Florida Squatters’ Rights & Adverse Possession Laws - 2024

What Are Squatters’ Rights in Florida?

Squatters' rights, also known as adverse possession, allow people who occupy an abandoned or neglected property without the owner's permission to potentially gain legal ownership of that property after a certain period of continuous occupation. 

In Florida, squatters can make an adverse possession claim on a property after maintaining continuous possession for 7 years. If they meet all of the requirements for an adverse possession claim after 7 years, they may be able to legally gain ownership of the property.

To successfully claim adverse possession in Florida, squatters must demonstrate that their occupation of the property has been actual, open, notorious, hostile, and continuous for the full 7 year statutory period. Additionally, they must show that they substantially improved the property and paid property taxes during those 7 years.

The concept of squatters' rights comes from old common law principles to make sure property is put to productive use. The law allows squatters to gain potential ownership of an unused property after meeting certain conditions over time. However, squatters' rights laws were not designed to allow theft of property from rightful owners. Property owners can take legal action to remove squatters and prevent claims of adverse possession.

How Squatters Gain Rights Through Adverse Possession

In Florida, squatters can gain legal rights to a property through a legal principle called adverse possession. Adverse possession allows a squatter to gain ownership of a property after residing there for a continuous period of 7 years.

For a squatter to make a valid claim for adverse possession in Florida, they must meet all of the following conditions:

Actual Possession

The squatter must be physically present on the property and treat it as if they were an owner. Merely visiting the property periodically is not enough.

Open & Notorious Possession

It must be obvious to anyone that the squatter resides on the property. They must make no attempt to hide their occupation.

Hostile Possession

The squatter must possess the property without the legal owner's permission. Their occupation must be against the rights of the true owner.

Continuous Possession

The squatter must reside on the property for the full 7 year statutory period without any significant gaps. Even a few months' absence could disrupt the continuity.

Exclusive Possession

The squatter must be the only one possessing the property. They can't share occupation with strangers, the legal owner, or tenants.

In addition, the squatter must pay any property taxes owed on the land during the 7 year period. They are not required to make any improvements to the property to claim adverse possession. However, making improvements can help demonstrate hostile possession.

The adverse possession clock only starts ticking once the property owner stops making any use of the land. As long as the owner maintains even a minimal presence, the time period cannot begin.

Removing Squatters From Your Property

If you discover squatters occupying your property in Florida without your permission, you will need to take legal action to have them removed. Here is the process:

Serve Them With a Notice to Quit

The first step is to provide the squatters with a written notice to quit, demanding they leave the premises within a certain timeframe, usually 3 days. The notice should identify the property, state they are trespassing, and order them to vacate. Send the notice by certified mail and post a copy on the property entrance.

File an Eviction Lawsuit

If the squatters do not leave after proper notice, you will need to go to court and file a formal eviction lawsuit against them. You can file the lawsuit yourself in county court, or hire an attorney. Gather documentation like proof of property ownership, photos, and records of notice given. The court will schedule a hearing where you must prove your case.

Obtain Court Order for Removal

If the judge rules in your favor, you will be granted a court order for the removal of the squatters. The local sheriff can then forcibly remove the squatters from the property if they do not leave voluntarily. The sheriff can arrest any squatters who refuse to leave.

Call the Police

If the squatters ever become threatening or violent, you should immediately call the police. The police can arrest any squatters committing crimes. Inform the police you have an ongoing eviction process against the squatters.

Proper legal procedures must be followed to remove squatters from your property in Florida. With the right documentation and process, squatters can be evicted and eliminated as a threat to your property ownership rights.

Preventing Squatters in Florida

Property owners can take proactive measures to deter squatters and prevent adverse possession claims in Florida:

Conduct Regular Property Inspections and Maintenance

  • Make a habit of checking on all your properties, including vacant homes or rental properties between tenants, at least once a month.  
  • Look for signs of trespassing, vandalism, or anyone taking up occupancy.
  • Make repairs promptly and keep the property well-maintained so it does not fall into disrepair.
  • Squatters target abandoned, neglected and rundown properties.

Install Security Measures

  • Put up security cameras to monitor all access points to the property.
  • Install motion-sensor exterior lighting to deter trespassers.
  • Post “No Trespassing” signs around the perimeter.

Pay Property Taxes Annually

  • Pay property taxes on time every year. If taxes are delinquent for 3 years, the property can be auctioned off through a tax deed sale.
  • Squatters can claim adverse possession if they occupy a property sold at a tax deed sale after just 1 year of continuous possession.

