Squatters are people who move into or onto another person's property without permission, and- sometimes- it is legal. Florida landlords and owners must be aware of squatters' rights to avoid losing control- or even ownership- of the property.
Florida Squatter Law
- Squatting is not automatically a criminal offense in Florida- some conditions can allow them to be there legally.
- Until the landlord or owner clearly notifies the person they are unwelcome, it is not considered trespassing.
- Property taxes and a color of title are usually required if they want to make an adverse possession claim.
- The only way to legally remove squatters is through the standard Florida eviction process.
- Florida has one of the longest time requirements for squatters to be able to claim adverse possession- a minimum period of seven years.
Adverse Possession Claim
The biggest fear for landlords and owners regarding squatters' rights in Florida is the possibility of a squatter making a legal claim for ownership of their property. Unfortunately, this can happen- through something called an adverse possession claim.
It is when a long-term squatter has adhered to specific laws and requirements during their occupation of the property- which entitles them to pursue their legal rights to remain.
What Conditions Must Florida Squatters Meet to be Able to Make an Adverse Possession Claim?
To make a valid adverse possession claim- and secure legal ownership- a squatter must occupy a property for a certain period of time under a strict set of circumstances.
These are the five most important words in Florida squatter law:
Squatters must meet this set of conditions to be able to make an adverse possession claim.
A Closer Look at Adverse Possession Claim Conditions
Actual possession of the property means two things. The first definition is that the person is physically present in the property- meaning they have to be there.
Secondly, they must treat the property as they would if they were the actual owner. That includes beautification efforts and the upkeep of the property in general.
Open and Notorious Possession
Open and notorious possession means the squatters must maintain an obvious presence. They can't be seen to be hiding or making any effort to conceal the fact they are living on the property. Again, it ties into actual possession- they must live as they would if they were rightfully living there.
To qualify for squatters' rights in Florida, a person must occupy the same property consistently- without interruption- for a set length of time. If they leave and come back, the time starts from zero again.
That is why it is so important to look for signs that the squatters are not there- it helps you prove they have not maintained continuous possession of the property.
In many abandoned properties, multiple squatters or groups of squatters occupy the same space. If they want to claim adverse possession, this can't happen.
Exclusive possession means that the squatters (one family or group that can prove they are together) must be the only ones living on the property- a key consideration when naming someone a rightful squatter or a trespasser in Florida.
Lastly, the squatter must have hostile possession. In the legal sense, this has nothing to do with violent intentions or the squatter being dangerous. There are three possible definitions of hostile intention:
- It can mean they don't have to be aware the land or property belongs to someone else- which is called simple occupation.
- Hostile possession can also mean they are aware they are trespassing and that they have no legal right to be there.
- In some states, a hostile claim can also mean they made a genuine good-faith mistake- they believed the land was theirs or that they were somehow entitled to be there. This can happen through faulty deeds or unclear property boundaries.
In the state of Florida, hostile possession is defined using the second and third explanations given above: they know they are trespassing, or they made a good faith mistake and believe they have a right to be on the property.
Florida Adverse Possession
In Florida, there are time requirements for squatters before they can submit an adverse possession claim. These differ from state to state- depending on the circumstances of the occupation.
The rules in Florida are simple: here is a brief guide to the timeline for adverse possession claims in this state.
- A squatter must have seven years of consecutive property occupation before than submit an adverse possession claim.
- During that time, they must have kept up with and paid the property taxes.
- They must also have a color of title.
A color of title means a document that looks like it could be legitimate proof of a legal claim to the property- but it will have some error or discrepancy- usually a typo or incorrect detail regarding the property and its address. Without a color of title, it is very difficult for a squatter to establish adverse possession.
Avoid Squatters Settling
Whether it is before or after squatters find your property- owners and landlords can take measures to defend their land or building. Here are a few helpful tips for dealing with squatters that are in line with Florida laws and rules.
Before Squatters Occupy the Property
Prevention is better than cure- and the best thing a property owner can do is take steps to protect their building or land space and deter potential squatters. Here are a few ways to do that.
- Invest in security cameras and alarms.
Many squatters will be instantly put off a property if it has good security. Even if someone does break in, you are notified quickly and can act immediately- before they have a chance to get settled. Advanced security systems are pricey- but so is a drawn-out eviction battle. It is a worthwhile expense to avoid losing control- or even legal ownership rights- of your property.
- Visit your vacant property regularly- and ask a neighbor to check in if you can't.
The sooner you are alerted to suspicious activity, the better the opportunity you have to get rid of squatters. If people know you or someone else checks and inspects the property regularly- they may not view it as a viable option for a place to squat.
