A bill to protect homeowners from squatters faces some opposition as it makes its way through the House.
Hoping to keep Senate Bill 18-015 alive, El Pueblo County Sheriff Bill Elder spoke one-on-one with News 5 about the challenge his office and deputies will face if it dies.
News 5 Investigates spent 9 months exposing a “loophole” in the law that allows anyone to legally occupy your home—rent free!
Our series of investigations prompted state lawmakers to try and solve this problem impacting innocent families in our community, but will their solution actually pass?
For months, we’ve aired numerous stories showing the damage squatters leave behind after taking over homes in southern Colorado.
“I am extremely frustrated,” Roland Hawkins told News 5 in 2017 after squatters moved into his house while he was on a bike tour in Utah.
“I’m a legal owner of the property but I can’t even access it because squatters have more rights than I do,” Hawkins said.
Homeowners have trouble understanding why law enforcement can’t do anything to help them get their property back.
“These laws need to be changed,” Hawkins said. “They need to be looked at. They need to be reconsidered.”
Sheriff Bill Elder agrees that a squatting law needs to be enacted.
“They (squatters) know the law has a gray area,” Elder said. “They know that there are loopholes that allow them to stay and the worst case scenario is they are going to get booted out. They are not going to get charged because we cannot prove the case of criminal trespass.”
Even though squatters don’t own the home or pay rent, Elder says it’s extremely difficult to arrest and remove them from a property if they’ve already moved their stuff in. Elder says squatters will often argue they have “legal rights” to the property and at that point, the case turns from criminal to civil.
“We end up getting in the middle of trying to settle a dispute between the two and it doesn’t work,” Elder said. “The cops know that they are not supposed to get in the middle of a civil dispute like that. They refer them to the courts and that’s the frustration with homeowners.”
News 5 Investigates reviewed squatter eviction cases and discovered on multiple occasions, it has taken weeks or even months for an eviction to be served. This means the squatters are legally allowed to stay in homes while the rightful owners are forced to find housing elsewhere.
Under Senate Bill 15, law enforcement would be given immediate power to kick squatters out without having to wait for a court-ordered eviction. However, some critics argue this would eliminate “due process” and violate the rights of squatters.
“Put yourself in the position of a homeowner who is away from home and comes home to find strangers in their home,” Elder said. “Now you have to take it upon yourself to go to court. Ask yourself, what if this happened to you? That’s the problem. People don’t understand how common this is.”
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office says about a quarter of all evictions they serve involve individuals who are not the homeowner or do not have a valid lease.
Senate Bill 15 will be heard in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Thursday.
In past hearings, the Colorado District Attorney’s Council, Criminal Defense Bar, and Disability Law Colorado expressed opposition to the bill. It’s unknown whether all three will show up to Thursday’s proceedings.
You can follow Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross on Twitter @EricRossKOAA. He will be tweeting throughout the hearing.
Senate Bill 15 is sponsored by Sen. Owen Hill, Sen. Bob Gardner, Rep. Dave Williams and Rep. Larry Liston.
News 5 received this statement from the Colorado Springs Police Department:
“We support homeowners rights and are looking forward to seeing the language as the bill (SB18-015) moves forward,” Lt. Howard Black said. “CSPD will take a deep dive into the language with our partners at the appropriate time.”