Today, we will cover an issue that is very near and dear to my heart. I am passionate as a property owner and real estate appraiser but far more passionate as a constitution lover of rights and freedoms. Today we will be talking about your property rights and how the Florida Legislature passed House Bill 621 to ensure protection of your property rights from “squatters.”

Private ownership interest in real property is often referred to as your “bundle of rights”. Image a bundle of sticks grouped together where each stick gives you a distinct separate right. This bundle is inclusive, but not limited to, your rights to use the real estate, sell the real estate, lease the real estate, enter the real estate, give the real estate away, and your right to exclude others. Statutory and common law can place limitations and restrictions on these rights such as taxation and private restrictions on ownership. However, both statutory and common law can also be utilized to safeguard your bundle of rights. House Bill 621 was signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis on March 27, 2024, and will become effective July 1, 2024, which establishes the requirements for the removal of “squatters”.

The bill was a result of the massive reports across the country of “squatters” unlawfully entering residential properties and refusing to leave. When the “squatter” refused to leave, the property owner’s rights to exclude others and their freedom to enjoy the property as they desired were violated. HB 621 creates a process for the removal of “squatters” a/k/a unauthorized persons from residential property. The bill provides a process where the property owner can “file a verified complaint with the sheriff in the county in which the property is located for the immediate removal of such unauthorized persons. Upon verification of the identity of the person filing the complaint and verification of the person’s right to possess the real property, the sheriff must serve notice to the unlawful occupants to immediately vacate the property. The bill allows the sheriff to charge a fee for this service as well as a reasonable hourly rate if the property owner requests the sheriff’s assistance in keeping the peace while changing the locks and removing the unlawful occupant’s personal property from the residence. The bill provides immunity from liability to the sheriff for any loss, destruction, or damage to property. Further, the bill provides the lawful property owner immunity from liability for any loss, destruction, or damage to personal property, unless the removal was wrongful.”

“The bill also creates the following crimes:

  • Unlawfully detaining or trespassing upon a residential dwelling and intentionally causing at least $1,000 in damage to such dwelling is a second-degree felony.
  • Using a false document purporting to be a valid lease or deed is a first-degree misdemeanor.
  • Fraudulently listing for sale or renting or leasing residential property without possessing an ownership right to or leasehold interest in the property is a first-degree felony.”

Local governments could incur a fiscal impact from the bill due to the increased need in law enforcement workload, judicial proceedings, and the criminal penalties impact on jail or prison operations. However, the bill gave the sheriff authorization to collect a fee and also provide an hourly rate service for services provided under HB 621.

This is a very perplexing world we live in. Criminals are bolder and smarter and our legislative and legal systems are the only measures to combat these types of activities. In August and November 2024, I hope you will vote for leadership who will provide the measures necessary to always protect you and all your rights and freedoms.

I will leave you with those thoughts and that concludes this week’s The Straight Truth With Mary Ann Hutton.