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Squatters-Adverse Possession

Florida law defines a squatter as anyone who occupies a property without lawful permission from the owner. In general, the properties in question are usually unoccupied, abandoned, or foreclosed. Property subject to a probate estate administration may be particularly vulnerable. In these situations, the decedent may have been the sole owner of the property, which by virtue of their death is now unoccupied. While the property will eventually be devised to heirs or beneficiaries through the probate process, this takes time and may leave the property vulnerable to squatters. 

A squatter could be anyone who refuses to vacate an estate property, such as:

  • A family member who was living with the decedent before they passed away.

  • A friend who was staying with the decedent but refused to leave after their death.

  • personal creditor who believes they are entitled to claim the property as their own.

Note that a holdover tenant, an individual who was paying rent, but has since stopped and will not vacate the property, is not considered a squatter. While they meet the broad definition, these individuals originally had permission to occupy the property and therefore different legal remedies exist to facilitate their removal. 

Why You May Need to Remove a Squatter

Unwanted tenants are more than an inconvenience: if let alone, they could—eventually—claim the property as their own through the doctrine of adverse possession.

A squatter could try to petition the court for the title to the property if they meet all of the following conditions:

  • Hostile possession. “Hostile possession” means that the squatter possesses the land in a manner that is in conflict with the actual owner's rights to the property.

  • Actual possession. The squatter must be physically present on the estate property and treat it as their own.

  • Open and notorious possession. The squatter’s use of the property must be in a visible manner so as to be obvious.

  • Exclusive and continuous possession. In order for a squatter to lay claim to estate property, they generally cannot share possession of the property with others.

  • Improvement. A squatter may only be entitled to a property if they improve, cultivate, or otherwise protect the land.

  • For a Term of Years: The squatter must possess the land exclusively and continously for a period of at least seven years. 

Under the Florida Statutes, a squatter who fulfills all of the above conditions may bring a claim for the property. 

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