Squatters are individuals who find an abandoned or vacant property and move in. They take residence without discussing the matters with the actual owner.
There are many legal nuances. Sometimes squatting could be a civil case. In other circumstances, it could become a criminal offense. The final resolution depends on the particular state.
In this article, we will go over common questions and concerns about squatting in Orlando, Florida.
When does squatting become a criminal offense?
To begin with, squatting is usually a civil offense. This is until the property owner has made it clear that the squatter is unwelcome. From then on, it can be considered a criminal offense.
There are a few factors that protect squatters from prosecution for trespassing. For example, if the squatter beautifies the property. If they do so, they could have legal grounds to escape the charges.
Activities that fall under the beautifying category:
- Improving the property in a substantial way
- Landscaping the property’s land
- Taking actions to cultivate the property
Under Florida laws, squatters need to fulfill the basic requirements for adverse possession. In any case, making false claims about the right to stay on the property is illegal.
Before making an adverse possession claim, the squatter needs to assess the property. The squatted property must be unoccupied, unused, or completely abandoned.
How does adverse possession work in Florida?
Squatters must occupy the property for 7 consecutive years before claiming adverse possession. After filing a claim, squatters can become legal owners of the property.
When this transpires, the squatter stops being a criminal trespasser. In the case of a successful claim, they will receive legal permission to stay on the property.
In Florida, squatters have to meet six lawful prerequisites to make a claim. We will take a closer look at these in the next paragraphs.
Six legal requirements for squatters in Florida.
#1: Hostile Possession
In this context, hostile does not imply aggression or force. Instead, the legal definition means that the squatter occupies the land by:
- Not being aware of their trespassing
- Using the property in good faith without knowing its legal status
- Being aware of trespassing
#2: Exclusive Possession
Exclusive possession is if no one else is using the land but the squatter. They cannot share the property with owners, tenants, or strangers.
#3: Actual Possession
Actual possession signifies that the person is physically present and tends to the land as an owner would.
For example, legal documentation could prove that they improved and maintained the property.
#4: Open and Notorious Possession
The term “open and notorious” refers to the fact the squatter needs to be public about their presence. Hiding their presence on the property disqualifies them from making a valid claim.
#5: Continuous Possession
In Florida, the squatter must live on the property for seven consecutive years. Squatters cannot claim continuous possession if they have been away from the property.
#6: Color of Title or Payment of Property Taxes
The sixth requirement is unique to Florida. It consists of two options. The squatter must fulfill one of them:
- Color of Title: The squatter must live on the property for seven consecutive years. While doing so, they must improve or cultivate the property. They must protect the property using enclosures. The Color of Title covers both the time and improvement requirements.
- Payment of Property Taxes: The squatter may not fulfill the requirements of the Color of Title. In this case, they must pay property taxes and liens within their first year of entry. They still have to meet the condition of land improvement or protection.
How to evict squatters from your home.
Florida does not have any legal statutes for evicting a squatter. Thereby the owner or landlord needs to go through a systematic eviction.
Self-eviction is not legal. Only a constable or sheriff can remove a squatter from a property. Such law enforcement officers need a court resolution for a successful eviction.
Florida has three types of eviction notices to get rid of squatters:
- 3-day Notice to Quit or Pay: The person has three days to pay rent. Failure to pay means they have to leave the property. This is generally not applicable to squatters.
- 7-Day Unconditional Quit Notice: The person does not have the means to resolve the situation. The landlord can file an eviction lawsuit with a notice of 7 days.
- 7-Day Notice to Cure: The tenant has to correct a lease or rental agreement violation. Usually not applicable to squatters.
In most cases, resolving an eviction lawsuit takes a few weeks. The squatter may legally oppose the eviction. However, if they have no claim for the property, chances are the court will rule in favor of the landlord.
Getting legal consultation is always recommended when dealing with squatters.
What can owners do to counter squatters in Florida?
Owners can take action to prevent issues with squatters. Here are some tips you could follow:
- Conduct regular property inspections to check for any suspicious activity.
- Secure the property: block the entrances, lock the doors and windows.
- Pay your property taxes on time and in your name.
The bottom line: Florida squatter rights
Squatters have the right to claim adverse possession. To do so, the squatter must fulfill a series of Florida state law requirements. Should they fail to meet these requirements, they will have to leave the property.
Squatters can easily be avoided with the right property management company. Here at Warner Quinlan, we will ensure that you will never have an issue with squatters on your property. Give us a call at (407) 204-0360 for more information.