have actively lived in the property for a certain length of time.  
  1. Open and notorious—The squatter’s possession of the property is open and obvious to neighbors or anyone else. They aren’t living there “in secret” or trying to hide their presence.  
  1. Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else. They prevent others from living there like an owner would.  
  1. Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession of the property (7 years in Florida). 

How Does a Squatter Claim Adverse Possession/Squatters Rights in Florida? 

If a squatter has fulfilled both the Florida requirements for squatter’s rights and the general squatter’s rights principles above, they can file an adverse possession claim or bring an action to “quiet title.” Quiet title is the legal action to claim the right of possession and ownership of a particular property. 

Note, however, that just because a squatter files a claim, this does not mean they will be successful at claiming squatters rights in Florida. There are many obstacles to winning an adverse possession claim—for instance, the squatter would need to: 

  • Gather ample evidence for their claim (e.g., mail addressed to the property in their name, property tax receipts, evidence that they’ve “beautified” the property, etc.) 
  • File a quiet title complaint with the court 
  • Attend a hearing with you in front of a judge, where they’ll present their case for adverse possession  
  • Successfully convince a judge that they have fulfilled all the state requirements for adverse possession 
  • Receive a judgment for adverse possession to perfect the title 

As you can see, a squatter has an enormous burden of proof when claiming ownership of your property. It is a highly complex process that often requires the squatter to hire an attorney and to have lived in your property for many years. In all likelihood, a squatter situation you’re involved in won’t escalate to a successful action to quiet title. 

How to Remove a Squatter in Florida 

In Florida, as in almost all other states, removing a squatter necessitates the full eviction process. Treating the squatter like any other tenant ensures that any adverse possession claim they file is invalid. If you find out that a squatter is living in your property, you need to provide proper notice, file a formal eviction complaint in court, and attend (or get your attorney to attend) a hearing to lawfully remove the squatter. 

Here is an overview of the eviction process for squatters in Florida: 

  1. The owner must send a formal eviction notice, as per Florida eviction laws. In Florida, the possible eviction notices are: 
    • A three-day notice to pay or quit (for nonpayment of rent) 
    • A seven-day notice to cure or quit (for other lease violations) 
    • A seven-day unconditional notice to quit (for noncurable violations like severe destruction/damage to the unit, continued unreasonable disturbances, or repeat violations within a year) 
  1. After the notice period has expired, the owner must file a complaint of forcible detainer with the Florida County Court with jurisdiction where the property is located. 
  1. The court will issue a summons to court, which must be served to the squatter by the sheriff of another authorized process server. 
  1. The owner must attend a hearing to present evidence of lawful ownership of the property to the judge. 
  1. Upon confirming ownership, the judge will issue a writ of possession authorizing the sheriff to remove the squatter. 
  1. The squatter will get 24 hours to move out, after which the sheriff will return to forcibly remove the squatter. 

Remember that police officers cannot remove squatters—you must call the sheriff, who has the appropriate jurisdiction to remove the squatter. 

How to Prevent Squatters from Living in Your Vacant Florida Property 

Here are a few practical tips to prevent squatters from moving into your vacant property: 

  • Regularly inspect your property. 
  • Make your property appear inhabited during vacancy periods. 
  • Install adequate lighting and security systems to deter unauthorized entry. 
  • Secure all doors, windows, and access points with sturdy locks and barriers. 
  • Post “No Trespassing” signs on the property. 
  • Encourage neighbors to report any suspicious activity. 
  • Consider hiring a property management company to oversee and maintain the property. 
  • If feasible, keep the property in use, even if temporarily, to discourage squatting. 
  • Develop a good relationship with local law enforcement and notify them of the property’s vacancy to increase patrols and response to trespassing. 

Conclusion 

Knowledge is indeed power when it comes to understanding the laws that regulate property possession and ownership. However, it’s worth noting that adverse possession laws are unlikely to come into play in most cases. Property neglect to the extent that a squatter could go unnoticed for the required period is rare, emphasizing the importance of vigilance and preventative measures in protecting property rights. 

Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information. 

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