New York to Change Squatter Law With 2025 FY Budget

April 23, 2024

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

The situation can happen all too easily. You live upstate in Ulster County, and your father lives in Nassau County. When your dad passes away, you take care of listing his house for sale. But the house doesn’t sell quickly, and it sits on the market for a few months. You try to make it to the house every few weeks to check on things, but the traffic getting to Nassau is terrible. When you finally get to the house, you find a squatter has entered your dad’s home and is living there. The squatter has been there for more than 30 days. He’s been bringing in the newspaper, sweeping up the driveway, and is even receiving mail at the address. You call the police, but they tell you that you now have a tenant and they can’t help you without a court order.

Does this sounds like a nightmare? For some New York homeowners, this has been a reality. But now, new legislation is changing the ability for homeowners to fight back against squatting.


Squatter vs. Tenant

In New York, a tenant is someone who enters into an agreement with the lawful owner to occupy a space. For example, a person who signs a lease with the owner of a home would be a tenant.

In contrast, a squatter is someone who occupies a space without the consent of the legal owner. If an unlawful resident has been living in a home for 30 days in New York, they receive some of the legal rights and protections of a tenant. Thereafter, the lawful owner must go through the courts to have the individual evicted.

In order to discourage the neglect of properties and reward the use of land, the principles of adverse possession were established. And squatting is tied to adverse possession. In New York, if an individual openly, exclusively, and continuously occupies a space for at least 10 years, pays the taxes, acts like the space’s owner, and can demonstrate “color of title” (a document that claims title but does not convey ownership), they may then be deemed the lawful owner by a judge.


Squatter Stories in the News

Recently, several stories have made the news about squatters occupying homes in the New York City area. In Flushing, Queens, a legal homeowner was arrested for changing the locks on her home after she found two men camping inside of it. In another section of Queens, an individual was claiming to be the rightful tenant of a home that a family had recently purchased for $2 million. That individual refused to move out. In the Rockaways, police found an unlawful resident in a home full of malnourished animals, DJ equipment, and drugs.

Most seriously, a woman was murdered in Manhattan when she checked on her late mother’s vacant home. When she entered, a pair of teens were found squatting in the residence. After an altercation, the woman died of a head injury. The teens are currently charged with the woman’s murder.

However, some experts say these incidents are outliers and the increase in concern over squatters may be due to fearmongering in a difficult housing market. For those in the field, squatter cases have been and remain relatively rare.


New York’s New Anti Squatter Law

As part of New York’s 2025 budget, legislation was included to change the state’s property law. In particular, the change specifies that “a tenant should not include a squatter.” Over this past weekend, the Governor has signed off on the change. It is unclear from the press release when the new law will take effect. The aim of this change is to make it easier for police to intervene in cases when someone enters a home without permission or legal paperwork.



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