Atlanta

Getting results: Gov. Kemp signs new squatting law following series of Channel 2 investigations

ATLANTA — Squatters are taking over homes all over metro Atlanta and during a closed ceremony Wednesday Georgia’s governor signed into law new protections for homeowners.

Channel 2 Action News has led the way in investigating the problem that has grown over the past year.

The new law is designed to close a loophole that Channel 2 consumer investigator Justin Gray first exposed in his reporting.

“I’m really excited to have signed that bill earlier today,” Gov. Brian Kemp said about signing the Georgia Squatter Reform Act into law.

“It’s very frustrating for people that are having this happen. I mean, we’ve had laws on the books like a lot of other states have had. The problem is the squatters have figured out ways to circumvent the law,” Kemp said.

In a series of Channel 2 Action News investigations over the past year, we’ve shown you how the squatters are doing it, posing as tenants and dragging out a months-long eviction process in civil court.

Lawmakers and policymakers even cited our stories as they drafted this legislation.

“Often when they go, they’re facing a gun. And that’s been covered in several Channel 2 stories,” one lawmaker said during hearings over the bill.

The new Georgia law changes that. Law enforcement will now cite suspected squatters criminally for trespassing and that starts a clock ticking.

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“If they have no documentation, they’ll be out in three days,” said State Rep. Devan Seabaugh, who sponsored the bill.

Under the new law, if the suspected squatter presents a lease, the case goes before a magistrate judge within 7 days.

A fake lease adds an extra felony charge.

“These are criminals that know exactly what they’re doing and they’re taking advantage of the loophole that we had in our law. And we’ve corrected that,” Seabaugh said.

In our exclusive Channel 2 Action News undercover investigation in February, we tracked down an Instagram account collecting thousands of dollars per house to place people in squatter homes.

The new law is designed to make that business model obsolete.

“We’re addressing that by increasing the penalties. Also speeding up the time frame to get these individuals out of the houses,” Kemp said.

The new squatter rules did go into effect the moment it was signed.

Kemp also signed a second bill that allows off-duty law enforcement to be hired to serve evictions instead of just marshals -- another way to speed up getting squatters out.

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