Opinion: ‘Squatters’ Shouldn’t Be Considered Tenants


Assemblyman Keith P. Brown (R,C-Northport) attends a press conference in Albany on March 27 to address the high number of squatting-related incidents happening statewide.

Nadia Vitels, a 52-year-old mother, was brutally killed, allegedly by two squatters who had been occupying her late mother’s New York City apartment. Police believe Nadia was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, walking in on the squatters, who then beat her to death and fled the apartment in her car. The sad truth is, even if Nadia had discovered the two squatters, been attacked and somehow escaped, it still would have been extremely difficult for her to remove them from an apartment under current New York law.

It is truly horrific that current property laws in our state, for whatever reason, protect the rights of squatters over the rights of New York families. This creates a maze of red tape that many homeowners statewide continue to sift through simply to have the right to deny a stranger the ability to move into and live in their home. This is unacceptable and needs to change to protect New Yorkers like Nadia who have encountered the dangerous consequences of protecting squatters’ rights. I fully support my fellow Assembly Republican colleagues aiming to create a difference between ‘squatter’ and ’tenant.’

The Democratic Socialists of America openly state they are working to decommodify housing and land. They are doing this by pushing an agenda to cancel rent, close eviction courts and acquire private property in order to transform these properties into public housing as landlords are driven out of state. Karl Marx said, “The theory of Communism may be summed up in one sentence: Abolish all private property.”

 While the Democratic Socialists of America aim to make all housing throughout our state and nation public housing, this idea does not work in practice. Abolishing private property and infringing on the rights of property owners and landlords will only contribute to the growing housing crisis wreaking havoc at a state and federal level.

On social media platforms like TikTok, we have also seen undocumented migrants who have entered the state sending out videos and “tips” about how to essentially seize property from New York citizens. Incoming migrants are well aware of the 30-day rule in place for squatters who move into unoccupied houses and are promoting the act of trespassing via living in these unoccupied homes for 30 days—or simply claiming to have lived there for 30 days—in order to be considered “tenants” under the law. This is an attack on New York homeowners and families, and is a direct and imminent threat to public safety.

If you recall the film Pacific Heights from 1990—a film that tells the story of a couple who renovate their dream home but are subjected to an intense legal battle with a “tenant” who moves in and attempts to steal their home from them—you are aware these squatting-related incidents spreading throughout the state and country have persisted for many years. It’s time we put an end to this terrifying problem to give homeowners peace of mind.

If a New York homeowner or family falls victim to a squatter, they should have the right and the legal power to expeditiously force that person—that stranger—from their residence. Squatting should, and needs to be, considered trespassing under the law. Period.

Assemblyman Keith P. Brown represents the 12th Assembly District, which includes parts of Suffolk County, encompassing the vibrant towns of Huntington, Babylon and Islip. Brown’s Assembly website.

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