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Squatters Spark Warning From Biden Admin: ‘Critical’ Action Needed

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President Joe Biden’s administration said on Monday that it’s “critical that local governments take action” to address the ongoing issue of squatters taking up residence in homes they don’t own in different parts of the country.

The issue of squatters’ rights has generated debate across the United States after incidents where property owners in some states found themselves embroiled in legal disputes over individuals residing in their properties without their permission.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked on Monday during a press briefing if the Biden administration has any response to recent issues involving squatters and homeowners’ attempts to have them removed.

“My understanding is that this is obviously a local issue, we are certainly tracking that issue. The rights of property owners and renters must be protected and we believe that ultimately, what needs to happen, is the local government needs to make sure that they address this and they take action,” she said. “What I can say is that ultimately this is a local issue and it is critical that local governments take action to address it.”

Newsweek reached out to the White House via email for comment.

A squatter is any individual who decides to inhabit a piece of land or a building in which they have no legal right to occupy, according to the American Apartment Owners Association (AAOA). The squatter lives in the building or on the property they select without paying rent and without lawful documentation stating they own the property.

Last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed new legislation, increasing penalties against squatters, making it a “second-degree felony for any person who unlawfully occupies or trespasses in a residential dwelling and who intentionally causes $1,000 or more in damage.”

After signing the legislation, the governor said, “We are putting an end to the squatters scam in Florida…While other states are siding with the squatters, we are protecting property owners and punishing criminals looking to game the system.”

Squatting
A squatter removes belongings from an apartment as Maricopa County constables serve an eviction order on September 30, 2020, in Phoenix. President Joe Biden’s administration said on Monday that it’s “critical that local governments take…


John Moore/Getty Images

Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers and a former federal prosecutor, told Newsweek that “lawmakers need to take action to expediate evictions of squatters and to impose harsher criminal penalties on them.”

He added: “Laws that protect lawful tenants shouldn’t be used to protect people that never had a legal right to be on the property in the first place. Squatters should be evicted then jailed if they break into a home and stay there because the provide a fake lease or other fraudulent documentation.

“Prosecutors need to more aggressive in charging trespassers. Like shoplifting, if there is no legal consequence for breaking the law because individuals aren’t charged or are given a slap on the wrist, then criminal activity will continue.”

On Monday, Florida’s Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd spoke to Fox News’ Fox & Friends on how the state is handling squatters and warned homeowners against attempting to take squatters to civil court.

“They don’t have anything, what little money they have they stick up their nose or in their veins, they’re just a bunch of dopers and freeloaders, we call them squatters,” he said. “So, yes, you can legally sue them, but it’s a waste of time and effort, most of the time.”

Judd spoke further with Newsweek on Monday saying that in Florida there is a “civil” way to deal with squatters, but noted “when you get into the civil court, that’s a months and a years long business depending on where you are, in order for it to move through the civil system. But they’re also committing criminal violations of law so we’ve been able to successfully deal with them by using criminal statutes and that gets them out…But these folks don’t have anything.”

Meanwhile, Jake Blumencranz, a New York state assemblyman, recently proposed a change in laws that will look to revise property rights that aim to change the definition of what it means to be a tenant, excluding the term “squatters.”

“For the purposes of this article, a tenant shall not include a person who enters onto a property with the intent of squatting on the property or other-wise settles on land or occupies property without title, right, permission of the rightful owner or payment of rent,” the bill’s summary reads. “Further adds occupying a building or real property without title, right, permission of the rightful owner, and with the intent of squatting in such building or real property, to the definition of criminal trespass in the third degree.”

In New York, current regulations stipulate that squatters can be considered tenants and acquire rights over a property if they have resided on it for at least 30 days. The new bill will change this rule to 45 days.