Tampa police using tool to fight illegal squatters

Posted at 6:10 PM, Dec 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-05 18:10:40-05

Neighbors are now working to fight drug dealers and squatters invading their Ybor City neighborhood through a little-known state mandate.

Many properties in Ybor City are vacant or abandoned, leaving them vulnerable to squatters living there illegally.

In a public meeting in Ybor City, police said they can sometimes have trouble removing squatters because they must track down the actual property owners to kick out anyone else in the home.

It's taken away from residents' quality of life.

"Loud music. a lot of arguing, parties," one neighbor told ABC Action News.

Together, neighbors, property owners and Tampa Police are now using a tool to successfully clean up the area: the Trespass Affidavit program. It allows property owners to sign an affidavit allowing law enforcement officers to remove anyone from a home or property who shouldn't be there at any time.

A green sign is placed on several windows and doors explaining that police can remove anyone who is trespassing.

"I think that that warns a lot of people to stay out, but also makes it a lot easier for us because we don't have to call somebody out of town, track them down and get permission to do that," said Steve Hegarty, public information officer for the Tampa Police Department.

For developers renovating homes in the area near 12th St. and 24th, it has been a welcome change.

"I would say six, seven people at a time were staying here," said Freddy Courant, a project managers at Sight Real Estate. "The owner just asked to get these signs put up. Haven't had anybody here since."

For other residents, it's made them feel safer and more secure.

"There was a lot of people who did drugs that were living in those houses," said Howard Roundtree, who lives near the vacant homes in Ybor City. "They're moving stuff that's a bad apple out of the place."

Now at least three of the homes on one block are protected with the Trespass Affidavit and property owners tell ABC Action News they plan to file even more with Tampa Police.

Ybor City property owners are now encouraging others fighting squatters it their neighborhoods to file a trespass affidavit with their own Florida law enforcement agency.

Learn more about the Trespass Affidavit Program here.