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States focus on squatting as TikToker encourages illegal immigrants to ‘invade’ homes

Occupy Your Neighbors: Florida and Georgia have passed legislation to protect property owners from squatters while a woman in New York City was arrested for trying to keep a squatter out of her family's home.

Published: March 27, 2024 11:00pm

Updated: March 28, 2024 5:50pm

State and local officials are working to prevent property owners from having their residences taken over by squatters as a social media influencer from Venezuela encouraged illegal immigrants to "invade" homes in the U.S.

The issue of squatting has arisen in both Florida and Georgia, states fighting against squatting, while a New York City resident was arrested for trying to prevent a squatter from reentering her home. Squatting has become a concern with the influx of illegal immigrants as a Venezuelan national encouraged others to squat in Americans’ homes.

The legislation follows a viral TikTok video in which a Venezuelan national instructed would-be squatters on the legal means to effectively take over a residence using squatter's rights.

Leonel Moreno, a Venezuelan national who appears to live in Ohio, according to The New York Post, published a video with the caption, "We can invade a house in the U.S.A. What's your opinion of that new law," as translated from Spanish.

On Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed legislation to permit homeowners to secure immediate removal of squatters by law enforcement in certain instances.

Under the new law, property owners may request that law enforcement remove a squatter if that person entered unlawfully and remains on the property despite a request to leave. The squatter must also not be a tenant in a dispute with the landlord.

"We are putting an end to the squatters scam in Florida. While other states are siding with the squatters, we are protecting property owners and punishing criminals looking to game the system," DeSantis said in a statement.

The measure further imposes stiff punishments for squatters and individuals encouraging the practice.

Moreno appeared to be telling his more than half a million followers on TikTok about adverse possession laws, which allow unlawful occupants to have rights over a property in some circumstances without the owner's consent. He said in the video that he has friends who have "already taken about seven homes.”

Moreno’s TikTok account appears to no longer exist.

Moreno entered the U.S. in April 2022 through Eagle Pass, Texas, then was enrolled in the Alternatives to Detention program, in which illegal immigrants are monitored by federal authorities via ankle monitors, the New York Post reported.

However, Moreno is now an “absconder” from the program, according to internal documents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that the Post reviewed.

He appears to be living in Columbus, Ohio, and has claimed in his videos that he and his family receive $350 a week in federal government handouts.

On Thursday, an ICE spokesperson told Just the News in a statement, "Leonel Moreno is an unlawfully present Venezuelan non-citizen, who illegally entered the country April 23, 2022. Moreno was placed into the ATD program by Border Patrol and was told to report to Enforcement and Removal Operations office within 60 days of arriving at his destination. Moreno did not report as required."

When illegal immigrants enrolled in the Alternatives to Detention program do not follow its requirements, a judge may issue an order that ICE prioritize their arrest and removal.

After the Florida legislation was signed into law, Attorney General Ashley Moody said in a statement, “Florida is once again leading the nation, this time in securing our state against squatters.

“Biden has allowed millions of illegal immigrants to flood across the border,” she continued. “After video evidence of their plan to take over homes emerged, we’re ensuring Floridians are protected from this egregious and brazen scheme. I’m grateful to Governor DeSantis for signing this important legislation into law, and to Representative Kevin Steele for carrying this bill through Session.”

On Monday, the Martin County Sheriff's Office warned residents to be aware of squatters in their neighborhoods.

"It’s only a matter of time before we have a victim right here in Martin County," Sheriff William Snyder told WPBF 25 News, a local ABC News affiliate.

"An illegal immigrant from Venezuela actually got on and was exhorting other illegal immigrants to invade people’s houses basically and take over and do what we call squatting," he said regarding the TikTok video.

Snyder noted that many homes in the county are winter residences and vulnerable to squatting.

Meanwhile, the Georgia state legislature has unanimously passed a bill that would charge squatters with trespassing, WSB-TV reported. The legislation will go to Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) desk for his signature.

The legislation was passed as squatters have been causing issues across the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Republican Georgia state Sen. Ed Setzler, who sponsored the bill, explained that squatters were taking advantage of a civil eviction process.

“They are weaponizing procedural processes to keep from having accountability,” Setzler said. “This just streamlines both the landlord’s rights and the ability of the accused to get clarity and justice so it can be adjudicated actively and not be drug out over the course of months in the courts.”

In contrast to Florida and Georgia, New York has a law giving squatters rights after living in a residence for more than 30 days.

In New York City, a woman who inherited her parents’ $1 million home in Queens after their deaths was arrested for unlawful eviction of someone who was living in the house.

After two men were escorted off her property by police, the homeowner, Adele Andaloro, changed the locks. In New York, it’s illegal to change the locks, turn off the utilities, or remove the belongings of a person claiming to be a tenant.

"I may end up in handcuffs today if a man shows up here and says I have illegally evicted him," Andaloro said. "I said 'let him take me to court as I've been told to take him to court' because today I'm not leaving my house."

When another man claiming to be leasing the house returned after Andaloro changed the locks, she was arrested. Police told her that this was a landlord-tenant issue so she must resolve it through housing court, rather than the police.

Two suspected squatters wanted for questioning in the murder of a woman who walked in on them living inside her recently deceased mother's New York City apartment are now in custody. According to WABC, the suspects were caught Friday in York, Pennsylvania, by members of the U.S. Marshals Regional Fugitive Task Force just before 11 a.m.

Issues with squatters have increased amid a housing crisis as the country is short millions of houses while prices increase for both new homeowners and renters.

As of December, the U.S. is short 3.2 million homes, Axios reported.

The housing shortage comes as nearly 2.5 million illegal crossers were encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents at the southern border during fiscal year 2023, which broke the record of the previous year.

The lack of housing has also led to state officials in Massachusetts and Michigan asking residents to house illegal immigrants amid the border crisis.

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