In a 3-2 vote, Senate Bill 18-015 passed the first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday afternoon, but not without some opposition.
The bill was introduced by Sen. Bob Gardner after a series of News 5 investigations into squatters taking over homes in southern Colorado.
If passed, the bill will allow police to immediately remove squatters without an eviction. The bill also wants to create a law making it a misdemeanor crime for a squatter to damage or alter someone’s property.
“It gives law enforcement officials the tools and procedures to deal with this problem which is not currently addressed in our statute,” Liz Peetz with the Colorado Association of Realtors said during testimony.
Myrtis Johnson also testified Monday after squatters invaded her home in Pueblo last year.
“Here you have someone you know nothing about, taking over your property with you paying all the bills and you can’t go into your place,” Johnson said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Johnson’s testimony wasn’t enough to persuade Sen. Rhonda Fields and Sen. Dan Kagan.
Both voted “no” the bill after hearing testimony from the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council and Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.
Sen. Kagan also expressed concern over whether the bill would punish homeless people who were trying to escape a natural disaster or storm.
Kagan asked Gardner, “Are you concerned about the effect this may have on unfortunate people who are simply sheltering from a storm in a small cabin for survival?
“If they are homeless because of a storm, there are homeless shelters,” Gardner said. “There are ways to get shelter to them.”
Sen. Owen Hill also responded.
“I don’t know people who shelter from a storm who change the locks on the homeowner,” Hill said.
Kagan also expressed concerns about landlords taking advantage of the bill if its passed by illegally evicting tenants they don’t like.
Gardner responded by saying the homeowner would have to sign a sworn statement claiming they do not have any relationship with the occupants or squatters.
“I’m very disappointed in Sen. Kagan,” Johnson said. “I can’t believe anyone would think squatters’ rights were more important than property owner rights.”
The Colorado Criminal Defense Bar and Colorado District Attorneys’ Council took issue with particular language that would make it a crime for a squatter to damage or alter property inside.
CDAC Attorney Timothy Lane wanted to remain “neutral” on the bill, but said criminal mischief laws already exist. However, News 5 Investigates has yet to find a squatting case where police arrested a person for criminal mischief.
Gardner has agreed to modify the language related to this portion of his bill before the second hearing.
When the modifications are made, we’ll be sure to pass them along to you.
A second hearing on this matter will likely be scheduled next week.
Sen. Rhonda Fields said she voted “no” until she is able to review the changes.