A Tale of Two Squatters

News & Politics

We are regularly treated to horror stories of squatters conning their way into private homes and then using archaic laws to legally declare residency, leaving the homeowner to spend months upon months and thousands upon thousands of dollars to evict them. To be fair, law enforcement can’t be everywhere at once. When tire marks appear on Pride flag paintings — in the middle of street intersections where, you know, cars drive — you can rest assured that whatever petty grievance you file is going straight to the bottom of the pile.  

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But here’s the thing: if states wanted to solve the squatter problem, they could easily do so by passing legislation revoking squatters’ rights and protecting homeowners by making squatting a jailable offense. There is no excuse, be it monetary or ethical, to prevent our elected officials from doing their jobs. 

It is important to note that while I maintain that legitimate squatting should enjoy zero tolerance under the law, this does not mean that every case of undeclared residency equates to squatting. A relative who is taking care of an elder for a significant amount of time cannot suddenly kick that elder out of a residence because he is tired of dealing with the family member, nor can “when you turn 18, you’re outta here” type parents evict their kid the morning of his birthday.  

It’s not easy to adjudicate cases of spouses and long-term couples breaking up after living under the same roof for years, so those instances may need court direction. What I’m talking about are obvious cases of squatting, when a complete stranger establishes residency through deception, manipulation, or downright breaking and entering.

Take, for example, Abram Mendez and Yudith Matthews, who bought a home and hired a handyman to fix the place up after they moved in. The handyman performed none of the work he was hired to do. Rather, he started squatting. Mendez had made the mistake of agreeing to let the handyman sleep on their couch during the duration of the work. Why he would agree to this is beyond me, but the point is that the remedy should be legally simple: get the hell out of my house. Instead, police told Mendez that it was a civil matter and that he — Mendez — would face arrest for trying to protect his own property (which the squatter had set about intentionally damaging).

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After months of paying fees to move the eviction process forward, they were finally able to reclaim their home and oust the squatter who, to this day, has not been charged with a single crime or made to repay a single dollar of the $17,000 in damages he caused to the home. During his unauthorized stay, the couple who owned the home was not only prohibited from entering but also forced to keep the water and electricity turned on. The only reason they were successful in evicting him is because the squatter was late to a court appointment where, had he shown up on time, he could have appealed the eviction and kept the process going indefinitely.

“The law did not work for us,” said Mendez.

Now take another example: the case of Adele Andaloro. She had been trying to sell her parents’ house after they died when squatters moved in. When she and a news crew confronted one of the squatters sleeping on her couch, the squatter called the police on her. To their credit, the police escorted the squatters off the property, but they warned Andaloro that she had no right to change the locks to the doors (even though the squatters had done so already). She did so anyway and was subsequently arrested for changing the locks to her own doors in the United States of America.

As with Mendez, the law did not work for Andaloro. But something else did. A couple of weeks later, two “vigilantes” showed up at the home to have a conversation with the squatters. No doubt the conversation was productive and informative because the squatters fled the property the very next day, never to return.

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If you read the “comments” sections in stories like these, you’ll find that a vast majority of commenters favor the Andaloro approach over the Mendez approach. And why wouldn’t they? Squatters show up. Squatters won’t leave. Law enforcement does nothing. Squatters still won’t leave. Vigilantes show up. Squatters leave. Problem solved. No courts, no lawyers, no legal fees, no property destruction, no months-long aggravation, and no trampling of American property rights. 

Experts warn that such tactics could lead to bloodshed, and they’re right. But if this is the result, the blame lies on the squatters themselves and with legislators who refuse to fix the problem, not with homeowners who have been backed into a corner. When the law offers no recourse to the innocent being preyed upon by the criminal, expect the innocent to ignore the law and defend themselves. 

I’m not advocating this, but I’m saying it’s inevitable.  

Right now, homeowners finding themselves preyed upon by squatters have two choices. They could wait for elected Republicans to do something about it, which they might get around to circa 2054 AD, right after they wrap up the next gazillion-dollar, three-decade, media-ignored, and absolutely consequence-free congressional hearings about Benghazi/immigration/pronouns/whatever. Susan Murkowski might be out of office by then, so we’d have a fighting chance. In the interim, homeowners are stuck in legal limbo in a sclerotic and unresponsive court system.

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Or they could turn to extralegal measures to protect their homes. While professional (and legal) squatter hunters do exist, they can cost you upwards of $20,000, and most homeowners don’t have that sort of cash lying around. 

I won’t divulge what I personally would do should some squatter make the mistake of entering my home other than to say that I would handle the problem myself. I don’t say that from a place of pride, braggadocio, or any desire to come across as a “tough guy.” I’m not a tough guy, I’m not looking for trouble, and I have no need to “step up” to prove myself. What I am is a father, a husband, and an American citizen, and by those factors alone do I reserve the absolute and inalienable right to defend my home. I don’t beg permission to do so from the government.

In a sane world, this wouldn’t be a left versus right issue; it would just be common sense. But in Clown Car America, where men compete in women’s sports, where pedophiles mingling with kindergarteners equate to tolerance, and where genocidal maniacs are lauded as freedom fighters, I suppose it was unavoidable that the Left came down on the side of the squatters or at least towards trying to minimize the problem. 

A case in point is an article by Newsweek, in which “experts” dismiss the squatter crisis as “election-year fearmongering.” The “experts” touted are left-wing advocacy groups and tenants’ rights lawyers. One such lawyer, Samuel Himmelstein, said squatting cases are “relatively rare,” providing no statistics to back this up. 

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But even if he is correct, so what? Arson is relatively rare. Kidnapping women and imprisoning them in makeshift dungeons for a decade is relatively rare. It doesn’t mean that legislation shouldn’t exist to protect the victims when the crime does occur. 

Conversely, Jim Burling, vice president of legal affairs for the Pacific Legal Foundation, calls squatting a “fairly big problem,” one during which courts often force the lawful owners of property to continue paying the water and electricity bills while their homes are being occupied against their will. And that’s assuming things remain peaceful during the torturous process. 

Patti Peebles, 61, was physically assaulted by squatters after she demanded they leave her property. Nadia Vitel, 51, was beaten to death by squatters after walking in on them in her late mother’s apartment. Squatters living in apartment hallways have beaten and stolen from lawful tenants, who asked to remain anonymous. Not a word from the activists for whom these incidents are “relatively rare.” But hey, enough with the fearmongering. Let’s keep the focus on white supremacists and Jewish colonizers. 

In Europe, squatting is already a political movement, with activists taking over vacant apartments and commercial buildings while “negotiating” with authorities. The activists’ goal? A “radical intervention against the principle of speculative vacancies.” Ahh, gotcha. Thanks for clearing that up, because for a minute it looked like what you were doing was simply freeloading. 

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And if you want to know what the American Left will be advocating a decade from now, all one has to do is look at Europe today. While the problem may seem “relatively rare” now, the Left is already gearing up to make squatting the next undeniable human right that some federal judge will declare is undoubtedly embedded in the Constitution and is exactly what its authors intended. Last year, Squad members tried to push legislation that would stop landlords from being able to perform criminal background checks, including for squatting offenses, from prospective tenants. 

Your home really is your castle. And our legal system protects those who brazenly steal it from you. And when the letter of the law does not uphold the spirit of the law, people will no longer consider themselves bound by it. Let’s not get to that point. Our local, state, and federal lawmakers should respond as Florida did, by passing legislation empowering homeowners by allowing police to immediately arrest squatters, upgrading certain offenses to felony status, and hitting them with real jail time.

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