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Hunterdon County Commissioners back legislation to address ‘squatting’ and protect property owner rights

HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ – The Hunterdon County Commissioners recently approved a resolution supporting Senate Bill No. 725 and Assembly Bill No. 731, to criminalize the unlawful occupancy of a dwelling also known as “squatting”.

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

“The combination of inadequate state laws and a lack of willingness to prosecute the criminal acts of squatting has played a big role in allowing for the problem to persist and spread across the nation,” Commissioner Zachary Rich said.

Squatting is increasing in prevalence, especially as those engaged in squatting have taken to “brag” about their exploits on viral videos shared on social media platforms.

The New York Post reported in an article published on March 21, 2024, that Venezuelan national Leonel Moreno, “a migrant TikToker with a 500,000 strong online following is offering his comrades tips on how to ‘invade’ unoccupied homes and invoke squatter’s rights in the United States.”

Mr. Moreno, who appears to live in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, said in a recent video that under US law, “if a house is not inhabited, we can seize it”, his comments seem to be referring to adverse possession laws, commonly known as “squatters rights,” which allow unlawful property occupants rights over the property they occupy, without the owner’s consent, in certain circumstances.

Deputy Director Susan Soloway said, “I want to voice my support for this resolution as squatting is becoming a nationwide problem and many states are taking action to combat this problem. The legislation introduced by Senators Steinhardt and Testa, would criminalize the unlawful occupancy of a dwelling, also known as “squatting” and create three criminal offenses: housebreaking, unlawful occupancy, and unlawful reentry—all crimes of the fourth degree.”

Several other high-profile cases have been in the news as of late, and the legislation introduced by Senators Steinhardt and Testa aims to ensure that New Jersey residents and homeowners do not have to deal with the distresses of unlawful squatting.

“The legislation itself is a not a partisan bill, and has earned co-sponsorship by Senator Brian Stack, a Democrat, who also serves as Mayor of Union City. I hope that the New Jersey Legislature will move quickly to pass this bill and that Governor Murphy will sign it into law,” Rich said.

Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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