New York Governor Signs Squatter Law in Favor of Homeowners

The law is part of a bipartisan effort in Albany to limit so-called squatters’ rights.
New York Governor Signs Squatter Law in Favor of Homeowners
Midtown Manhattan buildings in New York City on March 4, 2021. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

In the wake of a series of high-profile squatter cases making national headlines, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has signed into law a bill that will make it easier for homeowners across the state to evict unlawful occupants.

State Assemblyman Jake Blumencranz, a Long Island Republican, spearheaded the bill. It modifies a section of New York property law that describes a tenant as an occupant of a home “who has been in possession for 30 consecutive days or longer,” clarifying that squatters are not tenants and, therefore, not entitled to tenants’ protections under a landlord–tenant relationship.

“A tenant shall not include a person who enters onto property with the intent of squatting on such property or who otherwise settles on land or occupies property without title, right, permission of the rightful owner, or payment of rent,” the law now reads.

‘Squatters’ Rights’

The bill also changes the state law that allows trespassers to claim what is called “squatters’ rights” after living in a property for 30 days in the event that the rightful owner does not evict or take action against the squatter. The new law pushes that period back to 45 days.

These changes will give homeowners more protection from losing their property to squatters and give police officers the authorization they need to detain violators, according to Mr. Blumencranz.

“The fact that someone can break into your house and have full legal protection after 30 days is completely wrong and un-American,” he said in a statement. “Long Islanders and all New Yorkers should not have to live in fear of people trying to game the system and take away their hard-earned property and their American dream.”

The governor signed the bill into law as part of the Empire State’s new $237 billion budget package that cleared the state Legislature on April 20. It takes effect immediately.

Mr. Blumencranz’s measure, first introduced in May 2023, was the first of a series of proposals New York lawmakers have put forth to limit the so-called squatters’ rights.

One such bill was introduced earlier this month by state Sen. John Liu, a Democrat representing Queens. A close resemblance to Mr. Blumencranz’s bill, it defines a “squatter” as someone who unlawfully takes over a property and, therefore, is not subject to the same protections that a lawful tenant enjoys. It also declares that squatters do not get any rights or protections even after 30 days.

“People who intrude into others’ homes should not have rights in state housing law,” Mr. Liu said, noting that his bill “codifies just that in simple and straightforward language.”
Another bill, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Mario Mattera, would allow police officers to immediately evict squatters from homes based on the homeowner’s sworn complaint and without court involvement.

The measure, which Mr. Mattera said represents “one of the most aggressive efforts” to combat squatting, is modeled after one that recently became law in Florida. The idea is to shift the burden of proof from the homeowner onto the accused squatter to justify his or her occupancy.

Mr. Mattera’s bill also includes provisions aimed at deterring property owners from abusing the mechanism against legitimate tenants. If a tenant is wrongfully kicked out, he or she may file a civil lawsuit and “recover actual costs and damages incurred, statutory damages equal to triple the fair market rent of the dwelling, court costs and reasonable attorney fees.”

“While protections are necessary against malicious actions, it’s crucial that we decisively protect our legal homeowners who have suffered due to the current broken system,” Mr. Mattera said. “We are committed to reversing the trend that favors squatters and trespassers, thereby reinstating fundamental rights to our state’s homeowners.”

The bills in Albany followed a surge in media coverage about sometimes deadly confrontations between homeowners and squatters, including one involving 52-year-old Nadia Vitels, who was allegedly killed by two teenagers squatting in her Manhattan apartment.

Kensly Alston, 18, and Halley Tejada, 19, are accused of beating Ms. Vitels to death on March 12 and hiding her body in a duffel bag, according to the office of the Manhattan district attorney. They were arrested by U.S. Marshals in Pennsylvania on March 22, with authorities saying they were driving the victim’s car and using her credit card to buy a video game console, a diamond ring, and other items.

The pair are each charged with two counts of second-degree murder, one count of first-degree burglary, one count of first-degree robbery, six counts of criminal possession of fourth-degree stolen property, seven counts of fourth-degree grand larceny, and three counts of concealment of a corpse.

Bill Pan is an Epoch Times reporter covering education issues and New York news.
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