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Saratoga County, Clifton Park officials consider stricter squatter legislation

Phil Barrett and other Saratoga County officials in the Saratoga County Supervisors Chambers
Aaron Shellow-Lavine
Phil Barrett and other Saratoga County officials in the Saratoga County Supervisors Chambers

Saratoga County and Clifton Park are considering stricter legislation on squatters.

Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chair Phil Barrett is looking to make it harder for individuals to remain in properties they entered unlawfully.

In New York state, if a squatter is in an unoccupied home for 30 days, it becomes unlawful to remove them without law enforcement intervention. This local legislation would see such situations defined as trespasses.

Barrett, a Clifton Park Republican, says his legislation is in response to growing concerns from upstate homeowners.

“I just heard of a situation this week where last year there was a squatter situation in Clifton Park that I wasn’t even aware of until recently where somebody had purchased a property that was vacant for a short period of time and he was alerted that somebody was living there. The person was having their mail sent there. They were taking all the steps a squatter would take, and you can get all of these instructions online easy enough on how to be a squatter and how to do it,” said Barrett.

Barrett has filed the legislation on both the county and town level.

Barrett says the legislation is aimed at preventing the issue from growing.

“When you witness and read about the many instances of properties being taken over by people that are referred to as ‘squatters,’ not only here in New York state and around the country, it seems to me it’s very smart to be proactive before there are additional instances of this happening,” said Barrett.

Adriel Colón-Casiano, a tenant rights lawyer, says he’s doubtful of the legislation’s potential benefits.

“It has, one, a really, really limited scope of what it applies to. It very narrowly applies to certain cases. It requires you to not have brought a lawsuit to begin with. You have to first direct the person to leave the property. So, in other words in order to make use of this you actually have to go on to the property and tell the person, ‘hey you’re not allowed here,’” said Colón-Casiano.

Colón-Casiano says state laws already cover much of what this legislation attempts to tackle.

“More importantly, it also makes you liable if the cops do something during that removal. So if the cops, you know, do something and hurt somebody or break a piece of property or let’s say there’s a misunderstanding, the cop enters in andhurts the person or shoots them, you’re responsible for this. It says, ‘I waive any and all claims against the law enforcement, and assume full responsibility for any physical or financial damage to my property,” said Colon-Casiano.

Colón-Casiano says local legislation that uplifts unhoused or at-risk individuals could more effectively prevent squatting incidents.

“So, I just don’t understand what this is accomplishing other than political theater. We see what happens and how people have classified poverty crimes like shoplifting, you know, homelessness. All of these kinds of social laws that exist. And they really sensationalize California. And I think what they’re trying to do is sensationalize Saratoga County by pretending that there’s like an epidemic of squatters when there just is no evidence of that because it’s an exceptionally rare occurrence,” said Colón-Casiano.

The issue of squatters also made it into drawn-out state budget negotiations. New York’s Real Property Law was ultimately updated to exclude squatters from being defined as tenants.

Still, Barrett says more needs to be done.

“However, as I’ve told some local legislators recently, although appreciated it does not go far enough. And there is plenty of room for local governments to take action to protect our property owners and that’s exactly what we are doing,” said Barrett.

A public input session will be held for the county law at 4:30 p.m. in the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors Chambers on May 14th.

Barrett says the Clifton Park town board is set to vote on the legislation at its May 6th meeting.