Squatting is when a person finds an abandoned or vacant property and moves in without discussing it with the property owner. It sounds like breaking and entering – except sometimes it is legal.
Quick Facts for Florida
- How to Get Rid of Squatters: Standard eviction process
- Required Time of Occupation: 7 years
- Color of Title: Not required if taxes are paid
- Property Taxes: Not required with color of title
Who is Considered a Squatter in Florida?
A squatter is someone who chooses to occupy a foreclosed, abandoned, or otherwise unoccupied building (usually residential) or area of land without lawful permission. This means that they do not own the property and are not renting it. Despite this, squatting in the United States is a common occurrence and squatters do have legal rights.
Isn’t That Trespassing?
Squatting is not necessarily trespassing. Trespassing is a criminal offense, while squatting is usually a civil matter. However, if the landlord or property owner has established that the squatter is unwelcome, squatting can be treated as a criminal offense.
Keep the following in mind.
- In Florida, a squatter can be charged with trespassing if they attempt to prove that they have a claim to the property through adverse possession before a claim has been properly filed. To avoid this, they must also be paying taxes on the property or have color of title and improving/cultivating it.
- Squatters or trespassers may falsely claim that they have a right to be on the property. Some may present false or fraudulent papers to do so. This is illegal.
- Even though squatters do have rights, they must fulfill the requirements for adverse possession. If they don’t, they can be arrested as criminal trespassers (this is very clear in Florida law).
There are exceptions to the rule:
- If a person beautifies the property (landscaping, improving, or cultivating it), they might be able to avoid prosecution for trespassing. This is especially true in Florida, where cultivation or improvement is a requirement for adverse possession.
- If there is a legitimate emergency, a person who gained access to the property without permission may be exempt from trespassing.
- For squatters to begin an adverse possession claim, the property must be unused, unoccupied, or abandoned.
What About Holdover Tenants?
Holdover tenants, or tenants at sufferance, are tenants who choose to remain on the property after their lease has ended. In this situation, the tenant must continue to pay the rent at the existing rate and terms. The landlord may accept this without questioning the occupancy.
However, if the landlord issues a notice to quit (or move out), a tenant that refuses to leave can be subjected to a lawsuit for unlawful detainer. A holdover tenant who has been asked to leave will not be able to make an adverse possession claim. At this point, they are a criminal trespasser.
If a landlord continues to accept rent from the tenant and doesn’t issue a notice, they become a tenant at will. This means that they are on the property ‘at the will’ of the landlord, and they may be evicted at any time without notice.
Understanding Adverse Possession in Florida
A squatter can claim the rights to a property after they live there for a certain amount of time. In Florida, it takes at least 7 years of continuous occupation for a squatter to make an adverse possession claim (Fla. Stat. Ann. § 95.19). By law, they also must either have color of title pay property taxes to file a valid adverse possession claim.
When a squatter claims adverse possession, they have the opportunity to gain legal ownership for the property. At this point, the squatter isn’t a criminal trespasser any long and has legal permission to remain on the property.
In the US, there are five distinct legal requirements that a squatter must meet before an adverse possession claim can be made. The occupation must be:
- Hostile – without permission and against the right of the true owner.
- Actual – exercising control over the real property.
- Open & Notorious – using the property as the owner would and not hiding his/her occupancy.
- Exclusive – in the possession of the individual occupying the real property alone.
- Continuous – staying on the property for 7 years.
Additionally, to make an adverse possession claim, the squatter must have a color of title or pay taxes for 7 consecutive years. The property should also be protected by a substantial enclosure, maintained, cultivated or improved.
If these elements are not met by the squatter, then they will not have grounds for adverse possession. Let’s take a look at what each of these terms means.
In the legal sense used here, ‘hostile’ does not mean violent or dangerous, or that the squatter broke into your home or property with violent intentions. Instead, this relies on three different definitions:
- Simple Occupation. Most states follow this rule. Here, ‘hostile’ is defined as the mere occupation for the land. The trespasser doesn’t have to know that the land belongs to someone else.
- Awareness of Trespassing. This alternate rule requires that the trespasser be aware that their use of the land or building amounts to trespassing. They must know that they have no legal right to be on the property.
- Good Faith Mistake. This special rule only applies to some states. It’s a provision put in place in case the squatter has made an honest mistake in occupying the property in the first place. They may be relying on an invalid or incorrect deed, or have other reasons to believe that the land is theirs to occupy. This means that they are using the property ‘in good faith’ and are unaware of the property’s legal status.
The squatter must be physically present and treat the land as if they were an owner. This can be established by documenting the trespasser’s efforts to maintain and make improvements to the property. In Florida, cultivation and/or improvements are required to make a valid adverse possession claim.
Open & Notorious Possession
“Open & Notorious” means that the squatter’s presence on the property must be obvious to anyone. The squatter must not hide the fact that they live there.
