Squatters take over man’s home while he’s out of state

Posted at 11:52 PM, Sep 07, 2017

Imagine coming home and finding random people inside.

That’s exactly what happened to Roland Hawkins who discovered several homeless people had moved in while he was out of state.

You would think the homeless people would have been charged with burglary or trespassing and forced to leave, but getting them out is not that easy.

In Colorado, the justice system appears to protect criminals while punishing the victims—at least in cases involving squatters.

If someone enters your home while it’s unoccupied and moves their stuff in, what was once your house can temporarily become their home and the only way to get them out is to go to court!

“It’s as if someone took a homeless camp and put it in my house,” Hawkins said. “That’s what it looks like.”

Hawkins returned from a bike tour and found his rental home trashed.

“Dishes are piled up in the kitchen,” he said. “The stove is crusted with food and the carpets are filthy and stained. It’s a pig sty”.

Hawkins previously rented a home on Pikes Peak Ave. to a man who moved out in July. Shortly after, homeless people moved in.

“Water and utilities are being used by them and not being paid for,” he said.

Each time Hawkins knocked on the door to try and get the squatters to leave, a different person opened up.

We saw a total of four people, including a little girl who was sleeping in a crib in a closet.

Neighbors also snapped pictures of two more homeless people after noticing lots of traffic going in and out of the house.

Hawkins confronted one of the squatters and recorded her on his cell phone.

“Hi there,” Hawkins said. “What is your name? Can I have your name?”

The woman never responded.

However, other squatters were not shy to taunt Hawkins.

“I’ve already talked to the police,” one squatter said. “We have another week before we legally have to be out of here.”

That news didn’t sit well with Hawkins.

“I’m a legal owner of the property but I can’t access it because these squatters have more rights than I do,” he said.

He’s right! According to the law, he can’t enter his own home without having permission from the squatters. He also can’t throw their stuff away without first evicting them.

“Look at this mess,” Hawkins told one squatter after he let him inside.

“Here’s your house,” the squatter replied. “It’s all f****d up!”

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office says squatting situations are not uncommon.

“20 to 30 percent of the evictions we do are people that are actually not on the lease,” Deputy Paul Smith said.

Smith serves 4 to 5 evictions each morning. He says squatters often target unoccupied rental houses or homes that belong to military personnel deployed overseas.

“People will cruise neighborhoods, find houses that are empty and basically case the house,” Smith said. “They will break in and change the locks.”

Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross responded by asking, “How can someone go on vacation for 30 days, come back, find random strangers in their home, call the police and nothing can be done to move these people out?”

“It is extremely frustrating,” Smith said. “It’s not only frustrating for them, but for us to know that it’s going on and we can’t do anything about it. They (the homeowner) actually has to go through the eviction process.”

For Hawkins, that process began officially on Aug. 10 when he filed eviction paperwork in court.

Two weeks later, he had to spend two hours in court waiting for a judge to approve the eviction.

Hawkins then had to go back to the courthouse to get what’s called a “Writ of Restitution” which essentially finalizes the eviction.

“It is a long process,” Smith replied. “There’s not a lot of protection for the homeowner or property management company.”

3 days after the eviction paperwork was finalized, deputies showed up to move the squatters out! We met up with Hawkins as he legally got access to his home.

“The day the sheriff evicted everybody, I changed the locks,” he said.

He has a lot of work left to do to repair the home and hopes by sharing his story, lawmakers will draft legislation that will make it easier for homeowners to kick out unwanted squatters.

“These laws need to change,” he said. “They need to be looked at.”

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office says there are professional squatters in Colorado Springs who do nothing more than move from house to house.

Unfortunately, Deputy Smith said these people know the laws better than homeowners do, adding that squatters will often say they were “invited in” and had been living in the home for “x” number of days.

At that point, the issue becomes a civil matter and has to go through the court system, according to the sheriff’s office.

In this particular case, two of the homeless people inside Hawkins’ home said they were “invited in” by the previous tenant who was renting the property. News 5 Investigates learned that tenant has since moved out of state and our attempts to reach him for comment were not successful.

Frequently asked questions regarding squatters: 

When squatters enter a home, why can’t police charge them with home invasion?

*By law, a home invasion is defined as someone who forcefully enters an occupied, private dwelling with intent to commit a violent crime against the occupants inside such as robbery, assault, or kidnapping.

If nobody is home at the time squatters enter the property, wouldn’t this be considered burglary?

*According to Deputy Smith, it depends on the circumstances surrounding each case. As previously stated, one of the squatters said they were invited to live there by the previous tenant. However, none of the squatters were on the lease. Deputies then have to weigh how long the squatters had been occupying the house. Unfortunately, by the time this case became known to authorities, the squatters had been living in the home for more than a week and had moved their furniture inside.

Could the squatters have been charged with trespassing?

*At the time the squatters were occupying the home, Deputy Smith said the squatters were not trespassing. He adds they essentially had a “legal right” under the law to occupy the home. However, after the eviction was finalized, the squatters could be charged with trespassing if they return to the property.

Is my home vulnerable to squatters?

Just like burglaries, any homeowner is subject to potential issues. Deputy Smith says the best way to ensure squatters stay away from your property is to have a neighbor keep a close eye on your home if you plan to be gone for extended periods of time. Law enforcement also recommend installing an alarm system. If neighbors witness a break-in or any unusual activity in their neighborhood, they should report that information to police immediately instead of waiting for the homeowner to return.

Can a property owner wait for the squatters to leave the house in the morning and then go in and throw their stuff away and change the locks?

*No! According to the sheriff’s office, the property owner could face charges for doing what they refer to as an “illegal eviction”.

If you have a squatter who is staying at your property without consent:

  • Colorado law requires you provide the squatter with at least a 3 day written notice, and once you have given them notice you may file an unlawful detainer to evict them through a standard court order.
  • If the individual refuses to vacate the premises within 3 days, you may file the unlawful detainer with your local court office.
  • Your local court will schedule a hearing (usually 2-3 weeks from the filing date). A judge will make a ruling based on the evidence provided by both parties.
  • After the judge issues an order, homeowners will need to go back and get a Writ of Restitution which “finalizes” the eviction.
  • The sheriff’s office will then get involved and post a notice to vacate the property. Typically within 14-21 days, the sheriff’s office will send deputies out to evict the squatters (if they are still inside).
  • If the squatters do not have a moving truck or car available to put their property in, the homeowner is legally allowed to toss their belongings out on the front yard.
  • The property must be accessible to the squatters for a “reasonable” time, which isn’t defined in Colorado law.
  • After the “reasonable” time limit has passed, the property owner has legal rights to throw out the property belonging to the squatters.

There are various web sites dedicated to helping homeowners deal with squatting situations, but you should always seek advice from a licensed attorney who can better evaluate your situation.