Owner can’t remove squatter without court order


Owner can’t remove squatter without court order

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – June 11, 2015 – Question: We rent out a house. After a prior tenant moved out, we spent a few weeks cleaning up and repainting. Over the weekend, someone just moved into the house without permission. I threw him out on his ear, and now I am getting sued. Did I do something wrong? – Stu

Answer: Yes. If you physically removed him, you are lucky he did not call the police to have you arrested. When someone moves into your home, even without permission, you are not allowed to kick that person out without a court order. Nor can you change the locks, turn off utilities or put belongings by the curb. Doing so could leave you liable for injuries or property damage. These same restrictions apply to your guests who overstay their welcome – even if you are also living in the house.

Depending on the situation, you will need to file either an "unlawful detainer" or "ejectment" lawsuit, both similar to an eviction, to get the police's help in removing the squatter. Think of this before you let a friend from work or a cousin from out of town move in for "just a few days."

If you let someone stay over for more than a few days, have a written lease agreement. Also, because it can take weeks to get the court eviction done, it's best to act at the first sign of trouble.

Another solution is to agree to pay a few hundred dollars toward the person's moving expenses. While that may sound galling, it can be cheaper and quicker than having to file a lawsuit.

About the writer: Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He is the chairperson of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is an adjunct professor for the Nova Southeastern University Paralegal Studies program.

The information and materials in this column are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is formed. Nothing in this column is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

Copyright © 2015 Sun Sentinel, Gary M. Singer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.  

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