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Squatters in Florida are increasingly moving into derelict boats dumped along the coast, according to authorities working to clear the boats and squatters. 

“We’ve seen a tremendous increase, actually, throughout the county,” Martin County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Michael Dougherty told local media last week. “You’ll have vagrants squatting on the boat, it falling apart, there have been several instances where the boats have come loose and ran into the docks.”

The Martin County Sheriff’s Office says it has long dealt with derelict boats left to rot along the Florida coast, but now, authorities say homeless individuals are increasingly taking up residence on the boats. The county is situated along Florida’s southeastern coast and includes cities such as Jupiter Island and Jensen Beach. 

Authorities cite cost of living issues for the increase of squatters and homeless people moving onto the boats. Derelict boats are defined as vessels found in waterways with at least two violations, which can range from having not motor to leaking fuel. Dumping derelict boats is a state crime that could lead to jail time or fines.

FLORIDA POLICE DISMANTLE SQUATTERS’ BOOBY-TRAPPED ‘METH ISLAND’

County commissioners recently amended an ordinance that gives more power to law enforcement and the harbormaster to remove such boats. Boats ruled derelict can now be tagged by authorities, who then contact the boat’s owner, NBC Miami reported. If no action is taken in 21 days, authorities can dispose of the boat – which comes at a big cost for taxpayers. 

“It can be anywhere from $6,000 and upwards,” Dougherty told the outlet. “Astronomical amounts of money.”

The boats and squatters have also had negative impacts on businesses that rely on showing tourists Florida’s waterways and beaches. 

SQUATTERS TURNING FLORIDA NEIGHBORHOOD INTO ‘NIGHTMARE’ AS COPS LEFT ‘HANDCUFFED’: REPORT

“This time of year is our busiest … with the snowbirds making their way down,”Giles Murphy, who owns Stuart Angler Bait & Tackle, told WPTV. “A lot of them are seeing these derelict boats and being like, ‘What’s up with these boats?’ It’s a real eyesore. The attraction of our waters to anglers to get out there and fish, and tourists and stuff, I mean, we need to keep it looking good.”

Sheriff's Office boat

In addition to the derelict boats, the sheriff’s office has recently been dealing with abandoned boats that appear to have transported migrants to the U.S. 

Florida, similar to other states across the nation, has been dealing with repeated instances of squatters moving into abandoned homes or forging documents to make it appear they own a home. 

SQUATTER SPOTTED CRUISING IN HOMEOWNER’S CAR AFTER SETTING UP GAME ROOM

Roughly 160 miles up the coast from Martin County, squatters took over an area located near the Dunlawton Bridge in Port Orange, dubbed by social media commenters as “Meth Island.” Squatters built makeshift wooden structures, including an elaborate four-story tree house, and other huts made out of what appeared to be old lumber and tree branches. 

Florida treehouse on so-called "meth island"

They also installed a trampoline and appeared to be in the middle of constructing a pool on the island, footage of the scene published by authorities showed. To deter visitors, the squatters even allegedly outfitted the island with booby traps. 

SQUATTERS TAKE OVER FLORIDA ‘METH ISLAND,’ BUILD ELABORATE TREE HOUSE AND INSTALL TRAMPOLINE

Authorities there began dismantling the sheds last June. 

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While residents of a neighborhood in Winter Park, Florida, in September said squatters have created a “nightmare” situation and have not been evicted citing how the police department is “handcuffed” from doing anything. Additionally, an alleged squatter in Fort Myers, Florida, was arrested in November after making himself cozy in a private residence, including setting up a PlayStation console in the bedroom and driving the homeowner’s car. 

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