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The Bipartisan Fight for Property Rights

When Patti Peeples approached her investment property home in Jacksonville, Florida, which she was preparing to put on the market, one would expect her to find an barren, yet pristinely clean home. Except that is not what Ms. Peeples uncovered when she approached the front door of her rental home. Instead, she came to her property to find changed locks, $40,000 worth of damage, and a pair of squatters declaring they were the rightful tenants of the home.

After her parents’ passing, Adele Andaloro approached her New York City home she inherited and was preparing to sell. However, instead of finding her family home filled with her beloved family belongings she found new locks, a new front door, and none of her personal belongings. Two squatters had been living in her home for weeks. After police arrived and the squatters failed to provide documentation that they had been there for over 30 days (in New York, squatters have certain legal protections over 30 days) they were removed from the property and Andaloro changed her locks. Less than 10 minutes later, a man claiming to be leasing the property showed up with one of the men escorted off the property and broke down Andaloro’s door, making the issue now a landlord-tenant issue under the law. Andaloro was arrested for unlawful eviction as it is illegal in New York to change the locks, turn off the utilities, or remove the belongings of someone claiming to be a tenant.

But the squatter problem does not end here. Earlier this year, two squatters were arrested only after they were found to allegedly have killed a young woman who walked into her late mother’s Manhattan property. In an upscale neighborhood in Los Angeles, squatters have even taken over and claimed to be leasing a $3 million home. Last year in New Orleans, Louisiana, the FBI raided an empty home where neighbors claim drug users were squatting. 

The right to own property is a fundamental and often overlooked feature of the American Dream. We assume that the property we are lucky enough to own is ours and shall not be under threat of unreasonable search and seizure. Those who own property as an investment or to start a family in a secure home worked incredibly hard to attain such an asset. These people deserve protection. While squatting is a rare issue, the legal protections squatters have compared to the rights of the property owner puts an unacceptable and unreasonably costly and tedious burden on the property owner. An America where people like Ms. Andaloro can be arrested for trying to remove squatters from her property, where providing fake lease documents can delay eviction proceedings, and where squatters get off with a slap on the wrist for causing thousands of dollars in property damage is not an America that is fully protecting the Constitutional rights of property owners. An America where the current court proceedings can take months to remove an unlawful squatter is one that is in desperate need of fixing. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is trying to prove that he and the state of Florida with him can lead the way on the quest towards protecting property rights.

After several hearings and testimony from victims of squatting, Governor Ron DeSantis passed a unanimous bipartisan bill on March 27, 2024, targeting legal loopholes squatters use. Firstly, it targets one of the main violations of property owner rights by cutting the long, laborious, and costly court process currently in place to remove squatters (where in New York, the average length for eviction cases is 20 months) and instead allows police to remove squatters immediately if the property owner simply fills out a form to give to their local sheriff that confirms the squatter was there unlawfully and is not a current or former tenant in a legal dispute. These delays for removal that are in place across the country and previously in place in Florida were incredibly costly to homeowners through legal fees and lost revenue from the inability to lease or rent out investment properties. Now, at least in the state of Florida, property owners will not face unfair costs and a lengthy legal process to protect their property. 

The Florida law does not stop at eviction proceedings. It places harsher penalties on the many crimes that go along with squatting. For instance, it is now a second-degree felony for squatters to cause over $1,000 in damage, a first-degree misdemeanor for falsifying documents conveying rights to a property, and a first-degree felony for knowingly advertising the sale or rent of a property without legal ownership or authority. 

These are all very common sense measures that simply protect the Constitutional rights of the property, and rightfully crack down on the illegal activities of squatters who have caused financial and emotional devastation to many families, homeowners, and communities across America. And we shall not forget that all of the measures passed unanimously in Florida. While it may be an issue that seems to be dominated by Republicans, as it is being pushed in Republican legislatures in states like Georgia and South Carolina, it would be a shame to turn the Constitutional rights of the property owner into a partisan issue. Ron DeSantis and the entirety of the Florida legislature did their state a great deed in passing this bill to crack down on lawlessness and reinforce property rights. With how confusing property and squatter rights are across the country, it would be wise of the Federal government to follow Florida’s lead and pass an identical bill. Inconsistencies in the law across the country are one of the most widely used tools of criminals trying to game the system of squatter’s rights. It is time the federal government sends the message to the whole country to get off our people’s property.

Featured Image Source: NY Post

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