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Squatter’s Rights Just Changed. But They’re Still Not What You Think.

Squatter’s Rights Just Changed. But They’re Still Not What You Think.

Following a sharp increase in squatter cases across New York State, Governor Kathy Hochul signed into effect on Tuesday a new law limiting the rights of squatters. But squatters still have legal protections, and dealing with one should be done with caution and legal guidance.

Squatter’s rights have become a hot topic recently, with a veritable pandemic of squatter cases across New York State, particularly Queens and Long Island. The recent tragedy of a woman who was murdered when she intruded upon squatters occupying her recently deceased mother’s apartment particularly brought the issue into sharp relief.

In response, Governor Hochul signed into effect on Tuesday, April 23, a new bill, which “clarifies the status of squatters for purposes of removal proceedings.”

Squatters, who occupy real property without title, right, or permission of the owner (or owner’s agent or another person entitled to possession of the property), do not have the same rights and protections as lawful tenants, occupants, or owners.

The truth is that squatters have very limited rights under the law. However, squatters do still have some legal rights, and landlords and property owners should be mindful of them.

First and foremost, squatters have the right to due process under the law. That means an owner is not entitled to use self-help eviction to remove a squatter. Squatters are entitled to notice under the law and a right to be heard in court.

As unfair and frustrating as a squatter situation may be, and as tempting as it may be to simply throw them out, do not attempt to evict squatters by yourself or through anyone else. The police and the courts are the only legal means at your disposal. Otherwise, you may find yourself arrested, prosecuted, or sued.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, while it’s rare that a squatter has a defense that allows them to stay at the premises, the long backlog of the court system can provide them with plenty of free time to stay put, at the owner’s expense.

This type of situation is often best resolved by choosing to be smart over being right, and negotiating with the squatter to leave the property within an agreed-upon timeframe. Whatever the case, always consult with an experienced attorney first.

For any questions or assistance, contact us.