First off, congratulations on buying your first investment property. You're about to embark on a wonderful journey of earning passive income for many years!
That said, it's important that you keep an eye on your Florida rental property from time to time. That's because Florida is one of the states with one of the highest prevalence of squatters.
In Florida, and in the entire country, squatters do have rights. As a matter of fact, they can legally claim ownership of your property through an adverse possession claim. An adverse possession claim is a legal principle that may enable a squatter to get legal ownership to a building or a property so long as they meet the basic requirements.
Who Exactly is a Squatter?
A squatter is a person that occupies a building or a piece of land without a lawful permission. Basically, these are individuals that live in the property without owning it or paying rent.
Is Trespassing the Same as Squatting?
Trespassing and squatting aren't necessarily the same thing. In legal eyes, trespassing is viewed as a criminal offense, whereas squatting is considered a civil matter.
That said, a squatter may also be viewed as a criminal if you, as the property owner, file for an unlawful detainer lawsuit to evict them.
Is a Holdover Tenant Considered a Squatter?
Not at all! If a tenant refuses to leave your property once their term comes to an end, you have two options:
- Continue refusing rent payments: In this case, by receiving the payments, the fixed term lease becomes a periodic tenancy. And, needless to say, the tenant lives at your own will.
- Ask the tenant to leave: If they leave within the notice period, then great! However, if they don't, the law requires you to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to remove them.
What Rights do Squatters Have in the State of Florida?
Squatters can lay claim to a property (usually abandoned, foreclosed, or otherwise unoccupied building) after living in it for a continuous period of time. In the state of Florida, for an adverse possession claim to be valid, a squatter needs to have lived in the property for at least 7 years.
When they file for legal occupation, they are no longer regarded as criminal trespassers and have legal authority to continue occupying the property.
In the United States, squatters have 5 distinct legal requirements they must first meet before filing for a legal claim to a property.
The possession must be:
- Hostile : In legal sense, this doesn't refer to anything dangerous and doesn't allude to the squatter having used violent intentions to occupy your property. Instead, it relies on 3 distinct definitions:
One, the law defines 'hostile' as a simple occupation. The trespasser does not have to be aware of the fact that the land or building belongs to someone else.
Two, the law also defines 'hostile' as awareness of trespassing. Here, the trespasser is required to know that their actions amount to a criminal offense.
And lastly, the law defines 'hostile' as a good faith mistake. This assumes the trespasser is relying on an incorrect deed to occupy the land or building.
Actual Possession : To file for an adverse possession claim, the trespasser must also actually take possession of the land. They must be living there and treat the property as if it were their own, by maintaining it or by beautifying it.
Continuous Possession : Also, a squatter is required to have lived in the property for an interrupted period of time. While different states have a different requirement in this regard, in Florida, the minimum period is 7 years. Here, uninterrupted means that the squatter may not leave the building or parcel of land for several weeks, months or even years and then still claim possession.
Exclusive Possession : With this requirement, squatters who file for an adverse possession claim shouldn't be sharing the occupation or possession of the property with someone else.
Open & Notorious : The occupation of the property must be obvious. The squatter shouldn't try to hide the fact that they live there. The actual property owner should also be able to tell that there is indeed someone living at their property.
Besides these 5 fundamental requirements, squatters also need to show proof that they have been paying property taxes as well. So, that means that the squatter must have been paying taxes for the property for the last 7 years.
How to Remove Squatters in The State of Florida
Unlike some states, Florida hasn't enacted laws that are specific to getting rid of squatters. Therefore, to get rid of squatters, you need to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. To file it, you must first notify the squatter with an eviction notice.
The following are the 3 eviction notices in the state of Florida:
- 7-Day Unconditional Quit Notice: This notice doesn't give the tenant time to 'cure' the violation. It's usually given to a tenant that has committed a serious lease violation such as causing excessive property damage.
- 3-Days' Notice to Quit or Pay: This tells the tenant that they have only 3 days to either pay the due rent or leave. If they don't do either of the two options, you can go ahead and file the unlawful detainer lawsuit against them.
- 7-Days' Notice to Cure: This is the notice to serve to a tenant who has violated the terms of the lease agreement. It gives them a chance to 'cure' the violation before an eviction can be filed.
How to Prevent Squatters from Invading Your Home
In order to prevent squatters from entering your Florida property,
- Regularly inspect your property.
- Always make sure to pay your property taxes.
- Block all entrances, including windows.
If you are battling an existing squatter problem, then consider hiring expert services from an attorney or a professional property management company.
At State Property Management, we are well-versed in Florida tenancy laws. Our goal is to keep our clients happy by looking after their properties and ensuring only the best tenants rent them.
Contact us today.