Georgia governor signs bill to crack down on squatting

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(The Center Square) — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a measure to create a new offense of unlawful squatting following widespread reports in Georgia and beyond of squatters taking over people’s properties

House Bill 1017, the “Georgia Squatter Reform Act,” defines the crime as entering and residing on a property without an owner’s consent. Anyone cited for squatting has three business days to provide proof of their authorization to be on a property, such as a “properly executed lease or rental agreement or proof of rental payments.”

Otherwise, they face a criminal trespass charge.

“Squatters have been stealing the American dream of homeownership, and this bill puts a stop to that in Georgia,” Rep. Matt Reeves, R-Duluth, said in a statement.

If documentation is provided, a Magistrate Court will hold a hearing within seven days to determine whether the submitted documents are “meritorious.” Anyone who submits improper or fraudulent documentation faces a felony charge that carries up to a year in jail and additional fines for damages and rent based on the property’s fair market value.

Accused squatters can appeal the magistrate’s ruling.

In a statement, state Rep. Devan Seabaugh, R-Marietta, said the legislation “will empower Georgia’s property owners to address intrusive squatters in an effective manner” and makes it clear that squatters’ “actions are criminal and will face consequences.”

According to reports, Atlanta is among the cities facing the most squatters.

“All across Georgia, squatters have become a huge problem for property owners and tenants,” the Atlanta Realtors Association said on its website last month after the state Senate passed the bill. “They are illegally taking over properties, destroying them, causing havoc, and increasing crime in our neighborhoods.

“These properties held up by squatters could be put out for rent or put up for sale in our critical housing shortage, but owners cannot get their own properties back,” the group added. “In many counties, the Superior Court is so backed up with eviction cases that they can’t even take on squatting issues, meaning the squatters can drag out the process for months.”