Hire a Property Management Company 

  • For vacant rental properties or vacation homes, hire a property management company to regularly monitor the property.
  • Property managers can spot signs of trespassing early and take quick legal action.

Taking preventative measures can stop squatters from ever gaining access and establishing occupancy on your property in Florida.

Squatters vs Tenants

Squatters and tenants have very different relationships to properties. The key differences include:

Permission to Occupy

Tenants have legal permission from the property owner to live on the premises, usually through a formal lease agreement. Squatters occupy the property without the owner's consent.

Formal Lease Agreement

Tenants sign a binding lease contract with the landlord that specifies the rental terms like duration, rent amount, property usage, etc. Squatters do not have a lease.

Payment of Rent

Tenants pay rent to the property owner/landlord as outlined in the lease agreement. Squatters do not pay any rent to occupy the property.

Maintenance Responsibilities

The lease usually indicates what maintenance duties are the responsibility of the tenant vs the landlord. Squatters are not obligated to perform any property maintenance.

Utility Payments

Tenants may be responsible for paying utilities like gas, electric, water, etc. Squatters typically do not pay utilities.

Eviction Process

Tenants can only be removed through a formal eviction process for reasons like nonpayment of rent. Squatters can be removed more immediately with a trespassing notice.

Protection from Criminal Charges

Tenants can't be criminally charged for being on the property. Squatters may face criminal charges like trespassing if they don't leave.

Tenants have rights under landlord-tenant laws. Squatters have very limited protections under the law.

So in summary, the main difference is tenants have legal permission to live on a property through a lease agreement, while squatters lack permission and formal agreements.

Abandoned vs Foreclosed Properties

Squatters can try to establish adverse possession rights in both abandoned and foreclosed properties in Florida. However, there are some key differences.

With abandoned properties, the original owner still retains ownership though the property sits vacant. Squatters may be able to claim adverse possession if the owner does not monitor the property or attempt to remove the squatters. 

With foreclosed properties, the bank or lender that initiated the foreclosure will take ownership after successfully foreclosing on the property. Banks perform regular inspections on foreclosed properties to check for squatters or trespassers. This makes it more difficult for squatters to establish continuous possession for the 7 years required for adverse possession.

Additionally, Florida has a "fast track" foreclosure process that allows lenders to foreclose on properties more quickly if they are vacant or abandoned. This shortened foreclosure time frame gives squatters less opportunity to occupy the property long enough to make an adverse possession claim.

Overall, squatters have a better chance of gaining adverse possession rights in truly abandoned properties where the original owner has neglected the property completely. With foreclosed properties, diligent banks monitoring and inspecting the properties can thwart most adverse possession attempts if identified and dealt with promptly.

Police Assistance With Squatters

As the owner of a Florida property with squatters, you can request police assistance to remove trespassers from your land. However, the police may be limited in what they can do legally.

  • Police cannot immediately remove squatters without a court-ordered eviction notice. But they can stand by to keep the peace if you have an eviction order.
  • Police can arrest squatters for trespassing if you have clearly posted no trespassing signs. Trespassing in Florida is a misdemeanor offense.
  • You can file a report about illegal occupancy, vandalism, or theft by squatters. This creates a paper trail helpful for future legal action.
  • Police may be able to search for runaways or fugitives illegally staying in abandoned properties without permission. 
  • Police can cite squatters for any other offenses observed like drug use, noise complaints, public intoxication, etc.

Safety Tips

  • Do not attempt to forcefully remove squatters yourself, as they may become violent or destructive. 
  • Have police present for any interaction with hostile squatters to avoid physical confrontation.
  • Document all encounters and disturbances caused by squatters through photos, video, or audio.
  • Hire private security guards if police availability is limited in your area.
  • Install security cameras around your property if squatters appear threatening or dangerous.

The police can be a useful ally when dealing with stubborn squatters, but they cannot immediately force them to leave your property without proper legal procedure. Safely collect evidence against them, and use police presence to deter violence or illegal activity in the meantime.

Adverse Possession Claims Process

To successfully claim adverse possession in Florida, squatters must follow a specific legal process:

Serving Notice to the Owner

Before filing a lawsuit, the squatter must serve a written notice to the legal owner that they are currently in possession of the property. This gives the owner a chance to take action before the squatter can make a legal claim. The notice must contain a specific legal description of the occupied property.

