Florida Legislature Passes Bill To Protect Residential Property Owners From Squatters


Last month Governor DeSantis signed House Bill 621 into law which authorizes the sheriff, at the request of a property owner, to immediately remove and arrest squatters who intentionally trespass upon a property owner’s residential dwelling.[i] The Bill created two new statutes, § 82.036 and § 817.0311, Fla. Stats., and amended certain provisions of two existing statutes, § 806.13 and § 817.03, Fla. Stats. The Bill noted that Florida’s current remedies were inadequate to protect property owners from the escalating problems caused by squatters who wrongfully occupy residential properties and engage in theft and vandalism. The legislature noted that a property owner’s right to “exclude others from entering” their residential property and “to direct others to immediately vacate” their property were an owner’s “most important real property rights.”

To use the protections set forth in § 82.036, a residential property owner (or the owner’s agent) must file a complaint with the sheriff laying out the specifics of the unlawful detention. The squatters could not be family members of the owner or current or former tenants under a valid lease. Section 82.036 includes an exemplar form complaint with all the required elements of the claim. Upon receipt of the complaint, the sheriff is to verify the person filing the complaint is the record owner of the property and then “without delay” the sheriff is to attempt to identify the squatters by name and notify them in writing that they must immediately vacate. Said notice can be hand-delivered or posted at the residential property. The sheriff also has the authority to arrest the squatters for trespassing “or any other legal cause.”

Further, § 82.036 entitles the sheriff to compensation in the form of a fee for providing notice to the squatters and in the form of an hourly rate for assisting to “keep the peace” while the owner removes the unlawful occupants from the property. The squatters can bring an action for wrongful removal to recover possession, actual costs of removal, and damages “equal to triple the fair market rent,” court costs, and attorneys’ fees if they can prove they were wrongfully removed under § 82.036. The two amendments under the Bill were to § 806.13 which was amended to make squatting a second-degree felony and to § 817.03 which was amended to make willful presentation of a false lease a first-degree misdemeanor.

Lastly, the Bill created new § 817.0311 which makes it a first-degree felony to fraudulently sell or lease residential real property or to attempt to sell or lease residential property without having legal title or authority to do so. House Bill 621 will take effect on July 1, 2024. It is a welcome reform to Florida’s typical tenant-friendly laws and should benefit the lending industry by preventing the widespread drop in home values precipitated by costly squatters. Obviously, once this new legislation is applied to contentious real-life situations there is bound to be a plethora of litigation that results. Stay tuned for developments.

[i] House Bill 621/Senate Bill 888 can be viewed here.