Governor Signs Anti-Squatter Bill Despite Protest from Tenant Advocates

A new state law could make it easier to remove trespassers from homes like this one in South L.A. where squatters apparently moved in after the house was foreclosed on (Steven Cuevas/KQED)

New state legislation signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown this week aims to roust unwanted tenants from vacant properties.

The bill’s author, Democratic Assemblyman Steve Fox from Palmdale, said  the bill is designed to help residential property owners remove trespassers, or squatters, from a home quickly.

“It can speed up the process real quick. It doesn’t have to take a couple months. It can be right now,” says Fox, speaking from his district in the Antelope Valley about 70 miles north of Los Angeles.
The law enables homeowners to obtain a Declaration of Ownership from authorities when a property is vacant, such as while awaiting sale or before a new tenant moves in.

“You post the notice now, squatter comes by, you let the sheriff’s (department) know, the sheriff will give ‘em 48 hours’ notice,” explains Fox.

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“If they don’t leave, the sheriffs can move them and their belongings out without a civil process. Right now they’d have to go through the eviction court, so you are paying the mortgage payments and the cost of eviction.”

That’s because, before Fox’s bill, there was no state law that gave landlords and law enforcement a mechanism to swiftly remove a person who may be claiming a right of tenancy through fraud, such as a bogus rental agreement.

But Dean Preston says the law could end up backfiring on legal renters.

“It was introduced as an eviction-by-declaration bill to enable property owners to remove tenants without having to go to court,” says Dean Preston, executive director of Tenants Together, a statewide advocacy group.

“And the idea of making it easier to evict tenants after seeing what we saw through the foreclosure crisis is completely the opposite of what our Legislature should be doing," Preston says. "We should be passing additional protections."

In response to pressure from advocacy groups and to win over dubious fellow lawmakers, Fox amended the bill to include several additional protections for lawful tenants.

The legislation’s initial rollout will also be limited to the cities of Lancaster, Palmdale and Ukiah. More cities could be added in an amended version.