News Story

Bill in Legislature targets squatting

Sheriffs could immediately remove squatters from homes

When snowbirds return to their homes, they may find that someone has moved in without permission during their absence, an act known as “squatting.” At least two states are considering new laws to combat the practice, and a Republican lawmaker from Gaylord has introduced legislation aimed at making it easier for property owners to evict squatters.

House Bill 5634 would establish a form property owners could use to request the county sheriff’s office “to immediately remove the person or persons from the property.” The property owner would have to affirm several statements. These include “I am the owner of the real property or the authorized agent of the owner of the described real property” and “I have directed the person or persons to leave the property, but they have not done so.” The person who includes false statements on the form would be liable for those statements.

The bill would establish various responsibilities for the sheriff’s office. These include verifying that the party filing the form owned the property and identifying the squatter or squatters. “If appropriate,” HB 5634 reads, “the sheriff may arrest any person found in the dwelling for trespass, outstanding warrants, or any other legal cause.” A property owner may ask the sheriff to help with changing the locks on the home by maintaining the peace on site, as long as the owner pays the sheriff “a reasonable hourly hourly rate set by the sheriff. ”

If this bill were enacted into law, property owners would have a quicker route to removing squatters than they do now, Rep. Ken Borton, R-Gaylord said in a press release. Squatting is becoming a problem, Borton added. “We can’t wait until our offices are flooded with calls from people asking what they should do about the people who began illegally living in their homes during their vacation in Florida.” The press release cites several instances of squatting, including one 2021 legal battle in Lansing.

Efforts to combat squatting have arisen in other states. In New York, several state and local officials called for reforming squatting laws. Under New York law, anyone who moves into an unoccupied property and lives unobstructed for 30 days is considered to have squatters rights and is a legal tenant. A property owner cannot simply have police evict a squatter, according to the New York law firm Nadel and Ciarlo. If someone is a legal tenant, the firm says, “You cannot unilaterally evict them or have the police evict them. You would be forced to get a judicial eviction.”

Property owners in Arizona, who must currently work through the court system to evict a squatter, would gain new powers under a bill legislators sent to the governor April 17. The Arizona bill, much like Borton’s legislation in Michigan, let property owners request law enforcement enact an immediate eviction in certain circumstances.

Property owners in Michigan can already evict squatters, according to the Michigan Municipal League, though the organization recommends property owners consult an attorney first.

Reforms established in 2014 freed property owners of some of the liabilities they faced for evicting squatters. The reforms also made squatting a criminal activity punishable by fines and jail time.

Anti-squatting law does not apply to anyone who has lived continuously for 15 years without interruption or being asked to leave. The person who has squatted for 15 years can obtain the property through adverse possession.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.