Republicans Urge NJ Legislature To Crack Down On Illegal Squatters

Senators Doug Steinhardt and Michael Testa are calling on the New Jersey Legislature to advance their measure that would criminalize the unlawful occupancy of a dwelling, also known as “squatting.”

“I am calling on the Legislature to take immediate action on this bill,” said Steinhardt. “If someone breaks into a home and begins living there, the property owner should have every right to evict that individual without delay. We can no longer allow people to abuse the system, sometimes for years, and face no consequences.”

Under current law, squatting is not a criminal act. It is a civil matter that requires the property owner to file a claim to evict, which often takes years to resolve.

“Squatting has been an issue in New Jersey for some time, but now there are individuals boasting about how undocumented immigrants can ‘invade’ homes using loopholes in our laws,” said Testa.  “By passing this bill, we can start holding the criminals who terrorize homeowners and neighborhoods across New Jersey accountable,” said Testa.

S-725 would create three criminal offenses: housebreaking, unlawful occupancy, and unlawful reentry—all crimes of the fourth degree. They would be defined as:

•    Housebreaking: When a person who forcibly enters an uninhabited or vacant dwelling knowing or having reason to believe that such entry is without permission of the owner of the dwelling, with the intent to take up residence.

•    Unlawful Occupancy: When a person who takes up residence in an uninhabited or vacant dwelling and knows or has reason to believe that such residency is without permission of the owner of the dwelling.

•    Unlawful reentry: A person commits unlawful reentry if an owner of real property has recovered possession of the property from the person pursuant to a court order and, without the authority of the court or permission of the owner, the person reenters the property.

“It can be extremely difficult, time-consuming, and expensive for a homeowner to get their property back when it’s occupied by squatters,” concluded Steinhardt. “Our legislation would provide law enforcement with new tools to remove squatters quickly and prevent the long-term damage to homes and communities they often cause.”

Additionally, Sen. Steinhardt is drafting a second bill that would expedite proceedings against squatters and make the squatter liable to the property owner for damages. legal fees, and costs.

Under this bill, a property owner can file for a 72 hour plenary eviction proceeding in the superior court and avoid landlord tenant court if they can certify via verified complaint that they are the owner or lawful manager of the property, the squatter was never a tenant (and therefore not entitled to protections of the fair tenant eviction act), never had a written lease, never paid rent, and never had written permission from the property owner or manager to be in or on the property.

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