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Florida officials warn about squatters attempting to seize homes

Authorities say a video posted to social media by an undocumented immigrant is advising others on how to break in and take over unoccupied homes.
Florida officials warn about squatters attempting to seize homes
Posted at 3:25 PM, Mar 26, 2024

A video being shared online is creating concerns for Florida officials about possible increases in activity from squatters.

According to the Martin County Sheriff's Office near Palm Beach, the video is from an undocumented Venezuelan immigrant advising others how to break into unoccupied homes in the United States, solely to gain legal rights and take up occupancy. Authorities said the video is making people, who leave their homes unoccupied for long periods of time, afraid.

"We do anticipate that this viral instructional video will prompt attempts by squatters to try this here," the office wrote in a Facebook post. "Please make your residents aware of this squatter trend and advise them to remain alert. Homeowners must work together to make sure that no one is victimized by this or any other crime."

SEE MORE: What happens in the first 48 hours after migrants arrive in the US?

Sheriff William Synder said he hadn't seen these cases in the county on Sunday afternoon. But he said a warning was necessary since the video is online.

"Crime is a lot like cancer," Synder said. "It spreads and if you see it somewhere else, let's be on guard. Let's get ahead of it."

He also said it's more common to see victims who pay a down payment on a house then later find out it was a scam. Synder said squatters in Florida currently have no rights.

"You think you're going to hang out for 30 days until the poor homeowner comes home and then claim some kind of right," he said. "You have a right, right there, and you're going to go straight to jail."

SEE MORE: The struggle to locate migrant children missing from US homes

Florida lawmakers passed HB 621 in the current session. According to an analysis from legislative staff, it allows law enforcement to remove unauthorized people from residential property in limited circumstances without using the courts. 

Those requirements include:

- The person requesting the removal of an unauthorized person is the property owner or the authorized agent of the property owner;

- The real property being occupied includes a residential dwelling;

- An unauthorized person or persons have unlawfully entered and continue to remain or reside on the property;

- The real property was not open to the public at the time the unauthorized person entered;

- The property owner has already directed the unauthorized person to leave the property;

- The unauthorized person is not a current or former tenant under a written or oral rental agreement authorized by the property owner;

- The unauthorized person is not an immediate family member of the property owner;

- There is no pending litigation related to the real property between the owner and any known unauthorized person.

The bill's text said it would go into effect in July 2024.

This story was originally published by Ethan Stein at Scripps News West Palm Beach.

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