Is removing a squatter a civil matter or a crime? It depends.
MIAMI – June 12, 2015 – Is removing a squatter a civil matter or a crime? It depends.
Overall, two things impact squatting: The police department system in the jurisdiction and its procedures for handling a squatting complaint, and the steps a property owner takes when he or she first discovers the squatter.
Miami-Dade County police noted an increase in squatters last year. Working with local groups, including Realtors, the city proposed and passed an ordinance creating a system for dealing with squatter complaints.
Following the change, the Miami Association of Realtors hosted a "Removing Illegal Occupants from Residences" seminar. An important distinction noted by Miami-Dade Police Department Sgt. David Goldberger during the conference had to do with an owner's reaction to a squatter.
Goldberger's advice specific to Miami-Dade County's squatting rules:
- Squatters can be removed under trespassing laws, but officers must verify certain information and documentation before they can act.
- If an owner identifies a squatter, he or she should call the police bureau (in Miami-Dade it's the Economic Crimes Bureau) during normal business hours. Squatting is not considered a "911" emergency telephone call.
- If calling after hours, request that a uniform officer go to the home.
- If the property is located within an incorporated city's boundaries rather than unincorporated Miami-Dade County, ask the local police department about their policy. If the response is, "It's a civil matter," you should verify that. Under certain circumstances, squatting does become a civil matter.
- Owners or their representatives with a squatter complaint must provide proof of ownership. Acceptable documentation is a writ of possession, a certified copy of the certificate of title or a certified copy of the final summary judgment. Agents must have a limited power of attorney to act on the owner's behalf.
After documentation is verified, the owner/representative needs to provide a verbal trespass warning in the officer's presence. Under the trespass warning, the squatter will be instructed to leave immediately or within a reasonable timeframe (for example, 30 minutes to gather belongings).
Important note: The owner/representative should not give the squatter additional time to get out (such as 24 hours to clear everything), because doing so gives the squatter permission to remain in the home. That "permission" could make the problem a civil rather than criminal matter.
It's okay for the owner/representative to make arrangements with the squatter to return and gather the remainder of their belongings. An officer will respond if needed to keep the peace.
Realtors with squatter questions can call Florida Realtors Legal Hotline, a free service for members.
© 2015 Florida Realtors® All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.