Maybe it’s the dismal housing market that forced many to walk away from their mortgages.
Perhaps, you can even blame Andre “Loki Boy” Barbosa, who now infamously remained holed up in a Boca Raton mansion for more than a month under Florida’s adverse possession law.
Whoever is at fault, leaders in Pembroke Pines plan to confront the potential scourge of “squatters” on Wednesday with a new law that would only allow property owners to open water and sewer accounts with the city.
“Right now a squatter can come into our water department and present a lease or what purports to be a lease,” Vice Mayor Carl Shechter said. “They give them $100 and the water is turned on.”
The bottom line is the city does not want any free loaders living in empty properties.
There has only been one sighting, so far, somewhere in District 1 of the city, Shechter said.
But city workers promise there are many more.
“They notified me that it was not just in the eastern section,” he said. “I was assured that this was a city-wide problem.”
The system outlined in the ordinance would allow them to police squatters through the water department. If a resident cannot present proof of occupancy, possibly in the form of an affidavit, then code enforcement can fine them for violating the local law or put a lien on the property, Shecter said.
The plan is to remove all convenience.
“If you have water and electric you can live in a place quite comfortably,” Shechter said.
The “Loki Boy” squabble taught many a quick lesson in civics. Municipalities cannot just evict someone who they believe to be a trespasser. Calling police doesn’t help much either, if the occupant has a lease.
It’s a civil matter, police say.
Yet the many empty houses make for prime staking grounds for squatters who want to live life rent and mortgage-free.
A bold few file for adverse possession, a state law that allows a person living in a home to claim ownership if they remain there for at least seven years.
Since “Loki Boy” invoked the law, there has been a small uptick in filings, said Broward County Property Appraiser Lori Parrish.
“It’s an old antiquated law,” Parrish said.
It was an effective policy when most of the state was undeveloped fields and swamps. Lawmakers were willing to allow someone to occupy the land so long as it didn’t go to waste.
“If you mowed it, farmed it and fenced it — it was yours,” Parrish said. “[The law] just needs to be gone.”
Are there thousands of squatters? No, I don’t think so, Parrish said.
Her office received 48 adverse possession petitions in the past year. There are 14 active applications now, but only because they sent back the incomplete forms.
Two pieces of legislation are in the statehouse proposing to amend the requirements for those claiming ownership under the law.
But who knows how that will turn out.
Meanwhile in Pembroke Pines, one squatter is one too many.
The commission meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at 10100 Pembroke Pines Blvd.