Betsy McCaughey

Betsy McCaughey


How to lock out the scourge of squatters in NYC and everywhere

If you own a home and don’t want to lose it, keep reading.

Homeowners who go on vacation or a business trip, even for just a week, are returning to find their houses overtaken by trespassers who fraudulently claim a right to be there.

It’s happening to tens of thousands of homeowners from New York City to Atlanta to Los Angeles.

When owners call police, they’re told police can’t help: It’s a civil matter, and they have to file an eviction lawsuit, which can drag on for months or years because housing courts are backlogged.

Owners are out on the street in the meantime, while squatters are living free, destroying houses and even selling off owners’ belongings.

If you found a stranger sitting in your car and called the police, they would immediately ask to see the registration and decide who owns it, explains George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley.

They wouldn’t let the thief drive off.

But the law is stacked against homeowners.

You can thank leftist lawmakers who have degraded property rights and tilted the law to favor criminals.

Real estate of a home occupied by squatters at 26-07 160th Street on Tuesday, March 19, 2024 in Queens, New York.
Real estate of a home occupied by squatters at 26-07 160th Street on Tuesday, March 19, 2024 in Queens, New York. James Keivom

The result is an epidemic of brazen squatting.

In New York state, a homeowner faced with a trespasser can expect eviction to take two years.

Meanwhile, the owner is barred from turning off utilities, removing belongings or doing anything else to get the invaders out. It’s crazy.

What you need to know about squatters in New York:

What are squatter’s rights in New York?

Squatters in New York state can claim a legal right to remain on a property without the owner’s permission after 10 years of living there. However, in New York City, a person only needs to be on the property for 30 days to claim squatter’s rights.

Why is it so hard to get rid of a squatter?

Squatters are allowed a wide range of rights once they have established legal occupancy, making it difficult to evict them.

How does someone become a squatter?

Some of the scenarios in which a person becomes a squatter include: a tenant refusing to pay rent, a relative of a former owner refusing to leave the property or even a stranger who entered the property and never left.

According to Manhattan-based law firm Nadel & Ciarlo, squatters must have a reasonable basis for claiming the property belongs to them and must treat the home as if they were an owner — such as doing yard work or making repairs.

How can a property owner get rid of a squatter?

A property owner must first send a 10-day eviction notice and then file a court complaint if the order is ignored. If approved by a judge, the owner can get a summons and have a sheriff evict the squatter.

Why does the law provide squatters with rights?

The law was designed to help prevent long-term tenants from getting evicted. New York City’s law was partially made in response to vacant and abandoned buildings that were becoming a blight on the city.

How can property owners protect themselves from squatters?

Owners should avoid keeping any properties vacant for an extended period of time. They should also make sure the building is secure, has adequate lighting and has surveillance cameras installed.

If a squatter does appear, owners should notify the police quickly before squatter’s rights are established.

State Assemblyman Jake Blumencranz (R-LI) introduced legislation saying a squatter is not a tenant and not entitled to the same protections.

Will it pass in Albany?

Don’t hold your breath.

But some states are acting quickly against this crime wave.

Florida’s Legislature passed a bill to empower police to immediately remove anyone who can’t produce a notarized lease; it will soon be signed into law.

Georgia’s statehouse passed the Squatter Reform Act, making squatting a crime — criminal trespass — to be handled by the police, not housing court; it’s likely to pass the Senate shortly.

In blue states like California and New York, is there hope for homeowners to get protection against squatters?

Not from Congress. Democrats there are actually pushing a federal housing law that would bar landlords from learning whether potential tenants have criminal records, including past squatting offenses.

But there is a remedy — bringing a lawsuit in federal court against states like New York and California that fail to protect property rights.

The US Constitution enshrines property rights as a fundamental guarantee.

And recently, the Supreme Court has struck down state laws that allow trespassers to interfere with property rights.

The Pacific Legal Foundation brought a suit on behalf of a property owner, and in 2021 the court ruled in Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid that “government-authorized invasions of property” amount to a taking just as if the government had taken the property directly.

Favoring intruders over owners are “takings” that violate the Fifth Amendment, which says government cannot impinge on your right to your property.

There’s no time to waste in acting to protect homeowners.

Venezuelan TikTok influencer Leonel Moreno claims invading vacant homes is the only option for illegal migrants flooding into the United States.

His TikTok video explaining how to identify a home that’s empty and ready for the taking has already had four million viewers.


Don’t be.

Criminals from south of the border are coming in droves to plunder the far wealthier United States.

Some cross illegally and are recruited by the Venezuelan gang Tren de Aragua and El Salvador’s MS-13.

Others are coming in on tourist visas.

Law enforcement is reporting a surge in South American burglary gangs operating in at least half the states in America.

Of course, many migrants are honest and hardworking.

But there’s no denying a movement northward to “take what you can get” poses new danger to homeowners, including the risk of squatters.

As TikTok influencer Moreno said, “If a house is not inhabited, we can seize it.”

Tell lawmakers to act now to protect homeowners.

This is the United States.

Here property rights are not up for debate.

They’re guaranteed in the Bill of Rights.

You worked for it, you paid for it, it’s yours. Period.

Betsy McCaughey is a former lieutenant governor of New York.

Twitter: @Betsy_McCaughey