The Conversation

Squatters: Legal Loopholes and Sovereign Citizens

The Herald-Times in Florida reports on the upswing in squatting. In a representative case, neighbors have repeatedly called police but officers are unwilling to take action until ownership claims have made their way through the backlogged courts. That can take up to four years in some cases, leaving actual property owners with nowhere to turn.

Leeson first noticed the squatters in his neighborhood in the fall of 2010, after an elderly neighbor died. Shortly afterward, a man who knew the owner's daughter moved into the home at 1221 Sleepy Hollow Road, he said...the initial squatter changed the locks, kept the utilities running and regularly cut the grass — all the while renting out rooms to friends for $500 per month.

The squatters simply lie to police, sometimes providing fake documents or at other times claiming a verbal agreement with the property owner which is difficult to verify. Squatters also tend to be experts on arcane legal trivia:

Many squatters claim possession of homes through a century-old Florida law written at a time when pioneers were still carving out parcels statewide.

Known as adverse possession, the law allows squatters to take possession of abandoned properties after seven years — if they can prove that they have lived on-site, paid property taxes and maintained the property during that time.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports on an even stranger case of squatting in Bethesda, Md. A man named Lamont Butler took possession of a 12 bedroom mansion and then demanded that the state record him as the new owner because he was a "Moorish American National." The Moorish American Government is an obscure group connected to the Moorish Science Temple of America. It claims individuals are sovereign citizens exempt from U.S. laws. The Post notes that similar cases of squatting by "Moorish Americans" have taken place around the country.


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