Filing the Lawsuit  

If the owner does not respond within 30 days, the squatter can file a lawsuit against the owner in civil court to quiet the title. This officially asserts their right to claim ownership due to adverse possession. The squatter must prove to the court they meet all the requirements for adverse possession.

Court Review of Evidence

During the trial, the squatter must provide clear evidence that they meet the conditions of actual, open, notorious, hostile, and continuous possession for 7 years. The court will review:

  • Documents, photographs, videos, or testimony proving consistent occupation.
  • Tax bills, receipts, maintenance records, and improvements showing possession.
  • Evidence the owner had knowledge of the occupation but did not act.

If the squatter proves adverse possession, the court will award them legal title to the property. The original owner loses all rights to the property.

Avoiding Adverse Possession As Owner  

As a property owner in Florida, there are steps you can take to avoid squatters from gaining adverse possession of your property:

Monitor Your Property Regularly

Conduct regular inspections of your property, even if it is vacant. Check for any signs of trespassing or unauthorized occupation. If you discover squatters, take action immediately to remove them. Document any trespassing with photographs and file a police report.

Prevent Property Abandonment

To avoid appearing abandoned, make sure your property looks actively maintained. Keep the landscaping tidy, make minor repairs, pay property taxes on time, and make sure any pools/hot tubs are kept up. If traveling for long periods, hire a property management service.  

Respond to Adverse Possession Claims

If you receive notice of an adverse possession lawsuit regarding your property, respond within 30 days. Consult with a real estate attorney to build your case and fight the claim. Gather evidence like photos, maintenance/payment records and police reports showing you did not abandon the property.

Act quickly at the first sign of squatters to remove them and prevent adverse possession claims down the line. With diligence, you can protect your property rights.

Key Takeaways

  • In Florida, squatters can potentially gain legal ownership of an abandoned or neglected property through adverse possession after maintaining continuous occupation for 7 years, adhering to specific legal requirements.
  • For a successful adverse possession claim in Florida, squatters must demonstrate that their occupation has been actual, open, notorious, hostile, and continuous for the entire 7-year statutory period, and they must have substantially improved the property and paid property taxes during this time.
  • The concept of squatters' rights originates from old common law principles aimed at ensuring property is put to productive use and is not designed to facilitate the theft of property from rightful owners. Property owners are encouraged to monitor their property and take legal action promptly to address squatters.
  • Actual possession requires squatters to physically use or occupy the property as an owner would, indicating mere periodic visits or temporary presence does not qualify for an adverse possession claim.
  • Florida is considered a "color of title" state for most adverse possession claims, meaning squatters often need some form of documentation, like a deed or will, indicating a claim to the property, though there are exceptions, especially regarding the payment of property taxes for at least 7 years.
  • Property owners discovering squatters on their property should serve a written notice to quit, and if the squatters do not vacate, owners must proceed with filing a formal eviction lawsuit. Legal processes must be followed diligently to remove squatters and prevent potential adverse possession claims.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the shortest time for squatters’ rights in Florida?

The shortest time squatters need to occupy a property to make an adverse possession claim in Florida is 7 years. They must meet all the requirements like actual, open, notorious, hostile, and continuous possession for the full 7 years.

Can you evict a squatter in Florida?

Yes, you can legally evict squatters from your property in Florida through a formal eviction process. This involves serving them written notice to vacate, filing an eviction lawsuit if they don't leave, and having law enforcement remove them if necessary.

What are the conditions for adverse possession in Florida?

To claim adverse possession in Florida, squatters must prove:

  • Actual possession They are physically occupying the property 
  • Open & notorious possession Their occupation is obvious and visible
  • Hostile possession Their occupation is against the owner's will
  • Continuous possession They've occupied the property for 7 full years 

Can you kick someone out of your house in Florida?

Yes, as the legal property owner you can remove squatters from your house in Florida. You need to follow the proper eviction process by serving notice to vacate, going to court to get an eviction order, and having police enforce the order.

Do squatters have to pay property taxes in Florida?

No, squatters are not required to pay property taxes to make an adverse possession claim in Florida. The legal owner is still responsible for property taxes.

Can squatters claim adverse possession on any property?

No, there are certain limitations on what properties squatters can claim adverse possession on in Florida:

  • Property must be abandoned or neglected by the legal owner 
  • Government-owned properties are not eligible
  • Squatters cannot take a portion of a property through adverse possession

Are squatters protected by landlord-tenant laws?

No. Squatters are trespassers without any lease agreement, so they are not protected under landlord-tenant laws and can be removed much quicker than formal tenants.

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