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Are the tides turning against squatters? Florida and New York codify laws and we hope that California follows suit with more comprehensive legislation.

Last Updated: June 24, 2024By Tags:

Until then, we impart some advice on preventing squatting and handling it when it occurs. 

After a rash of home takeovers, lawmakers in Flordia and New York have given homeowners more control to take their homes back from parasitic occupants. In the Sunshine State, House Bill 621 authorizes property owners to seek intervention by the sheriff’s office to remove unauthorized persons. Paying an hourly fee, homeowners can call upon deputies to keep the peace as the owner changes the locks and hauls off the personal property of the unlawful occupants.

Calling Florida the “law and order state,” Governor Ron DeSantis announced in a news release that the squatters’ scam has come to a screeching halt. He used the opportunity to take a potshot at California, saying that “what passes muster in New York and California is not passing muster here.”

New York got the memo.

After an owner was handcuffed after changing the locks in her $1 million Queens home because a squatter hijacked it, the optics were not good. The squatting incident sparked outrage among homeowners and those aspiring for home ownership. Their elected representatives changed the law to redefine the definition of a tenant. Take a look.

Closer to home, what are California housing providers to do? The first is prevention. 

First off, we have always said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Ideally, we can prevent squatting in the first place with proper lighting and having an alarm system that could wake up the dead when the property is broken into.

We would like the system to trigger a police response and for an extra fee, the alarm company’s personnel could respond to assess the situation because we know that overstretched law enforcement agencies may be slow to arrive.

Owners of vacant properties by definition don’t have cash flow. So it may be difficult to take on additional expenses to secure a languishing property that is not generating income. The owner has to weigh those additional expenses against the many thousands of dollars in damage that could be inflicted if squatters remain on the property for days, weeks, and months.

In an active break-in situation where 911 is called, police will not treat the intrusion as a civil matter. They’ll treat it as a burglary in progress and speed to the crime in progress.

Having a vehicle parked in the driveway might go a long way to scare off would-be squatters, and there is Ring video doorbell technology and sensors that can be utilized remotely to detect people who are up to no good.

Law enforcement can be put on notice.

“602 letters” get their name from California Penal Code 602, which lists various forms of trespassing. These documents put law enforcement agencies on notice that no one is authorized to be on the premises and give the police cause to cite and prosecute any squatters.

What, exactly, is a “squatter?”

This is an ambiguous term and Bornstein Law will have to determine what the relationship is with the so-called squatter.

  • Are they someone who broke into the empty home and has no prior relationship with the landlord?
  • Are they a licensee who had permission to stay and overstayed their welcome?
  • Has the unwelcome guest paid rent to the landlord and thus, established an inadvertent tenancy?

Written by Daniel Bornstein, Esq.

More than a practitioner in landlord-tenant law, Daniel Bornstein is the Broker of Record for Bay Property Group, a property management company that protects and optimizes the investments of landlords. He is also renowned for his educational seminars and is called upon as an expert witness in complex real estate litigation matters. To avoid or resolve friction within rental units and cauterize risk, Daniel is happy to dispense informed advice to owners, property managers, and other real estate professionals looking to survive and thrive in today’s challenging and litigious rental housing market. Call 415-409-7611 or email daniel@bornstein.law.

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