Through the act of trespassing, a squatter can develop legal rights to a property over time if the owners don’t take action to evict them. They can do this by filing and presenting a valid adverse possession claim.
Unfortunate as it may seem, the ability of a squatter to take legal possession of a property has historically been upheld by Florida courts.
Therefore, to protect your property as an owner, you must understand squatters’ rights.
Who does the state of Florida consider a squatter?
Florida defines a squatter as anyone that occupies property without lawful consent from the owner. Generally speaking, the property is usually unoccupied, abandoned or foreclosed. So, not only does the squatter not own the property, but they also don’t pay rent to live in it.
Despite this fact, squatting is a pretty common occurrence in the U.S., and it can be legal too.
Is there a difference between squatting and trespassing?
By definition, someone that trespasses is knowingly entering someone else’s property without their permission. While trespassing is usually temporary, squatting is the exact opposite. A squatter looks to make a home out of the abandoned building.
Both squatting and trespassing is illegal. Trespassing is a felony and can lead to an arrest. However, if the owner doesn’t legally evict the trespasser, the situation may begin giving the trespasser more rights that can eventually lead to an adverse possession claim.
What exactly is Florida’s adverse possession law?
Adverse possession refers to the act of occupying someone else’s property without the intention of owning it legally. For a squatter to legally own property, they must first meet a set of conditions.
For example, occupy the property for a continuous period, not try to hide the fact they are occupying it and occupy the property exclusively.
What is ‘color of title’?
Color of title is also one among the 6 requirements that a squatter must meet before filing for adverse possession. Basically, color of title is simply ownership of a property that isn’t regular. For instance, not having one or more of the legal documents or memorials registered.
The squatter can claim it once they are successful with their adverse possession claim.
Florida Squatters’ Rights
As already mentioned, squatters in Florida, much like everywhere else in the U.S., have rights. They can lay claim to your property so long as they meet certain conditions. The following are the 6 conditions that they must first meet to have grounds for adverse possession.
Condition #1: Hostile Claim
As defined herein, ‘hostile’ doesn’t equate to violence or danger. It also doesn’t mean a squatter broke into your Florida property with violent intentions. In the legal sense, ‘hostile’ takes on three definitions.
1.It’s defined as a mere occupation of a property. The trespasser does not have to be aware that they are occupying someone else’s property.
2. The trespasser is aware of their actions. With this definition, the trespasser is aware that they are indeed occupying someone else’s property. They are also of the understanding that their actions amount to a felony.
3. ‘Hostile’ takes on the definition of a mistake in good faith. Here, the trespasser is assumed to have made an honest mistake in occupying the property. He or she may have relied on an invalid or incorrect title to the property.
Condition #2: Physical Presence
The trespasser must physically possess the property. Additionally, they must be able to treat the property just as the actual property owner would. For example, by maintaining and improving it.
The trespasser must be able to show proof of this, as Florida requires this of anyone making an adverse possession claim.
Condition #3: Obvious Possession
For a squatter to qualify for adverse possession, they must also not try to hide the fact they are occupying the property. Even the property owner should be able to tell that there is someone actually living on their property.
Condition #4: Exclusive Possession
The squatter must be the only one occupying the property. If they are sharing it with strangers or tenants, that would make their adverse possession claim disqualified.
Condition #5: Continuous Occupation
Another condition a squatter must meet is continuous occupation. While different states have different requirements, Florida requires that a squatter occupy a property for at least 7 years before laying legal claim to it.
Condition #6: Color of Title
Lastly, the squatter must have a color of title. Alternatively, the squatter must be able to show proof that they have been paying property taxes on the property.
How to Remove Squatters From Your Florida Property
Florida doesn’t have specific laws, unlike some other states, for removing squatters. To get rid of them, you must follow the Florida squatter eviction process – which is similar to the eviction process for removing problem tenants.
The first thing you’ll therefore need to do is to serve a proper eviction notice. In Florida, there are three types of eviction notices.
- 3-Day Quit or Pay Notice: The notice gives the tenant three days to either pay the rent that’s due or move out. If the tenant obliges and pays the late rent and fees, no further actions will be needed on your part. However, if they don’t, you’ll have a legal justification to seek the court’s help.
- 7-Day Cure Notice: This might not be the best notice to serve someone squatting on your property. Still, it may be useful in certain circumstances. The notice is meant to be served on a tenant that has violated the terms of the lease agreement. It allows them to correct the violation or else face eviction.
- 7-Day Unconditional Quit Notice: This doesn’t give the tenant an option to cure the issue. It gives the tenant 7 days to move out of the property. This is typically served in cases of gross violation of the lease agreement. For example, excessive property damage.
Since the squatter doesn’t have a valid claim on the property, the hammer will most likely fall in your favor.
At Remax Infinity Property Management, we’re well versed in Florida laws. As a full-service property management company, we can help care for your property and keep it occupied by quality tenants.