Texas homeowners Yudith Matthews and Abram Mendez hired an acquaintance to complete the tile work for their fixer-upper San Antonio home. In turn, they let him stay in the house for a few days and drew up a contract with the details.

The worker was fired but he didn’t leave the house. In an appearance on Fox News, Mendez talked about the problems the pair are facing because of the squatter.

“We don’t have any protection. There’s legislators that are out there, such as Gov. (Ron) DeSantis, who are making headway, but we need more headway across America to protect us, the homeowners, because there’s very little,” Mendez said. “It’s really a gimmick, I think, for the municipalities across America to make money.”

In the recent weeks, the national conversation around squatters’ rights has been a cause of uproar for many. Last week, DeSantis signed legislation to restrict squatters’ rights in Florida and increase penalties for the violators.

“We are putting an end to the squatters scam in Florida,” the Florida governor said. “While other states are siding with the squatters, we are protecting property owners and punishing criminals looking to game the system.”

Does Utah have squatters’ rights?

Like Floridians, Utahns don’t need to worry about squatters.

“Squatters don’t have rights in Utah. We’re in one of the most landlord-friendly states,” Peter Vanderhooft, a licensed paralegal practitioner in Millcreek, said. “Tenants don’t have very many defenses,” especially if they are staying on the premises unlawfully, in which case, the landlord is automatically entitled to triple the amount of damages.

In his practice, Vanderhooft said unless the renter has a legitimate claim, he advises them to reconsider going to court.

“I always tell my clients, ‘What’s the value in pursuing this claim to you? Because is it to be right? Or is it to save money?’” he said.

“Once you’ve moved out, the claims for eviction go away. But then you have potentially a lease agreement, and you have unpaid rent that needs to be determined,” he said.

In Utah, the process of evicting a tenant is quick, “and it is only accelerated if they don’t know their rights,” Vanderhooft said.

What problems do landlords in other states face with squatters?

While Utah homeowners are safe from squatters, landlords in other states have to jump through hoops. Alexandra Alvarado, the director of marketing and education at the American Apartment Owners Association, said she has seen an uptick in squatting across the country.

She said although squatters have always been an issue, she has noticed an uptick in cases, which she attributes to a “post-pandemic reaction to huge increases in rental prices.”

“When people think squatters, they think somebody who just randomly moved in,” she said. “That’s one case.”

But other, more common scenarios revolve around the squatter having permission to live on that property, but either their lease expired or they stopped paying rent, and they’re refusing to move out.

The pandemic also backed up eviction courts in some cities, especially in states like California and New York that had long eviction moratoriums. “So, it’s more lucrative to be a squatter in that sense now than it was previously and it’s also harder for landlords to quickly evict them,” Alvarado said.

“You can’t simply turn off the water or the gas and change the locks,” she said. “You also can’t just call the police, expecting them to be escorted out.”

What can landlords in other states do to protect themselves against squatters?

Some landlords try offering “cash for keys,” where they pay the squatter to leave, but there is no guarantee it works, she added.

“Most of the time, squatters don’t take really good care of the property,” which means damages, said Alvarado.

She said this issue is hyperlocal because there are no federal laws pertaining to squatters. The Biden administration shares a similar perspective.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked about the squatting problem during a Monday press briefing,

“Ultimately, this is a local issue and it is critical that — that local governments take action to address it,” she responded.

But there are precautions homeowners can take, like installing security measures like cameras and alarms.

“A lot of landlords nowadays are remote. They don’t even live in the same city where the property is,” she said. “If you have a listing on Zillow or apartments.com, people are going to know that nobody’s living there and that could be a way that they’re going to get targeted.”

She advises visiting the property often or asking a property manager to do so. To avoid a tenant with intentions of overstaying, conduct thorough background checks and interviews, paying attention to any past evictions, Alvarado stated.