The Senate Criminal Justice Committee advanced Senate Bill 888, which would streamline the process for property owners to remove unauthorized occupants by involving the sheriff’s office, despite criticism over potential harm to renters’ rights.
The Criminal Justice Committee on Tuesday advanced legislation intending to strengthen property owners’ rights to remove unauthorized occupants from residential properties.
The legislation, Senate Bill 888, introduced by Sen. Keith Perry, outlines a procedure that allows property owners to engage the sheriff’s office directly in the process of removing individuals who occupy residential properties without authorization.
Under the bill’s purview, property owners must first request the unauthorized person to vacate the premises. If the occupant refuses, the property owner is then required to file a sworn complaint with the sheriff, detailing the unauthorized occupancy. Upon verifying the property ownership and the validity of the complaint, the sheriff is mandated to remove the unauthorized person from the property.
The bill defines unauthorized persons as those who are neither tenants nor immediate family members of the property owner and who do not have permission to occupy the property.
“This is one of the most important things we can do,” said Perry. “We’re here to protect people’s rights and their property, and we have to make sure we do that.”
During public testimony, opponents of the bill, including representatives of Florida Rising and the Southern Poverty Law Center, called for a reevaluation of the legislation to ensure it doesn’t inadvertently harm renters or simplify the eviction process without adequate safeguards.
“SB 888, as it stands, is a dangerous piece of legislation that poses a significant threat to the rights of renters,” said Jackson Oberlink with Florida Rising. “This bill lumps renters together with unauthorized occupants creating a dangerous pool for abusive landlords to exploit and displace families from their homes. It puts renters at risk of forcible removal without a fair day in court, stripping away due process and leaving them vulnerable to arbitrary eviction.”
Sen. Jason Pizzo, who voted yes on the legislation, retorted, providing personal anecdotes regarding his experience with squatters.
“I have had a squatter before in another state,” Pizzo said. “I had my insurance agent telling me you need to get them out of there because you are not covered, and you are liable.”
Sen. Clay Yarborough also spoke in favor of the measure, contending that tangible steps to evict unauthorized individuals are necessary.
“We have to have a standard, there has to be an opportunity for a rightful owner of real property or a house or other personal property to be able to maintain their ownership and control of what is their property,” he said.