New York Eviction Law – Who is a Squatter?

suqs-225x300Recently in the news is a story about a couple who purchased a house in Queens after foreclosure.  After they completed their purchase, they discovered a “squatter” living in the house.  This story raises the question of who is legally defined as a squatter, and how can such a person be evicted?

First, let it be said that this is by no means an unusual course of events in New York.  New York State laws, as well as many Judges in the landlord-tenant Courts, are notoriously “pro-tenant,” making it difficult to evict anyone, even squatters.  Changes in New York Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law, which governs eviction procedure, have made it even more difficult to complete an eviction process.  Even in situations in which the tenant has already been evicted, the tenant in many cases may seek a temporary injunction to allow him to move back into the premises, even if the eviction was done completely and lawfully.

The “squatter” in the Queens case turned out to be a handyman who claimed that the former owner of the premises gave him permission to reside at the premises.  This moves him out of the category of squatter, as a squatter under the law is an individual who was never given consent, by any owner or former owner, to reside at the premises.  Under the law, the handyman would be considered an alleged “licensee.”   A licensee is someone who was allowed to live at the property by the owner without a lease or payment of rent, such as a girlfriend or boyfriend of the owner, or in this case, a handyman who claims to have permission from the former owner.

How can a licensee be evicted?  The first step is for the current owner to have an experienced attorney issue a notice to the licensee revoking the license.  This notice should be in writing, and served pursuant to New York Law.  Our firm does not recommend the owner prepare and send his own notice, as it may not be in compliance with all of the applicable laws and regulations.  Qualified counsel should prepare and have the notice served.  Under Subsection 7 of Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (Section 713), the owner can terminate the license after issuing and serving a ten-day notice to quit.  If the individual does not vacate within ten days, an eviction action can be brought in the appropriate legal forum.

What about a pure “squatter,” who has no consent to occupy the premises?  In that situation a ten-day notice to vacate should also be served on the occupant, followed by a holdover eviction action.  If the occupant’s name is unknown, the notice can be served on “John Doe” and/or “Jane Doe”, with the correct names being inserted when and if the owner and his attorney becomes aware of same.  Once the ten days have expired, an eviction action should be brought seeking possession of the premises.

Our firm handles all types of eviction matters, including those where a traditional landlord-tenant relationship does not exist, and looks forward to your inquiries.


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