When private property is taken by squatters, all of society pays a price

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Cities across America are experiencing a surge in squatting – when people illegally enter and occupy a property they have no right to inhabit. 

But many in the corporate media, such as the Washington Post, WNYC (New York City’s public broadcaster), and Dave Weigel, have published stories diminishing the importance and even existence of this trend. They, and many others, contend that recent news coverage of squatting is simply a “right-wing talking point” or “crusade” against an issue that “rarely” occurs. 

But as usual, the media is wrong, and in more ways than one.

Ron DeSantis discussing squatter bill

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs bill addressing squatters into law. (Gov. Ron DeSantis/FB)

First, they needlessly politicize the issue. And second, the rise in squatting is real, especially in large cities, and bad law and shortsighted housing policy are making it worse.

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In Atlanta alone, an estimated 1,200 homes are subject to squatting, according to the National Rental Home Council. The city has struggled with this problem for over a decade, with stories of individuals moving into homes they did not own and refusing to move out dating back to 2013.

And in Philadelphia, the 2018 City Council was forced to pass an ordinance to make it easier to remove squatters. Professional squatters who understood how long it could take to remove a squatter through the courts – up to a year at the time, although in other cities like New York it can take up to two years – would move in and demand money to move out. Joseph Rey, the president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors at the time, called it “extortion.”  

And then there’s New York. The Gothamist claims that there is no squatter problem in the city. 

Tell that to Adele Andaloro, who was arrested for “illegally evicting” squatters who had moved into the home she inherited from her mother in Flushing. Or tell Steve Markowski, who saw his neighbor’s Bayside home taken over by squatters, which led to a teenager being shot in the home.

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While these stories just scratch the surface, the affected homeowners would hardly say squatting is merely a “right wing talking point.”

The reality is that squatting is a real problem; and it’s getting worse because of the lack of housing supply. Limited supply drives up the price of housing, and that prohibitive cost puts affordable housing out of reach for too many living in our country.

To be sure, this harsh reality does not justify trespassing on private property. But it does explain where city, state and national leaders should focus to solve the squatting problem on a long-term basis: increasing the supply of housing.  

By increasing supply, costs will come down. Cheaper rent will make squatting less enticing, which will lead to fewer people breaking the law to find a place to live.

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And throwing taxpayer money at the housing cost problem is not the answer.

Rather, the way to increase the supply is to make it easier to build. Regulations should be cut, fees should be lowered and zoning should be less restrictive. NIMBYs should be given less opportunity to interfere with other people’s private property rights.

These changes will make it more affordable to build housing, which will in turn lead to lower prices for the buyer or residential tenant. 

But that is the long-term solution. In the short term, local ordinances and state laws should be rewritten to ensure that illegal squatters are not treated the same as lawful tenants who have genuine disputes with their rental property’s homeowner. 

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In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a law to make it easier to remove squatters, and at the same time protect tenants in legitimate conflicts with homeowners. 

And in New York, the legislature responded to Andaloro’s case in Queens by passing legislation that explicitly excluded squatters from landlord/tenant law protections for tenants. New York recognized that squatters are trespassers. Other states and cities should do likewise. 

Property rights are the foundation of a stable society. When property is protected from the “grasping hand” of government or from theft, it encourages peaceful co-existence and leads to calculated risk-taking, which redounds to the benefit of the owner as well as society at large. 

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Looking the other way as squatters take away property rights – or denying the problem exists – simply amounts to tacit encouragement of an effort to destabilize society.

Squatting is a real problem that calls for real solutions. Denying it exists is to deny reality. 

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE FROM MARK MILLER

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