The bill aims to put a stop to squatters being able to live in homes they don’t own or rent for months.
Under current law, squatters can legally break into homes, move their stuff in and claim they are legally entitled to be there.
When police are called, the matter is written off as “civil” in nature, forcing the homeowner to evict the squatters through a court hearing.
The problem with current court hearings is that squatter eviction cases are treated no different than landlord-tenant eviction cases. Unfortunately, homeowners legally waiting to obtain possession of their property finds themselves waiting weeks or even months for help.
Under Senate Bill 15, a new mandate would require judges to hear squatter eviction cases within 2 days. After an eviction is granted, law enforcement would be given authority to evict the squatter in as little as 24 hours.
Squatters who damage a person’s property can also face criminal mischief or vandalism charges. However, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder says it may be difficult to prove who caused damage because more than 1 individual will move into a home. On average, there can be anywhere from 5-10 squatters inside a home at any given time.
Frequently asked questions:
What are the benefits of Senate Bill 15?
For one, it prioritizes squatter cases ahead of standard landlord-tenant eviction matters. By setting a mandated time frame for squatter cases to be heard in court, it will minimize the amount of time a homeowner has to spend trying to legally get their property back.
Senate Bill 15 also provides more direction for what law enforcement can and can’t do when it comes to squatters. Initially, the bill wanted to give police immediate power to remove squatters without a court hearing. Critics argued this would eliminate “due process” and violate their rights to have their case heard in court. Ultimately, lawmakers agreed that they could not eliminate “due process” and thus, the matter will remain civil in nature. However, with a speedy court hearing, police will have expedited power to remove squatters once a court order (Writ of Restitution) is granted.
Who do squatters target?
In the majority of cases News 5 has reviewed, squatters will target homes generally located near homeless camps or military bases. In a 2017 interview with News 5, a sheriff’s deputy with El Paso County indicated there are professional squatters who will “case” homes, break in, and move their stuff inside. 20-30 percent of the eviction cases the sheriff’s office deals with involve people who do not own a home or do not have a valid lease.
News 5 has not found any cases of squatters breaking into homes when homeowners are present. Often times, the homeowner is away on a trip or the squatters will target a rental home that is unoccupied.
What’s the best line of defense against squatters?
If you own a home that you are not always at, an alarm system could be a good deterrent. We have yet to find a squatter who has broken into a home with an alarm system.
Law enforcement agencies always encourage you to know your neighbors and have them call in suspicious activity immediately. Unfortunately, many squatting situations go unnoticed for several days or weeks—allowing squatters to move their belongings inside and “establish” residency.
If you plan on taking an extended vacation, have a trusted neighbor or friend drive by and check on your house.
If police say this is all a civil matter, what’s the point in calling them?
They key is to report suspicious activity immediately. If you witness someone breaking into a home, it’s unlikely the “intruder” will be able to board up the window, change the locks and move their clothes and furniture inside by the time police arrive. As we have previously reported, by the time police get called to these situations, the squatters may have been living in a home for quite some time.
Will Senate Bill 15 really make a difference?
Lawmakers hope if the bill ultimately gets signed into law, it will be a deterrent for squatters. Right now, squatters know they are able to live in a home they don’t belong in for several weeks or months before they get “booted”. Under SB 15, they’d face eviction in as little as 72 hours and could be criminally charged if they destroy property.
You can read all of our previous stories on squatters under the “Investigates” section of our website, KOAA.com.