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Squatters Rights in Florida: A Squatting Litigation Guide

florida house

As an investment property owner, your goal is to make rental income and build equity. However, there are certain pitfalls, such as having squatters who don’t have any ownership of your property. However, they can successfully gain full ownership by making a valid adverse possession claim.

While squatting is against the law, it’s been upheld by some Florida courts. Thus, it’s important for property owners to understand squatter’s rights in Florida to protect their properties. The last thing you’d want is a squatter to lay claim to your house.

In this guide, we cover everything you need to know about squatter’s rights, how to evict them, and prevent them from coming in the first place.

What is a Squatter in Florida?

Squatting is when someone discovers an abandoned or vacant property and moves in without telling the property owner.

This means the squatter is living on someone else’s property without lawful permission. Believe it or not, there are legal rights that squatters have in Florida.

Squatting vs. Trespassing in Florida

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Squatting and trespassing aren’t the same. Trespassing is considered a criminal offense while squatting is a civil matter.

However, if the property owner or landlord establishes that the squatter is unwelcome, it can be treated as a criminal offense and, in a legal sense, deal with serious consequences.

Under Florida laws, here are things to know about squatters:

  1. A squatter may be charged with trespassing if they try to claim legal ownership through adverse possession. However, they’ll need to be paying property taxes or have a color of title.
  2. While there are squatter’s rights in Florida, they must fulfill the specific requirements of any adverse possession claim. If they don’t, they’ll be arrested as criminal trespassers under the Florida squatter law.
  3. If squatters present false legal documents or fraudulent papers, it’s illegal, and they can be arrested.

However, there are exceptions to the rule, such as:

  • For squatters to even begin to claim adverse possession, the property must be abandoned, unoccupied, and unused.
  • If there is an emergency, the squatter who’s gained access to the property without lawful permission may be exempt from trespassing.
  • If the squatter beautifies the Florida property, such as cultivating or improving it, they can avoid prosecution as a criminal trespasser.

What About Holdover Tenants?

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A holdover tenant is someone who continues to live on the property even after their lease has ended. In this case, they must continue to pay rent at the agreed rate and terms.

However, if eviction notices are sent by the landlord, the tenant must move out. If they refuse to leave, the tenant may receive an unlawful detainer lawsuit. A holdover tenant doesn’t have the right to make an adverse possession since they’re considered a criminal trespasser.

How Do Squatters Claim Adverse Possession in Florida?

For a squatter to make a valid adverse possession claim, specific requirements must be met, such as:

Hostile Possession

Hostile doesn’t mean the squatter violently broke into your property. Instead, there are three possible definitions that hostile possession can fall under:

  • Good Faith Mistake: This provision applied when the squatter made an honest mistake in occupying the property, like relying on an incorrect deed.
  • Awareness of Trespassing: The squatter understands that their actions may be considered a criminal offense.
  • Simple Occupation: This means they didn’t have any prior knowledge, specifically to who the property belongs.

Actual Possession

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Actual possession means that the squatter must treat the vacant property as if it had exclusive possession. The squatter must document their efforts to maintain and make improvements to the property regularly. In Florida, improvements and cultivation is needed to prove actual possession.

Continuous Possession

In Florida, the squatter must live on the real property for at least 7 years continuously without interruption. They can’t leave the property vacant and return weeks or years later.

Exclusive Possession

The squatter must be occupying and possessing the property exclusively. They can’t share the land with other tenants, owners, or strangers.

Open & Notorious

The Open and Notorious Possession means that the squatter can’t hide that they’re living there. Their presence on should be known to anyone, including the legal owners.

What is Color of Title?

In Florida, specific laws provide alternate additional adverse possession requirements. This means the squatter has irregular property ownership, including not having one or more legal documents, such as proper registration.

However, a squatter must claim adverse possession before claiming color of title.

Do Squatters Need to Pay Property Taxes in Florida?

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In Florida, squatters must pay property taxes. Property taxes will help the squatter claim adverse possession. If the squatter doesn’t have a color of title, they must have paid the property taxes for at least 7 continuous years.

They must complete the following actions in addition to meeting the five legal requirements laid out above:

  • File a Return of Real Property document with the Department of Revenue to establish an adverse possession claim without color of title.
  • Pay outstanding matured installments and taxes of special improvement liens in the first year after residing in the property.
  • Within 30 days of paying all outstanding taxes, the squatter must provide a legal description to the appraiser of the county.

It’s vital for the actual owner to pay property taxes to prevent squatters from adverse possession.

How to Evict a Squatter in Florida?

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There is an eviction process you must follow to get rid of squatters. With a proper eviction notice, you can kick them out as soon as possible. Here are the types of notices in Florida:

  • 3-Day Notice: This notice provides the squatter three days to complete rent payments or leave. If the tenant refuses, an eviction lawsuit may be filed against them.
  • 7- Day Unconditional Quit Notice: Unlike the other notice, the squatter can’t fix the violation. This typically applies to severe lease violations like causing excessive property damage.

How to Prevent Squatters from Invading Your Home

You can take many steps to prevent squatters from entering your property, which avoids the legal claim altogether.

Here are some tips to follow:

  • You should always be paying taxes, especially property taxes.
  • Block all entrances like windows and fence openings to prevent a squatter from invading your property.
  • Inspect your property regularly, even if it’s vacant.
  • Place no-trespassing signs on the premises.
  • Call the sheriff to remove squatters if they refuse to leave.
  • Offer to rent your property to the squatters.
  • Send them written notices immediately before it becomes a larger problem.

Squatters Rights in Florida: The Bottom Line

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The job of a landlord can be stressful, especially if you’re worrying about squatters moving into your Florida property without a valid claim.

If you have squatters in your vacant property, you must abide by the law to remove them from your house. While there are rules that protect squatters, you’ll be able to get rid of them if you understand all of their rights.

A professional property management company can help you avoid squatters altogether in the first place to prevent the headache of going through the legal process.

If you’re interested in buying a property, it’s important to know about squatters in Florida and what to do about them.

See GatorRated.com for more information.