- Keep the property looking lived-in.
Again, the idea is to find empty spaces. If the outside of the house looks as if someone cares for it- squatters may think someone lives there- or is at least there some of the time.
- Secure all the possible entry points
In Florida, squatters may be able to claim the legal right to stay on your property if it was left unlocked or a damaged door, gate, or window made it easy to enter without force. Double-locked doors and windows are musts- and a clearly-marked fence is also worthwhile installing if you don't already have one.
- Hire a professional property management company
Squatters look for empty buildings- so if you have a legally paying tenant- you are far less likely to be invaded by unwanted occupants. A professional property company can find suitable, reliable tenants to lease your property to a lot faster than you could- in most cases.
If the Property is Already Occupied by Squatters
It is always better to avoid the situation in the first place, but if squatters make it onto your property, there are steps you can take in accordance with Florida laws.
- File an eviction notice.
The best way to remove a squatter is through an official eviction. There is a process to follow, but it is fairly simple and will usually get you the result you want. See below for more details on how evictions in Florida work.
- Switch off the power and water.
It is harder to stay put in a property that has no working amenities. Cutting the power and water supply is a smart move for a landlord or owner. Unless the squatter is prepared to live without these things, they may give up and leave.
- Keep an eye out for the squatter leaving.
This goes back to the continuous possession rule. If a squatter leaves at any time- they have broken continuous possession of the property, and you can move in quickly to reclaim your building or land.
The Florida eviction laws are fairly simple. There is no specific process for evicting squatters- things work the same way as they would for any other occupant.
There are two eviction notice options for a Florida landlord or property owner to pursue if they wish to launch an eviction lawsuit against a squatter. Here are the two eviction notices you can choose from:
- Three-day notice to quit or pay
As the name suggests, this eviction notice gives the occupant three days to pay rent or vacate the property. If- after the three days is up, the occupant has still not done either of these things, an eviction lawsuit can then be raised.
Once the lawsuit is filed, a court rules whether or not law enforcement can intervene and remove what would then be trespassers from the property.
- Unconditional quit notice
An unconditional quit notice is an eviction paper that can be issued when the occupant no longer has a valid lease agreement- or never had one, to begin with. It is essentially a notification that they have a certain time allowance to leave before further action is taken.
How long the person gets depends on the type of lease they had.
- If they had no agreement or a week-to-week lease, you can issue a seven-day notice.
- If they had a month-to-month tenancy agreement, you can issue a 15-day quit notice.
- If they had a quarterly tenancy agreement, you can issue a 30-day quit notice.
- If they had an annual tenancy agreement (year-to-year), you can issue a 60-day notice.
Evictions in Florida usually take a few weeks to go through- unless the occupant fights it. In that case, it goes to court- where a decision is made on whether or not they have to leave. Unless the squatter has a valid reason to be there, the decision usually goes in favor of the owner or landlord.
If an eviction lawsuit is successful- it is sent to law enforcement- then the sheriff can forcibly remove a squatter if they still refuse to vacate the premises.
Take into account the Florida laws surrounding security deposits if you have a tenant turned squatter that you are trying to evict.
If you are a landlord or property owner in Florida, understanding the squatters' rights and laws can help protect you. It is in your interest to defend your properties as best as you can to avoid dealing with squatters and potentially expensive evictions.
Check out these helpful forms for Florida landlords and owners to learn more about your rights in all things real estate.
Do squatters need to pay property taxes?
A squatter who is paying property taxes has a better chance of being able to claim adverse possession. According to squatters' rights in Florida, a person can make an adverse possession only if they have been paying property taxes for seven consecutive years- even if they have a color of title.
Can landlords in Florida forcibly remove squatters?
No- they cannot. Florida has no specific laws that allow owners to force squatters out of their properties. The only legal way to remove a squatter in Florida is through the judicial eviction process.
Is squatting automatically trespassing under Florida laws?
Trespassing is a criminal offense- but squatting doesn't always qualify in the legal sense. As long as they stick to the rules of adverse possession, they are protected by squatters' rights. If they are breaking any of the conditions, you- as the landlord- could have a case against them for trespassing.
It is worth researching more about landlord and tenant laws to brush up on what rights you have as an owner when dealing with squatters.
What kinds of properties are most at risk of squatters?
Any vacant property is at risk of having squatters move in. Abandoned buildings, empty homes, and foreclosed properties are prime targets for squatters in Florida.
If you have an abandoned or vacant property that you are concerned about- take the necessary steps to protect it.