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Florida bill aims to close squatting loophole after homeowner terrorized for 34 days, $40,000 in damages

Florida lawmakers are moving forward with legislation they say will fix a key loophole that has allowed squatters to take advantage of unsuspecting property owners across the Sunshine State in recent years.

House Bill 621, sponsored by Republican Florida state Rep. Kevin Steele, was put forward in response to Jacksonville resident Patti Peeples, who made national headlines earlier this year when several squatters moved into her Jacksonville property and caused nearly $40,000 in damages. 

Peeples first discovered that two female squatters broke into a rental property she owned after she sent a handyman to make repairs in anticipation of a home inspection after she showed an interested buyer the home 48 hours before.

When Peeples attempted to ask the squatters to leave her property, they showed a lease from a fraudulent landlord and claimed they had the right to stay.

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The saga went on for 34 days and the squatters caused $38,000 worth of damage, plus legal fees, including smashed walls and windows, cabinets off the walls, a washer and dryer missing, toilets broken, and fecal matter scattered throughout the home.

“These squatters know the laws better than most attorneys do, and they use them to their advantage and the police are absolutely hamstrung,” Peeple’s told Fox News in April. “They know that this is a civil matter. The police have absolutely no right to remove these squatters and treat them as criminals, as individuals that have broken in or trespassed, and they simply throw up their hands and say, ‘You need to go through this civil court system and evict them.’”

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Steele’s bill would allow for the immediate removal of squatters by law enforcement if they can’t produce a notarized lease from a landowner or proof they are paying rent.

“I pursued this bill because I saw the impact that it had on Patti and as well as others in the state,” Steele told News4Jax. “Number two, we’re putting penalties on the individuals if they provide fraudulent documentation. So. they’re gonna have criminal charges on that perspective.”

Peeples said she feared for her safety during altercations with the squatters.

“We were driving by at night, and they threw a brick at my car and damaged it, and we had the window partway down, and they threw human feces into the car,” Peeples said.

The bill, filed in November, would abolish squatters’ rights in Florida, a state that has become one of the most susceptible to the problem in recent years.

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Homeowners across the United States have been victimized by squatters this year, many finding themselves with no legal recourse and with police departments unable to assist due to the way the law is structured.

“I think it’s a fairly big problem and I think it’s pretty hard to avoid,” Jim Burlring, vice president of legal affairs for Pacific Legal Foundation, told Fox News Digital in March.

“If somebody is living in a home and saying, ‘Hey, I signed a lease, I’m paying rent, I have a right to be here,’ whether or not that’s true, the police hear that story, then they hear a story of somebody who’s not living there and saying, ‘This is my place, these people don’t belong here,’ the police officer can’t make that legal determination,” Burling said.

Fox News Digital’s Kassy Dillon and Ashley Carnahan contributed to this report.

 

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