Squatting and Protection of Property Road SignsEstate properties are not always problem-free. If the deceased had renters, friends, or family living inside their residence, they may refuse to vacate even when the property is inherited by a new owner. Fortunately, Florida law provides property owners with a procedure to vacate squatters from a premises.

Squatters in Florida

Florida law defines a squatter as anyone who occupies a property without lawful permission from the owner. In general, the properties in question are usually unoccupied, abandoned, or foreclosed. Property subject to a probate estate administration may be particularly vulnerable. In these situations, the decedent may have been the sole owner of the property, which by virtue of their death is now unoccupied. While the property will eventually be devised to heirs or beneficiaries through the probate process, this takes time and may leave the property vulnerable to squatters. 

A squatter could be anyone who refuses to vacate an estate property, such as:

  • A family member who was living with the decedent before they passed away.
  • A friend who was staying with the decedent but refused to leave after their death.
  • A personal creditor who believes they are entitled to claim the property as their own.

Note that a holdover tenant, an individual who was paying rent, but has since stopped and will not vacate the property, is not considered a squatter. While they meet the broad definition, these individuals originally had permission to occupy the property and therefore different legal remedies exist to facilitate their removal. 

Why You May Need to Remove a Squatter

Unwanted tenants are more than an inconvenience: if let alone, they could—eventually—claim the property as their own through the doctrine of adverse possession.

A squatter could try to petition the court for the title to the property if they meet all of the following conditions:

  • Hostile possession. “Hostile possession” means that the squatter possesses the land in a manner that is in conflict with the actual owner's rights to the property.
  • Actual possession. The squatter must be physically present on the estate property and treat it as their own.
  • Open and notorious possession. The squatter’s use of the property must be in a visible manner so as to be obvious.
  • Exclusive and continuous possession. In order for a squatter to lay claim to estate property, they generally cannot share possession of the property with others.
  • Improvement. A squatter may only be entitled to a property if they improve, cultivate, or otherwise protect the land.
  • For a Term of Years: The squatter must possess the land exclusively and continously for a period of at least seven years. 

Under the Florida Statutes, a squatter who fulfills all of the above conditions may bring a claim for the property. 

How to Remove a Squatter From a Florida Estate

Unlike most other states, Florida does not have a specific procedure to remove squatters. Property owners, estate beneficiaries, and executors must instead file an “unlawful detainer lawsuit.”

Although not required to do so, it is advisable for an individual intending to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit to provide the squatter with notice of your intentions. This may compel the squatter to leave, and avoid the need to file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. This notice could come in the form of:

  • Verbal Warning: As there is no requirement that the squatter be notified prior to the unlawful detainer suit, the owner can provide verbal warning of their intention to file suit, and demand the squatter vacate the premises. However, it is likely advisable any demand to vacate also be communicated in writing. 
  • A Letter: An informal letter mailed to the address may be used to notify the squatter of your intentions. 
  • Posted Notice: If a more formal manner of notice is desired, the property owner can serve the tenant with notice in the manner required by formal eviction actions. 

If the squatter refuses to adhere to the notice, you will have to proceed with filing an unlawful detainer lawsuit.

An Experienced Estate Litigation Attorney Could Save You Time and Money

Removing a squatter could present unexpected complications, especially if they manage to persuade the court that they may be entitled to remain on the premises.

Even after serving an unwanted tenant with notice and a lawsuit, they may refuse to leave. Unfortunately, even if a squatter does not have a strong case for continued possession, they could still force the estate executor to expend significant resources defending the property.

DeLoach, Hofstra & Cavonis, PA, could help you exercise your right and protect an estate property from encroachment. Please send us a message online or call us at 727-777-6842 to schedule your consultation as soon as possible.


Michael D. Cavonis
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Probate and Estate Litigation Attorney