Squatting on rise in southwest Miami-Dade

Squatter cases up 188 percent, nearly tripled from 2011 to 2012

MIAMI - In South Florida, we've seen the confrontations, witnessed the confusion, and watched the consternation that has all been caused by squatters.

"She doesn't belong here," one neighbor said of a suspected squatter in southwest Miami-Dade. "She's not paying for anything. It's ridiculous!"

According to police reports, her neighbor Kenia Souto has been in a $415,000 home for nearly a year and a half.

Local 10's Ross Palombo knocked on Souto's door.

"Do you own the home?" asked Palombo.

"I have no idea," said Souto.

"You have no idea? Well, what are you doing inside the home?" asked Palombo.

There was no answer. Police say they can do little to stop it.

"We don't get involved," a Miami-Dade police officer told Local 10.

"So, even if they are squatting, there's nothing you can do?" Palombo asked.

"Right, no," said the officer.

Squatter cases in Miami-Dade are on the rise. They are up 188 percent and have nearly tripled from 2011 to 2012. This year, it's on the rise again.

"How bad is it?" Palombo asked Miami-Dade police.

"It's on the rise," said Sgt. William Houston. "It probably is going to double or triple."

"It's drawn the attention of my office," said Miami-Dade appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera.

Lopez-Cantera said he is now noticing more squatters trying to stay legally.

Like in the infamous Boca Raton case just a few months ago, anyone squatting in Florida and paying property taxes for seven consecutive years has a claim to own it.

In Miami-Dade, those once-rare cases have now jumped 133 percent from 2011 to 2012 and are now on track this year to more than double again.

"To see a 100 percent increase year over year is shocking and scary," said Lopez-Cantera.

To most, the biggest shock and scare is how easy it has all been.

With no obvious signs of breaking and entering, police say there is no obvious or legal way for them to get involved.

"It's sad and shocking at the same time," said Houston.

That pushes everything into a legal haze. One case in southwest Miami-Dade has been in litigation for 16 months.

"A lot of times they have to take a civil remedy versus a criminal remedy," said Houston.

"That's hard to hear when you're a homeowner," Palombo interjected.

"No, I understand that. I wouldn't want anyone living in my home," said Houston.

Now, those who do live near it are left wondering if this growing crime, called "squatting" can get any lower.

"Seems like anyone can just go into a house and live there," said one neighbor. "Something has got to be done."

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