Local sheriff’s officials support Florida squatters bill

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — Last week Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that will protect property owners from squatters. It makes it easier for owners to evict those who don’t belong there and increases fines for damages.

After Hurricane Michael, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office saw an increase in squatters. A squatter is a person who unlawfully occupies someone else’s property.

“This is somebody else’s property, that goes back to the most basic of fundamental American rights and Constitutional rights as your ability to own property,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said.

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Florida’s new squatters law will go into effect July 1. It will allow property owners to request help from law enforcement under certain conditions. Deputies can respond if the individual has unlawfully entered and remains on the property, the individual has been directed to leave the property by the owner but has not done so, and the individual is not a current or former tenant in a legal dispute.

“The new bill gives the property owner the ability to seek law enforcement’s intervention to get them immediately removed without the need for filing suit,” Moorhead Law Group Attorney Nick Youtz said. “When you buy a home, regardless of whether it’s your personal residence or if it’s an investment property, you’re talking about one of the most significant purchases of your life.”

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“If you show up, you have no idea who these people are, you’ve never given them permission to be there, there’s no agreement either verbal or written that they’re allowed to be there, they have just moved into your property, typically, it would be vacant houses or rental houses, and things like that, this allows us to quickly resolve that situation for people,” Ford said.

Punishments for squatters can be a first-degree misdemeanor, second-degree misdemeanor, or first-degree felony.

“The new law does contemplate potentially very stiff legal penalties for those who are charged and potentially ultimately convicted of those crimes so I think it’s certainly something to be aware of,” Youtz said.

Sheriff Ford plans to educate his deputies about the provisions under the new squatters law before it goes into effect July 1.

Click here to learn more about the bill.

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