Squatting vs. Trespassing in Florida
Trespassing and squatting are very similar; both trespassers and squatters illegally occupy vacant land without the original owner’s permission. However, the primary differences between the two are time and intent. Trespassers are typically temporary, occupying a given space for a short time. They do not live on the property and have no intention of claiming it as their home. On the other hand, squatters must actively live in a vacant property for an extended, uninterrupted period. They must openly treat the property as if it is their own home and, after the appropriate period of time has passed, will eventually file for adverse possession of the property. Remember: all squatters are trespassers, but not all trespassers are squatters.
How Do Squatters Claim Adverse Possession in Florida?
Each state has different requirements that squatters must follow to claim adverse possession. In the state of Florida, a squatter must meet the following five pieces of criteria before applying for legal rights to a vacant property:
1. Hostile Possession
In this case, the term hostile does not mean dangerous or violent. Instead, it indicates that a squatter is occupying a property under one of the following assumptions:
- They had no prior knowledge of a pre-existing property owner
- They understand that their actions can be considered a criminal offense
- They operated under “good faith,” a situation where the property has a faulty deed or clouded title.
2. Actual Possession
A squatter must both live in the property and treat it as their own. Performing certain functional maintenance, paying utilities, or renovating the property are all examples of how a squatter can treat a vacant property as their own. However, squatters are not tenants. They do not pay rent and do not have any binding legal contract with the original property owner. Additionally, holdover tenants are not considered squatters in the state of Florida.
3. Continuous Possession
To file for possession, a squatter must possess a property for an uninterrupted period of time. In other words, a squatter cannot leave the vacant property for a consecutive series of weeks, months, or years without losing their ability to claim it as their home. The length of time a squatter must continuously occupy a property in Florida to claim squatter’s rights is seven years.
4. Exclusive Possession
Only a single squatter can occupy a given vacant property for an uninterrupted period of time. In other words, a squatter cannot share its possession with the owner or another squatter. Moreover, multiple squatters cannot apply for possession of the same property.
5. Open & Notorious
The squatter cannot hide the fact that they are occupying the property; their residence must be both prominent and highly visible. This way, the original property owner cannot claim they didn’t know anyone was living in their vacant property.
Do Squatters Need To Pay Property Taxes in Florida?
Yes, if a squatter wants to claim adverse possession, they need to pay property taxes. More specifically, if the title is not clouded, Florida laws would require a squatter to pay full property taxes on the vacant property for seven years. But, even if there is a clouded title, paying property taxes is advisable because it is another excellent way to prove actual possession of the vacant space.
A squatter meeting all of these criteria can legally file for adverse possession in Florida. By doing this, they are able to breathe new life into what is often decades worth of desolate, wasted properties.
How To Evict A Squatter in Florida
The only way to remove a squatter in Florida is to file an “unlawful detainer” lawsuit. This is a type of eviction lawsuit used solely to determine the right to possession of real property; no other legal grievances with the squatter may be tried in this case. The process is similar to any Florida eviction. Before they can file the lawsuit, the property owner must notify the squatter of their intent with an eviction notice. Remember, in a squatter situation, time is of the essence. Therefore, acting quickly to prevent the squatter from claiming uncontested rights to the vacant space is essential.
Florida Squatters Rights: The Bottom Line
If a vacant property is open, available, and has no one to check it regularly, then a squatter is likely to move in. After meeting the state-required criteria, a squatter may file and win a case for adverse possession. After this, they are no longer a squatter but a fully legal occupant of a previously vacant property.