New York State Sen. Mario Mattera and Assembly member Ed Flood introduced new legislation last week that aims to make it easier for property owners to remove squatters from their land.

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A new bill from New York Republicans aims to roll back so-called “squatters rights” in the style of a similar bill recently passed in Florida. 

The measure, proposed by Republican State Sen. Mario Mattera and Assembly Member Ed Flood, also a Republican, aims to make it easier for property owners to remove squatters from their land. It’s part of a larger set of bills that aim to stop squatters from exploiting the legal rights afforded to legal tenants, as reported by the The Real Deal.

The thrust of the measure is to shift the burden of proof from the property owner to the accused squatter, putting the onus on the accused to demonstrate their right to occupy that property. 

The measure also includes provisions to prevent property owners from misusing them. If an owner wrongfully removes somebody, the tenant can file a civil complaint and is entitled to damages equal to three times the apartment’s rent along with court costs and attorney fees. 

The main target of the legislation is a section of New York property law that defines a tenant as an occupant “who has been in possession for 30 consecutive days or longer.” Once a squatter is legally a tenant, they can only be removed through a formal eviction process that can take up to two years or longer in New York.  

The proposed measure comes amid a wave of media attention and viral stories regarding squatters, such as the viral TikTok from Venezuelan national Leonel Moreno, who advised immigrants to take advantage of squatters’ rights laws and “invade” and “seize” empty houses.

Moreno’s comments were picked up by national news outlets including Fox News, the New York Post, and the Daily Mail. In March, the newsmagazine Inside Edition claimed the nation has seen an “explosion” of squatting cases recently. 

Actual data on squatting however remains scant, as Inman has reported, with headlines about squatting much easier to find than actual data, with widely used crime databases such as the ones produced by the FBI and the Public Policy Institute of California not even tracking the metric. 

In New York, attorneys for both landlords and tenants recently told Gothamist that the issue is a rarity despite the increase in headlines. 

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