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States race to fix squatter loopholes, boost homeowner protections

(NewsNation) — Several states across the country are moving quickly to pass squatting laws to give legal protections and a course of action for homeowners whose properties have been illegally occupied. 

Georgia is the latest to pass legislation barring people from taking over and eventually claiming rights to a home. The Squatter Reform Act, which was passed in April, would give property owners more rights to evict those who have illegally taken possession of a home.

Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law eliminating squatters’ rights in the state and increasing penalties for squatting. The bill also makes it easier and quicker for property owners to have squatters evicted from their homes.

Legislation is also in the works in Texas, Alabama and Pennsylvania. 

Prior to these measures, homeowners whose properties have been taken over by squatters had little recourse outside of monthslong eviction battles that could frequently end in the destruction of their homes and cost thousands of dollars.

Darthula Young, an Illinois resident whose home was taken over by a “professional” squatter, told “NewsNation Now” last month that there was little she could do to take the home back. 

“I had to go through the courts, and going through the courts can be a long process because you have to go through the tenants’ courts and the squatters actually have rights. So, you just can’t evict him; the judge has to get the order,” she said.

Young discovered a squatter had taken over her late mother’s home when she arrived there to clean out her things. She told NewsNation that one of the first things the squatters did was change the locks so she could no longer enter the home. She then called the police, but they weren’t able to help, either.

Neighbors in a northwest Oklahoma City neighborhood said they called authorities multiple times to deal with people living in abandoned homes next to their own that don’t belong to them.

“I just thought they were looking for things to take and maybe sell,” Lowry said. “But then, when suitcases started appearing and more activity, that’s when I really got concerned,” Jennifer Lowry told NewsNation affiliate KFOR last month. 

While the squatters were arrested, Lowry said that police told her there is nothing stopping them from coming back.

In New York, an influx of migrants has created the perfect storm for squatting, local lawmakers said. 

“What we’re seeing here is what I call the holy trinity of problems,” New York State Assemblyman Jake Blumencranz said. “We have a housing crisis, we have a migrant crisis and we have a cost of living crisis here in New York. With those three things coupled together and no real solutions presented to the table. People will find alternative forms of housing.” 

While every state has some form of housing law requiring a person to live on a property for a certain amount of time before they can legally take ownership,  how and when those laws are enforced differ greatly. 

In some states, police are not legally allowed to enter a home and forcefully remove squatters even at the behest of the property owner.

NewsNation’s Urja Sinha contributed to this report.