Squatting trend at tipping point as migrants coach others how to exploit laws; experts warn, ‘Damage is done’

Squatting laws have become a frequent target of exploitation by savvy criminals who fraudulently move into vacant homes across the nation. Experts warn that the problem could be compounded by the ongoing immigration crisis, with migrants catching wind of the laws and taking advantage of them. “I have thought about invading a house in the United States,” migrant Leonel Moreno said in Spanish in a TikTok video that went viral last month. “I found out that there is a law that says that if a house is not inhabited, we can seize it.”Moreno, dubbed the “migrant influencer,” is a Venezuelan national who was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week after bolting from a border patrol program. He is being detained in Ohio. But prior to his capture, he managed to draw a million followers on TikTok and claimed he was pulling in $1,000 a day as an influencer on the app on top of receiving $350 a month in government handouts. His TikTok account is now inactive, but his messages urging fellow migrants to take over homes continue circulating online. A LOOK INSIDE BIDEN’S BORDER CRISISSquatter laws vary from state to state and even city to city. New York City has some of the most lenient laws toward squatters, allowing people to claim squatters’ rights after living on a property just 30 days. Under New York state law, people can claim squatters’ rights after living on a property for at least 10 years. The Big Apple’s law has had monumental consequences for a handful of New Yorkers in the last few weeks alone, with one Queens homeowner put in handcuffs last month after trying to force alleged squatters from her home, Fox News Digital previously reported. Another woman was allegedly killed by squatters last month in her mother’s New York City apartment. Another pair of squatters were found fraudulently living in an abandoned home on Long Island earlier this year after forging the dead owner’s name on a lease. TIKTOKER GOES VIRAL EXPLAINING HOW ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF SQUATTING LAWSFox News Digital spoke with Republican New York state Sen. Mario Mattera, who introduced a bill last month that would allow police to immediately remove suspected squatters based on a homeowner’s sworn complaint. He warned that the migrant crisis would fan the flames of squatting trends, pointing to Moreno’s viral TikTok as proof the “damage is already done.” “Look at what just happened with the illegal migrant going on TikTok … and saying to everybody, ‘This is what you need to do. You could go do this. Go find vacant homes. Go do what you could do.’ … Yes, he got arrested, but the damage is done already,” Mattera said. Mattera pinned blame on Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams for not rescinding sanctuary city and state policies in their respective jurisdictions, saying the Democratic leaders have “enabled” migrants. “The [migrants] don’t want to go to work. They’re like, ‘You brought me here. Now you take care of me.’ The governor and the mayor could have signed an executive order … rescinding the sanctuary state and the sanctuary city [policies]. Please, all New Yorkers understand that, and call the governor, call the mayor of New York, and ask them: What are you doing to fix this disaster that they both created?” he said. QUEENS SQUATTERS FLEE $1 MILLION HOME AFTER STAND-OFF WITH HOMEOWNER, VISIT FROM ‘VIGILANTES’: REPORTLast week, the NYPD busted eight migrant squatters who allegedly took over a Bronx property, and they found guns and drugs. The New York Post reported six of the eight migrant squatters had been released without bail. James Burling, vice president of legal affairs at the Pacific Legal Foundation, said there are three critical factors that have brought the U.S. to a tipping point regarding squatting issues: the pandemic era’s eviction moratoriums, housing shortages in certain states and immigration. “It’s the culmination of years and years of the inability to build enough housing to meet demand. And you combine those three things together, and it’s an impetus to squat,” Burling said. “And it’s a governmental, if you will, acquiescence to squatting. That, combined with the publicity that – now immigrants are talking about how to do it – these are three things I think are tipping in the favor of more squatting and more problems for landowners.”At least 7.2 million illegal migrants have entered the U.S. since President Biden took office in 2021, which is more than the population of 36 individual states.Burling pointed to Alex Vasudevan’s 2017 book, “The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting,” which explains how squatting has increased in Europe in recent years, most notably in France, Greece, Italy and Spain. This, he claims, is a result of migrants and refugees from outside Europe flocking to the continent for housing. LA SQUATTERS TAKE LUXURY HOLLYWOOD HILLS MANSION, RENT ROOMS TO ONLYFANS MODELS: REPORT”If I was going to think, ‘I want to squat. I don’t want to pay for it. And maybe I can believe this guy on the internet, the TikToker,’ I’m going to, of course, go to a city that’s going to make it very difficult to evict me. And my first choice might be New York, second might be Los Angeles or San Francisco or a city like that, where the hard left seems to hold squatting in some kind of esteem,” Burling said. Fox News Digital reached out to the mayors Los Angeles, New York City, Portland and Seattle asking if they are concerned the recent influx of migrants to the U.S. could worsen squatting trends through the exploitation of laws but did not receive any responses. Fox News Digital also reached out to Hochul and California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s offices but did not receive replies. Atlanta has also seen a massive increase of squatters. A report earlier this year found squatters have taken over 1,200 homes in Atlanta, the National Rental Home Council trade group reported. Some have become hotbeds for drug use and prostitution. The Atlanta mayor’s office did not provide comment to Fox News Digital regarding whether it is concerned the migrant crisis could worsen squatting issues. The office of Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp rallied around legislation that recently passed the state’s House and Senate. “Every day we are hearing of stories of homeowners in states across the country who have been victim to this nationwide crisis. We are grateful for our legislative partners in the General Assembly who have kept this issue front of mind and have passed legislation designed to tackle this issue head on,” Kemp spokesman Garrison Douglas told Fox Digital. The bill would give suspected squatters three days to provide documentation proving they can legally live in a house. If they fail to provide the documents, they are booted from the home and could face misdemeanor trespassing charges. Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law last month “eliminating squatters’ rights.” It allows property owners to call on the sheriff’s office to immediately remove squatters from their homes if the suspects are unable to produce documents authorizing their residency by the property owner. “You are not going to be able to commandeer somebody’s private property and expect to get away with it. We are in the state of Florida ending the squatter scam once and for all,” DeSantis said during a press conference in Orlando. ‘ONLYFANS’ SQUATTER ALLEGEDLY INSTALLS STRIPPER POLE, TRASHES $900K HOME”They’re siding with the squatters,” DeSantis said of Democrat-led states. “In fact, we have seen squatters move in and claim residence. This forces a massive, long, drawn-out judicial review before they can even be removed from the property. These are people that never had a right to be in the property to begin with. “Earlier this month in New York, a woman returned to a property she inherited to find squatters living there. She changed the locks to get them out, and the state of New York arrested her instead of the squatters.”Mattera’s bill in New York to strengthen laws protecting legal homeowners from squatters is styled after Florida’s new law. Retired Riverside, Illinois, Police Chief Tom Weitzel spoke to Fox News Digital last week, warning that squatters in the U.S. are already very savvy and that migrants are and will likely be coached on how to pull off the same scam. “Squatters know when a house is vacant or vacant for sale. They watch your house. A day before they ‘squat,’ they order an Amazon, UPS or other delivery package with their name and the property address of the home they are going to take over,” Weitzel said of the squatting trend. “You then find out someone is in your house. You call the police. They show the package with their name and the property address and tell the police they rented the house, and the police now say it’s a civil matter. You now must file eviction paperwork. Six to 18 months is typical for the eviction process or you settle a ‘cash for keys’, usually $2,000 to $5,000 to get possession of your property back. Extortion. This must be addressed by Congress now.” ALLEGED ‘SERIAL SQUATTER’ FLEES HOME BUT LEAVES BEHIND TRASH, PUTRID STENCH: OWNER When discussing the viral TikTok video, Weitzel said it’s likely Moreno was coached on how to spread the information to fellow migrants on how to take over a home. “I think he was coached on information online because it is complicated. In fact, it’s so complicated, that it’s different from state to state. It’s not a universal statute throughout the United States. So, I think he was coached. I think he had a platform, already had a large following on TikTok. So, he had a platform to be put out there,” Weitzel said, adding migrants looking to squat will “without a doubt” target cities and states with lax laws on squatting. Weitzel has previously spoken to Fox News Digital about other crime trends in the U.S. and how the immigration crisis is adding to the stats, including how migrants are “coached” on how to conduct shoplifting crimes in quiet, suburban malls miles away from cities such as Chicago. “They don’t come over from Venezuela, for example, knowing the ins and outs of the federal statutes here in the United States. They’re being told, they’re being coached. They’re being told where to go look for, where to go research on Google or what phrases to use. And then they’re going out, and they’re executing it. And now they’re being encouraged to put it out on their social media platforms,” the retired police chief said. Weitzel noted that police have their hands tied during squatting disputes and must follow state or city laws, even in situations such as the one in Queens where a legal homeowner was arrested after changing the locks on her property in a bid to keep squatters out. Under New York law, it’s illegal to turn off any utilities or change the locks of a home where someone says they are a tenant. AMERICANS FROM COAST TO COAST TERRORIZED BY BIZARRE SQUATTING INCIDENTS IN 2023Squatter cases have cropped up in Illinois in recent years, most notably in the Chicago area, though the state has tight laws requiring suspected squatters continuously live on a property for 20 years to claim rights to the home. Burling explained to Fox News Digital that squatting trends stretch back decades in the U.S., including in the late 1960s in New York City as part of a social movement known as “Operation Move-In.” The movement included people taking over buildings that sat abandoned or weren’t properly looked after by the city housing authorities.CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP”It was a cause celebre … in favor of the squatting, as the book talks about similar places in Europe, where squatting has a cache of acceptance and a cache of being socially progressive and forward,” Burling said. “In some places like New York, there are people who celebrate squatting. In other [cities, it] is just people in the city government have a great antipathy towards landlords and have made it increasingly difficult to have a landlord evict a tenant for non-payment or for being a nuisance to the neighbors, or whatever the reasons why a landlord might want to evict somebody. “It’s very difficult in some of these cities, and squatters are able to take advantage of it. Now, squatters aren’t tenants per se, but they’re able to take advantage of the same laws and the same lack of enforcement of laws that landlords face in trying to get rid of problem tenants.” Mattera is hoping New York will address its squatter issues head-on by passing his bill to help stop “the bleeding” from squatter issues. “We need to fix this now so we can stop the bleeding,” Mattera said. “The bleeding needs to stop. People are getting hurt. People are getting killed. And what are we doing? Guess what, my bill gives the tools to all law enforcement to do their job.”
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