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Squatter Surge Sparks Nationwide Urgency for Legal Reform

According to New York City law, a squatter can become a legal tenant after just 30 days of occupancy.
Cover Image Source: A 'No Trespassing' sign | Getty Images | Photo by Alex Wong
Cover Image Source: A 'No Trespassing' sign | Getty Images | Photo by Alex Wong

In recent times, a spate of highly publicized squatting incidents, where individuals occupy properties they do not own, has seized national attention. Traditionally associated with homeless individuals inhabiting abandoned spaces, the latest occurrences involve squatters unlawfully entering temporarily vacant homes and apartments, even in affluent neighborhoods like Kips Bay in Manhattan, raising several questions about the laws governing the country.


Tedious eviction laws in many states have made it challenging to remove these trespassers, sometimes resulting in violent altercations. The legal framework in these areas grants squatters extraordinary rights, even after criminally entering a property.

"I think we’re hearing more about it because it’s actually increasing. We’ve seen matters like this increase overall leading back to the eviction moratoriums put in place by the prior administration," explained Joel Griffith, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

With social media platforms disseminating information on how to stake claim to vacant properties, some states are contemplating reforms to prevent a potential surge in property seizures.

Real estate fraud. Pexels | By PhotoMIX Company
Image Source: Pexels | Photo by PhotoMIX Company

It may come as a shock to American property owners that in certain states, individuals breaking into a home or occupying a property—such as a vacation retreat used infrequently by the owner—can evade immediate arrest for trespassing by invoking squatters’ rights.

In some instances, these interlopers can ensnare the rightful owner in a protracted eviction process, even if they have only resided in the property for a few nights. Moreover, in over two-thirds of states, once individuals claim residency, owners must initiate an eviction notice, granting squatters 30 days or more to remain on the premises.

Subsequently, a lengthy eviction process commences, preventing the owner from accessing the property or safeguarding their possessions. Even in cases where squatters present fake lease documents, it can take months for owners to regain possession.

Image Source: Photo by Pixabay | Pexels
Image Source: Photo by Pixabay | Pexels

These policies often yield absurd outcomes. For example, in Flushing, Queens, squatters seized a deceased couple's home as their daughter attempted to sell it. When she confronted them, the police, citing squatters’ rights, arrested her for "unlawful eviction."

Similarly, in Pennsylvania, a homeowner faced squatters in his renovated Philadelphia property and was informed by the police that they couldn't intervene without a court order. Faced with the prospect of a six-month eviction process, he paid the squatters to vacate.

In another case, individuals posing as tenants moved into a Georgia property advertised for rent and provided authorities with a counterfeit lease, impeding the owner's efforts to reclaim the property. Meanwhile, a rental property owner in Houston was told by police that eviction was a "civil matter" despite clear signs of forced entry by squatters.


Although squatters’ laws aim to safeguard the rights of legitimate tenants or caretakers of unclaimed properties, squatting increasingly involves fraudulent activity. The practice has led to several violent incidents nationwide, including the alleged murder of Nadia Vitel in her mother's Manhattan apartment, occupied by squatters.

In response to growing public awareness and reports of squatters exploiting legal loopholes, lawmakers are taking action. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed legislation allowing police to immediately remove squatters and charge them with a felony for significant property damage.

"We are putting an end to the squatters scam in Florida," Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said in a release on his website. "While other states are siding with the squatters, we are protecting property owners and punishing criminals looking to game the system."

Similarly, proposed laws in Georgia and New York aim to criminalize squatting and distinguish squatters from legitimate tenants, empowering law enforcement to take action.