Patti Peeples, a Florida homeowner, fell victim to squatting, just as she had received an offer for her property.

It took 36 days for the squatters to be evicted from Peeples’ property and thousands of dollars to repair the damage they left behind. 

This happened to Peeples just around a year ago, but her squatter story didn’t end there. Since she was personally affected by squatting, she continued to bring attention and awareness to her story. Peeoples’ experience contributed to the passage of a Florida bill that gave property rights to homeowners and kept them out of the hands of squatters. 

“I certainly would have never anticipated that my personal experience would have motivated a state law change and, in fact, movement around the United States, with regard to criminal charges against squatters,” Peeples told Fox News Digital in a phone interview. 

“I’m amazed, surprised, and really, really encouraged that this particular case of mine showed me and I hope shows others that our legislatures can listen to everyday citizens and sometimes actually seek to efficiently make new laws to address common everyday problems.”

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“Squatting is a nationwide issue. We don’t really know how prevalent it is because, sadly, there is no organization that keeps track of squatting cases. But what we do know, thanks to the strong and fine work of local and national organizations, that a lot of the squatting tragedies are making their way to public viewing,” Peeples continued. 

Peeples said the public sharing of squatter stories like her own has allowed advocates to reach a government level.

After Rep. Kevin Steele and Sen. Keith Perry saw Peeples’ story on Fox News, the Florida homeowner said they contacted her and expressed interest in working together and addressing the problem.

“It’s a really great example where my story generated local news interest, local news interest generated national news interest and national coverage inspired state legislatures to act,” Peeples told Fox News Digital. “I think that’s really how things should work in our country. It demonstrates the value of the free press. It demonstrates that legislators can work, in my particular case, bipartisanly. So, I think there are a lot of wins out of this that are bigger than squatting, specifically, and certainly bigger than my case.”

When the Florida bill was under consideration, Peeples was invited to provide testimony before the Florida Senate and the House committees. 

Peeples described herself to Fox News Digital as a “researcher” who tends to “deal specifically in facts” when she presents.

She shared that she had little time to prepare her testimony and only one to three minutes to speak. On her drive to Tallahassee, she thought about what she wanted to express and found that an approach of simply telling her story, to speak to legislators’ vulnerabilities and concerns, was the best route to take.

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“Imagine for a moment that you leave from your day of serving the citizens of Florida … and you return to your home. But when you walk in, there are strangers sitting on your sofa, watching your TV and eating your food. You ask who they are and what are they doing, and they tell you that they have rented this house and present you with a ‘lease.’ Confused, you call the police and explain the situation and note that you are the rightful homeowner, and you have not rented your property,” Peeples said during her testimony, according to a document she shared with Fox News Digital. 

“The police arrive, and the strangers present the officers with a document showing they’ve rented your home, but it was leased by someone you don’t know and, in fact, the document isn’t even signed.”

The outside of a Florida landlord's rental home after being taken over by squatters

“The police will not arrest them. They will not remove them from the premises. In fact, it is you they will remove from your own house and tell you they have no jurisdiction. They know they are squatters and that the document is fraudulent. But they have absolutely no power in the situation. And the only way you can retain rights to your home is to move through the civil court system to evict or eject them, which gives those squatters a minimum of 20 days to prove they have the right to be there,” Peeples added. 

“They get to live in your house, rent-free, likely for months because the civil court system is clogged. You have to rent a hotel or find another place to stay. You can’t turn off the electricity or the water. You can’t change the locks or board up the windows. This scenario happened to me with a rental home that I was in the process of selling.”

On March 27, 2024, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed bill HB 621, which will go into effect July 1, 2024. The bill protects the rights of homeowners, provides remedies for them against squatters and increases penalties for those squatting. 

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“Squatters don’t discriminate. They just simply are looking for a place to stay, and you could go away for a weekend trip and come home and find squatters in your home. So, that’s not going to happen anymore in Florida,” Peeples said. 

“Furthermore, the fact that we got this bill passed here in the state of Florida has inspired New York, South Carolina, Georgia, Michigan and numerous other states to start action on developing property rights or anti-squatter bills. So, I think it has been a good template for other states to see how to go about legislating this particular issue in our nation.”

Peeples explained that even though the representative and senator from Florida she had many conversations with didn’t align with her politically, they were still able to see eye to eye on the issue of squatting. 

Patti Peeples standing outside

“Our party affiliations never ever came up in our initial working together. It wasn’t relevant,” Peeples explained. “[The bill] sailed through both parts of Congress and received 100% bipartisan support. That is a victory that is highly unusual in the United States of America today.” 

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Today, while continuing to spread awareness about squatting happening all over the nation, Peeples still remains a landlord with one rental property but doesn’t plan on starting any additional real estate ventures after her experience. 

“Both [of the rental properties] were in my neighborhood, but this other house is literally just down the street, and I feel like I’m a smarter, more savvy landlord now,” Peeples told Fox News Digital. “So, when it was vacant for three weeks, in between tenants, I took a number of precautions to keep it from being a target for squatters.”

“But, amazingly, some squatters moved in right next door to that house while mine was vacant, and they were in that next door house for several days. So, squatting is still common in my neighborhood. It’s common all over the United States.”

Damage in Patti Peeples home due to squatters

“I am still in real estate with just one house, and I have no intentions of purchasing any more. To me, real estate now is a really frightening, tricky and, quite frankly, expensive venture.” 

As for the squatters who took over her home a year ago, Peeples shared that one had “been arrested on charges of trespassing and criminal mischief.” 

Peeples was recently in court seeking damages for a “substantial amount.” 

“Because I showed up in court seeking damages, the judge postponed the arraignment for another month, I believe for evidence to be further submitted. And I’m seeking damages of a substantial amount that represent the costs that were not reimbursed by homeowners, such as my attorney fees, additional security measures, as well as substantial lost income,” Peeples said. 

“The day before the squatters broke in, I had received an offer on the house for full value of what it was posted to be sold at, and, of course, I had to let that offer go while the squatters were in, and then it took me 36 days to get the squatters out and then another month or more to repair the damage.”

“And then I was able to put the house back on the market. But in that several month timeframe, the housing market went down a little bit, and so the eventual offer that I received was for a significant sum lower than that first offer just before the squatters moved in. So, that is also lost income for me, potential income, and I’m seeking damages for that as well,” Peeples said. 

Peeples said she is unsure how the judge will rule, but it’s just one of the additional costs borne by her.

In addition to the substantial financial costs put on homeowners when a squatter is living on a property, Peeples highlighted the emotional toll one can endure, stating that she lost sleep and feared for her safety.

 

“They assaulted me and threatened me,” she said. “I still worry here at my own house, because the squatters know my address, that they will do something to my current property, to my pets, to me. And, so, these are all residual traumatic stresses that come out of being in the midst of a squatting situation.”

Peeples explained that it “troubles” her that property owners resort to violence to get rid of squatters, or hire others to help them remove squatters from their homes because the police have no power in these situations. 

“I chose to try to work within the law,” she said. “I think that’s the way that everyone should go, but if states don’t choose to change the law, then that’s going to be one of the only options available to people and that means violence will continue to occur.”

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