Beware of Squatters

By Betsy McCaughey Published on March 28, 2024

If you own a home and don’t want to lose it, keep reading.

Homeowners who go on vacation or a business trip, even for just a week, are returning to find their houses overtaken by trespassers who fraudulently claim a right to be there. It’s happening to tens of thousands of homeowners from New York City to Atlanta to Los Angeles.

An Epidemic of Brazen Squatting

When owners call the police, they’re told police can’t help. It’s a civil matter, and they have to file an eviction lawsuit, which can drag on for months or years because housing courts are backlogged.

Meanwhile owners are out on the street while squatters are living free, destroying the owners’ houses and even selling off their belongings.

Tell lawmakers to act now to protect homeowners. This is the United States. Here property rights are not up for debate. They’re guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

If you found a stranger sitting in your car and called the police, they would immediately ask to see the registration and decide who owns the car, explains Georgetown law professor Jonathan Turley. They wouldn’t let the thief drive off.

But the law is stacked against homeowners. You can thank leftist lawmakers who have degraded property rights and tilted the law to favor criminals for that. The result is an epidemic of brazen squatting.

Taking Action Against a Wave of Crime

In New York state, a homeowner faced with a trespasser can expect eviction to take two years. Meanwhile, the owner is barred from turning off utilities, removing belongings or doing anything else to get the invaders out. It’s crazy.

New York State Assemblyman Jake Blumencranz of Long Island has introduced legislation saying a squatter is not a tenant and is not entitled to the same protections as one. Will it pass in Albany? Don’t hold your breath.

But some states are acting quickly against this crime wave.

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The Florida Legislature recently passed a bill empowering police to immediately remove anyone who can’t produce a notarized lease. Georgia’s statehouse passed the Squatter Reform Act, making squatting a crime β€” criminal trespass β€” to be handled by the police, not housing courts. It’s likely to pass the Senate shortly.

Can homeowners in blue states like California and New York hope to be protected protection against squatters? Not if they’re looking for help from Congress. Democrats there are actually pushing a federal housing law that would bar landlords from learning whether potential tenants have criminal records, including past squatting offenses.

But there is a remedy: bringing a lawsuit in federal court against states like New York and California that fail to defend our constitutionally protected property rights. And recently, the Supreme Court struck down state laws that allow trespassers to interfere with property rights. In 2021, the Pacific Legal Foundation brought a suit on behalf of a property owner, and the court ruled in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid that “government-authorized invasions of property” are just as harmful as the government taking the property directly.

Favoring intruders over owners constitutes a “taking” that violates the Fifth Amendment, which says government cannot impinge on your right to your property.

No Time to Waste

There’s no time to waste in acting to protect homeowners.

Venezuelan TikTok influencer Leonel Moreno claims invading vacant homes is the only option illegal migrants flooding into the United States have for decent housing. His now-deleted TikTok video explaining how to identify a home that is empty and ready for the taking reached four million views.

Surprised? Don’t be. Criminals from south of the border are coming in droves to plunder the far wealthier United States. Some cross illegally and are recruited by the Venezuelan gang Tren de Aragua and El Salvador’s MS-13. Others are coming in on tourist visas. Law enforcement is reporting a surge in South American burglary gangs operating in at least half the states in the U.S.

Of course many migrants are honest and hardworking. But there’s no denying a movement northward to “take what you can get” poses new danger to homeowners, including the risk of squatters.

As Moreno says, “If a house is not inhabited, we can seize it.”

Tell lawmakers to act now to protect homeowners. This is the United States. Here property rights are not up for debate. They’re guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

You worked for it, you paid for it, it’s yours. Period.

 

Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York and chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths. Follow her on Twitter @Betsy_McCaughey. To find out more about Betsy McCaughey and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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