The struggle of getting rid of squatters

Posted at 11:26 PM, Jul 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-13 08:39:34-04

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. -- Graffiti is scribbled on the walls throughout one Punta Gorda home, and most of the furniture was stolen by squatters. 

Lucila Gale says she's spent close to $3,000 to evict the squatters who had been living in her home for over three months. 

At one point, she believes there were as many as five people in the home. "They have destroyed everything," said Gale. "look at this!" said Gale as she pointed to the debris on her patio. 

The home next to her's was also seized by squatters; they don't pay for rent or utilities. 

A man who recently lived on Gale's street says squatters took over his old home shortly after it was sold. "Not just using [it] but wrecking, They stole a washer and dryer out of my old house,' said the man who asked not to be identified. 

Despite the fact they're squatting, to get rid of them the homeowners have to go through the courts which could cost thousands.

Fort Myers attorney Shirlarian Williams is currently working on a squatter case where squatters caused over $40,000 in damages.

"They completely destroyed the home," said Williams, managing partner, Law Firm of Shirlarian N. Williams. "They had to remove several broken windows; they had to replace the a/c unit."

Williams says the homeowner will likely incur those losses because squatters have little to no assets to go after in court. 

"It is scary, so any agreements that you have should definitely be in writing," said Williams. 

 Removing a squatter who has never had a lease is easier. Homeowners can file a complaint for an unlawful detainer. 

"[Squatters] have five days to file an answer. If they don't file an answer within the five days then you can move for the final hearing," said Williams.

However, if there was a lease, the homeowner must file a formal eviction which takes much longer and can be more costly. 

Williams isn't connected to Gale's case, but she warns residents to be careful, even if it's a friend you invite to stay at your home.

"Unfortunately it's something that I'm seeing more and more of nowadays is people destroying homes and landlords having to come in and exert their rights," said Williams.