The squatter must be the only one possessing or occupying the land. This means that they cannot share the land with strangers, the owners, or other tenants.
The squatter must also reside on the property for an uninterrupted amount of time. As stated above, in Florida this is 7 years of continuous possession. The squatter cannot leave the property abandoned, return weeks or years later, and then claim that they have lived there the entire time.
Color of Title
You’ve probably come across the term ‘color of title’ in your search for squatter’s rights information. In Florida, it’s one of two alternate additional requirements to claim adverse possession.
To have color of title is to have ownership of a property without it being ‘regular’. This can mean that there is no proper registration or that the owner is missing one or more pertinent legal documents. Color of title can also be claimed if the squatter successfully completes an adverse possession claim.
Additionally for adverse possession under color of title the squatter must show possession of the property by the five legal requirements mentioned above and completing the following actions:
- Cultivating or improving the property; and
- Adding a substantial enclosure OR the land must be used to supply fencing timber or fuel for husbandry or the squatter’s personal use.
Do Squatters Have to Pay Property Taxes in Florida?
In Florida, the short answer is yes. Paying property taxes is one of the alternative additional requirements to claim adverse possession. If a squatter doesn’t have a claim to the property (like color of title) they must have paid property taxes for 7 continuous years to claim adverse possession. This comes in addition to the five main requirements that all states use.
Additionally, to claim adverse possession by paying taxes, the squatter must show possession of the property by the five legal requirements mentioned above and completing the following actions:
- Pay all outstanding taxes and matured installments of special improvement liens within the first year after obtaining possession of the property. Including paying any taxes or liens against the property by the municipality, county, or state for all the remaining years necessary to establish a claim of adverse possession.
- Within 30 days of paying the outstanding taxes and matured installments, the squatter must provide the proper legal description to the property appraiser of the county.
- File a document with the Department of Revenue called the “Return of Real Property in Attempt to Establish Adverse Possession Without Color of Title.”
- Protect the property with a substantial enclosure or cultivated, maintained or improved the property.
It is important for the true owner to pay property taxes on time to help prevent squatters from making an adverse possession claim.
How to Get Rid of Squatters in Florida
Unlike some other states, Florida does not have specific laws for getting rid of squatters. To have squatters removed from your property once they have begun living there, you must go through an eviction process.
It is of the utmost importance that owners issue an eviction notice as soon as possible. If an eviction has been filed, it will take a lot of work and proof for a squatter to gain ownership of the property.
There are a couple types of eviction notices in Florida:
- 3-Day Notice to Quit or Pay. This notice gives the squatter/tenant three days to pay rent or leave. If the squatter doesn’t pay the amount within the 3-day period, an eviction lawsuit can be filed against them.
- Unconditional Quit Notice. If there is no lease or the tenant is holding over, the owner may issue a notice to quit. The amount of time in the notice depends on the type of tenancy (if there ever was one to begin with).
- Week-To-Week Tenancy – 7-Day Notice to Quit.
- Month-To-Month Tenancy – 15-Day Notice to Quit.
- Quarter-To-Quarter Tenancy – 30-Day Notice to Quit.
- Year-To-Year Tenancy – 60-Day Notice to Quit.
Read more about evictions in Florida here and download our FREE eviction notice form template.
After an eviction is filed, it usually takes a few weeks to resolve. If the tenant or squatter chooses to fight the eviction, it can take longer. If the squatter has no valid claim to the land, it will probably be ruled in favor of the owner.
Once the eviction is granted, a writ of possession shall be issued and delivered to the squatter by the sheriff as a final notice to leave. If the squatter remains on the property they will be forcibly removed by the sheriff.
Owners cannot self-evict. Even with a successful eviction, the only person who can legally remove a squatter from the property is a sheriff.
Even so, landlords cannot self-evict. Even with a successful eviction, the only person who can legally remove a squatter from the property is a sheriff or constable.
If the squatter leaves personal property behind when they are removed, the landlord must give them between 10-15 days to claim the property, depending on how the eviction notice was delivered. After that time, the landlord can sell or dispose of the property.
Getting rid of squatters can be a pain, so it’s in your best interest as a landowner or landlord to protect yourself from squatters however possible.
Tips for Protecting Yourself From Squatters in Florida
- Inspect the property regularly.
- Always pay your own property taxes.
- Make sure that the property is secured by blocking all entrances, closing all doors, and ensuring that all windows and doors are locked.
- Put up ‘No Trespassing’ signs on the property, especially if it is unoccupied.
- Serve squatters with written notice as soon as you realize they are present.
- Offer to rent the property to the squatters.
- Call the sheriff (not the local police) to remove squatters from the premises if they do not leave.
- Hire a lawyer in case you need to file an eviction lawsuit or take other legal action. It’s also a good idea to have some legal counsel when dealing with squatters.
Squatters have different rights in different states. Make sure you refer to Florida Statutes Title VIII. Limitations § 95.16 for more information.