Squatters would get booted immediately under bill lawmakers in this state unanimously passed

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The Florida Legislature unanimously passed a bill that would allow police to immediately remove squatters — a departure from the lengthy court cases required in most states.

“It gives me a real feeling of positive hope that we still have the ability to discuss challenges in our society and work with our legislatures in a bipartisan way,” Patti Peeples, a Sunshine State property owner who was barred from her own home after squatters refused to leave, told News4Jax.

The legislation, which passed both chambers earlier this month, would allow police to remove squatters without a lease authorized by the property owner and adds criminal penalties. Landlords, under the current law, typically have to wade through a long and expensive legal process to remove squatters.

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Imagine for a moment that you leave from your day of serving the citizens of Florida as a senator and you return to your home,” Peeples told the state Senate Criminal Justice Committee in February. “But when you walk in, there are strangers sitting on your sofa, watching your TV, eating your food.”

“You ask who they are and what they are doing, and they tell you that they have rented this house and present you with a lease,” she continued.

An advocacy group, Florida Rising, initially opposed the legislation, fearing landlords could abuse the measures to quickly boot legitimate tenants. But the group took a neutral position after amendments were added to protect legal occupants, a spokesperson told News4Jax.

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Damage in Peeples' home

The bill, now headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, would also allow wrongfully evicted tenants to sue to regain access and recover attorneys’ fees and damages.

Last year, it took weeks for the squatters in Peeples’ home to get evicted. They had produced a lease and claimed they were rental scam victims — a strategy the squatters used previously, court records show.

By the time they were ousted, Peeples’ house was left with thousands of dollars worth of damage.

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A photo of the Jacksonville home.

“I’ve had so many emotions,” Peeples told Fox News in April. “I’ve had just intense anger, I have felt defeated, I felt wronged by the legal system, I felt wronged by the police system.”

The squatters never faced criminal charges.

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If the Florida legislation becomes law, intentionally presenting a phony lease would be designated as a misdemeanor, and selling or leasing someone else’s property would be a felony, as would causing more than $1,000 in property damage.

Flash Shelton, a handyman-turned-squatter hunter, recently told Fox News that squatting laws needed to become stricter so landlords could more easily boot illegal occupants. He pointed to Atlanta, where, according to the National Rental Home Council, around 1,200 homes have been taken over by squatters.

“If we were to criminalize it, that would enable us to send in the National Guard to sweep that whole neighborhood and get those 1,200 houses clear,” Shelton told Fox News in February.

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