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How to Handle Squatters in Florida

Discovering that a home has become the residence of a squatter is always an unsettling experience. If the home is privately owned, it can feel like a violation of the owner’s privacy. If it is a commercially owned property, then the squatters can mean serious financial damage to the property’s value. Fortunately, the law does provide a variety of remedies depending on the situation. First, people may be able to have the police immediately remove people as trespassers, though that will not always work. Instead, people may need to take advantage of the court system to have people removed through an expedited eviction-style lawsuit known as an unlawful detainer action.

Calling the Police

Many people’s first reaction upon discovering squatters living in a property is to call the police and try to have them removed as unlawfully being on their land. This may be successful, but often the police will refuse to remove the people in the home. The issue is that there is a legal distinction between a squatter and a trespasser. Trespassers are people who enter onto another person’s land temporarily for some purpose such as vandalism, and the police are empowered to deal with them. Squatters are people who have entered the land with the intent to live there, usually claiming that they have some right to. This moves the matter out of police jurisdiction, and it requires the court to sort out whether the squatters actually have a right to live there.

Unlawful Detainer Actions

While many people are disheartened to discover that they are going to have to take the squatters to court, courts have a special legal process for dealing with this: unlawful detainer. In an unlawful detainer action, the landowner alleges that someone is living on their property unlawfully, and asks the court to remove them. The squatter then has an opportunity to raise their claims, and the court decides whether the squatter actually has any right to be there.

Unlawful detainer actions are treated as expedited by the courts, meaning that they move much faster than an ordinary lawsuit, which can drag on for years. However, landowners should still be prepared for the process to take several weeks to run to completion.

Be Aware of Adverse Possession

Landowners who discover a squatter should also be sure to file an unlawful detainer promptly because of a legal doctrine known as adverse possession. Adverse possession law allows squatters to claim land that they have been squatting on for at least seven years, provided that they meet certain conditions, such as having paid the taxes on the land and filed the proper paperwork. Consequently, people who find a squatter on their property to should work quickly to remove them and avoid potential adverse possession issues.

Discovering squatters laying claim to a property can be unsettling, and it can be difficult to determine what steps to take next. Fortunately, people dealing with squatters have legal options. If you have discovered squatters on one of your properties, contact a West Palm Beach business litigation attorney at Pike & Lustig, LLP today to learn more about your rights.

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