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New York Squatter Crisis Dismissed by Experts: 'Fearmongering'

1 week ago 25

Following several recent clashes between New York squatters and homeowners in recent weeks, experts are dismissing notions of a crisis as "fearmongering."

A squatter is any individual who decides to inhabit a piece of land or building they have no legal right to occupy, according to the American Apartment Owners Association. The squatter lives in the building or on the property they select without paying rent and without lawful documentation stating they own the property.

A series of recent incidents involving squatters has drawn scrutiny to New York's squatting laws, viewed as among the most lenient laws surrounding squatters across the United States. In New York State, if a squatter has been living in a home for 30 days, they obtain tenant rights and homeowners must go through a court eviction process to get rid of them and their belongings.

However, despite the ongoing concern of squatters, Eviction Lab spokesperson Camila Vallejo, whose organization tracks evictions and analyzes policy said the increase in concern over squatters may be due to "fearmongering" in a difficult housing market.

New York City Apartments
Apartment buildings in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. Experts are dismissing the so called squatter crisis as “fearmongering.” Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty Images

"We think there might be several things at play here [including] election-year fearmongering in a housing market that's increasingly difficult for working-class families to navigate," Vallejo told the Gothamist, a blog website.

In addition, some attorneys are say there is no increase in cases involving squatters to warrant branding New York a crisis zone.

In an email to Newsweek, attorney Samuel Himmelstein, who focuses on individual residential and commercial tenant and tenants' rights litigation, said squatter cases remain "relatively rare."

"While I have seen an increase in the press of stories relating to squatters, we have not seen an increase of these cases at our law firm. In fact squatter cases have been historically been and remain relatively rare. What we see more commonly are 'licensee holdovers'," said Himmelstein.

He explained that the difference between a squatter and a licensee is that "a squatter is someone who enters into and remains in possession of a premises without the permission of anyone entitled to permit them to do so," while a licensee is someone "whose initial possession was lawful, such as a roommate or a family member, but whose occupancy has become unlawful because the person entitled to possession, typically the tenant, has vacated and the alleged licensee has remained in possession."

Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney in the Law Reform Unit of the Civil Practice Area of the Legal Aid Society who represents tenants and public housing residents, reiterated the lack of squatter cases.

"It's a rise in press stories. The press stories are routinely getting the law wrong. It is simply untrue that if someone breaks into a dwelling unit that after 30 days that person becomes a tenant. The law is that if someone breaks into your home and lives there for 5 days, 30 days, four months, that you are a trespasser and are subject to arrest and the landlord does not have to go to court to evict you," Davidson told Newsweek via email.

Meanwhile, landlord attorney Daniel Pomerantz told Gothamist, the increase of squatter stories may be due to a chronic complaint among property owners, that the eviction process can take more than a year to complete amid long delays and a deep backlog of cases.

"That is the underlying problem. The big problem when the landlord or the owner tries to get them out is the delays in the court system that have not improved at all since COVID," he said.

Despite attorneys not seeing an increase in squatter cases, lawmakers are continuing to add to the conversation as New York legislators are pushing for new laws cracking down on illegal occupation.

New York State Senator Mario Mattera introduced a series of bills that would allow police to "swiftly" and "immediately" evict individuals from residential properties "based on a homeowner's sworn complaint and without court involvement of any kind," according to a press release from his office.

His bills would also redefine the definition of occupant to exclude squatters and trespassers.

Uncommon Knowledge

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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