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Squatting In Homes Has Become Too Easy

New York City’s squatter laws, and America’s other “pro tenant” legislation, shows that we’re moving away from respect for property rights.

April 1, 2024

Imagine that you learn a group of people have broken into a home you own and are taking up residence. You change the locks and go kick them out, but they refuse to leave. The police are called. But you, the property owner, are arrested. 

If that sounds ridiculous, you’re right. It’s also something that happened in New York City in March. A Queens woman was arrested and charged with an unlawful eviction for attempting to remove a group of squatters from a home she owned. The situation reflects an approach to tenant’s rights that leaves landlords abused, eviction court systems overburdened, and that ultimately drives up rents. And it’s not just a New York problem, nor one pertaining to squatters. The larger issue is the increase in so-called “pro-tenant” legislation that has exceeded all common sense and is distorting rental housing markets nationwide. 

New York City has particularly generous “squatter’s rights” rules. Enacted to prevent overzealous evictions, writes the New York Post, the rule allows people residing on a property for over 30 days to gain tenant’s rights, regardless of how they came onto the property. It has resulted in situations like a repairman claiming squatter’s rights on a property, the Post reported, and a rabbi being unable to evict a defiant guest who he first took in benevolently during Covid. 

Elsewhere, an investigation by the National Rental Home Council found that a shocking 1,200 rental properties in Atlanta were being occupied by squatters. And a growing number of anecdotes exist elsewhere. In Cleveland, an owner of properties that focus on providing addiction treatment homes was locked out of one by a squatter and found the unit trashed. A squatter in Texas invoked a fraudulent lease

In response, some jurisdictions are tightening down on previously lenient approaches. In response to the Queens incident, a New York state assemblyman introduced legislation that pushes out the timeframe for claiming tenancy rights. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a bill letting police “immediately remove” anyone without a valid lease who was occupying a property against the owners’ will, and makes squatting while willfully causing more than $1,000 in damage a felony.  

In New York City, landlords can still remove squatters so long as they undergo a formal eviction process and squatters are found to be occupying the property illegally. But that process is costly and lengthy, and requires disproving the shenanigans the squatter may have unfurled, such as creating fake titles and leases, or subleasing to other renters who remain there. And the problem goes beyond “squatting” per se. It speaks to a larger trend by cities and states to violate property rights on behalf of dubiously defined “tenant protections”. 

New York City has long had lenient policies in general. National Review’s Bobby Miller writes that the city’s rental regulations on units built between 1943 and 1973 “effectively permits renters to remain in a unit in perpetuity, giving the landlord no way to evict them, even if they are delinquent on rent.” Miller argues that this is unconstitutional. 

Tenant protection laws aim to make it harder to evict tenants or significantly increase rent. They’re often vague; a New Jersey law forbids “unconscionable” rent increases, but does not define what “unconscionable” means. States like Oregon make landlords differentiate between “no cause” and “just cause” eviction—as if that should matter, given they are the property owners and should have the right to extend leases at their discretion. The eviction process is difficult in either case; while staying at a Portland Airbnb, my elderly host described the nightmare she endured trying to get a meth addict out of the very home she lived in and shared with him. She has since switched to Airbnb, which has a more straightforward check-out process. 

Which speaks to the economic ramifications of these supposedly “pro-tenant” laws. They add immense risk both to property owners and the housing market overall. Large corporations have a difficult enough time pricing in that risk, but it’s particularly hard for smaller landlords with less funds to handle the court battles and opportunity costs of unpaid rent. When New York state passed a law restricting rent increases, one bank stopped lending to New York’s “rent-stabilized” properties because the law limited return on investment. Maintenance predictably declined and rental properties are moved off the market, converted either to condos or Airbnbs.

Lenient policies exist to protect duly-leased tenants from abusive eviction tactics by landlords, but there are better ways to deal with that problem than seemingly giving unauthorized tenants carte blanche to drag a justified eviction out in the courts. Proposals to register (and digitize) all leases and titles with the city immediately is a start. But left-wing political mentalities—which view tenants as having greater rights to a property than the owner—are the main culprit.

This article featured additional reporting from Market Urbanist content staffer Ethan Finlan.

Cover image use authorized under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Scott Beyer is a Catalyst Columnist Fellow on a 1.5-year research project through the Global South for Catalyst’s Market Urbanism Around the World series. He is the owner of Market Urbanism Report, a media company that advances free-market city policy. He is also an urban affairs journalist who writes regular columns for Forbes, Governing Magazine,, and Catalyst. Follow him on Twitter: @marketurbanist.
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