Squatting or Trespassing


Sofia Bordas

Visual of a squatter entering an abandoned house protected under law.

According to a current United Nations estimate, about 800 to 900 million people in the world are squatters. No, these people do not hold the record for the highest wall sit nor do they sell squatty potties. Squatting is the act of inhabiting an abandoned or unoccupied house or plot of land without having legal ownership. So, where does squatting end and trespassing begin?

Squatting originated in the United States during the Gold Rush when colonial European settlers established land rights. In the 1820s and 30s, thousands of people emigrated to the West in search of the American dream. However, when many arrived in hopes of becoming farmers, they realized that the federal government had control of various lands. Rather than going home empty handed, emigrants decided to take possession of land without paying for it. At the time, this was considered trespassing on private property.

Today, squatting is illegal in most parts of the United States, but squatters have rights in Arkansas, California, Florida, Montana, Tennessee, and Utah. In Florida, they can legally get a hold of your house or property through an adverse possession claim. To be valid, a squatter must live in the house for at least seven years. Then, they file for legal occupation. To get rid of squatters in Florida you must notify the squatter with an eviction notice and file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. This process takes over five weeks.

The line between squatting and trespassing is very fine, but there are a few key differences. Squatting is seen as a civil matter while trespassing is a criminal offense. Furthermore, squatters occupy abandoned properties and are nonviolent. On the other hand, trespassers occupy private property and can be violent. This issue is more common than you think. Mayra Busse, an English teacher at Riviera, observed a terrible experience with squatters. When her neighbor died, an entire family decided to move into the house after her death. She said, “The family broke into the house and just lived there, and it took my neighbor a couple of years in court, having to pay for an attorney and a lot of money to get them evicted from the property.” Busse believes squatting should absolutely be considered trespassing and it is insane squatters are protected.

Stay safe and keep an eye out for squatters!