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COLUMN: How to solve the squatter problem

By: Scott Weiser
November 17, 2017 Updated: November 20, 2017 at 2:49 pm
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The Gazette Editorial Board recently highlighted the problem of squatters illegally occupying someone else's home and the difficulty owners have in evicting them. If someone breaks into a home and nobody notices for even a few days, the squatters can claim residency and the police cannot arrest them for criminal trespassing. This quirk in the law encourages criminality and abuses innocent landowners. 

Squatting is not a new phenomenon at all. European takeovers of abandoned buildings go back as far as the 1940s. The philosophy infected the U.S. in the 1960s as part of a Socialist rebellion in the big cities that claimed that abandoned buildings "built by the working class" belonged to anyone who wanted to occupy them.

The mortgage crisis of 2008 caused by the Democrat program of lowering mortgage qualification standards that encouraged mortgage lenders to make loans they knew would go into default caused the stock of foreclosed homes to explode. Soon after, the squatter movement in the U.S. burgeoned. Socialists like radical Episcopal minister Frank Morales and the Occupy Wall Street movement continue to conspire to teach the homeless how to illegally take over vacant foreclosed homes.

But mission creep has set in and now rather than sticking to abandoned buildings and vacant foreclosures, squatters are taking over occupied homes where the owners may simply have gone on vacation or been deployed by the military. Squatters break in, change the locks and move their stuff in and like bedbugs that may come with them they become extremely difficult to remove.

The root of the problem is that under Colorado law police are required to assume that someone who appears to have established residency has in fact done so, which means the owner must resort to the time-consuming civil eviction laws. Because police cannot be sure that person in the residence doesn't have permission to be there they are helpless to enforce the criminal trespass laws if the trespass isn't caught in progress.

So the core of the problem is that the police have no way of knowing if a property is supposed to be vacant or not.

Many cities have ordinances that ban "cruising." Cruisers often park and congregate on private commercial property along the route. Cities and towns nationwide have encouraged commercial property owners to sign written authorizations that allow the police to enforce no trespassing signs on private property when the business is closed.

This principle can be used to deal with residential squatting by using technology to solve the information problem.

A computer database linked to the County Clerk's land ownership and tax database could allow a landowner to mark the home as not for rent and identify authorized residents, declare if the property is a rental property or if it is being marketed and should be vacant. The order would authorize a police to arrest unauthorized occupants for criminal trespassing regardless of how long they have been there and direct that their belongings be removed to the curb and the home given back to its rightful owner without delay if the trespassers cannot produce a valid lease for a registered rental property.

The system would only be open to verified property owners and the police. If a trespassing complaint is made the police can check the database to see if a no trespassing order has been entered, and who, if anyone, is authorized to be there.

A statutory change is needed to require that all lease or rental agreements for rental homes be in writing to be valid. Second, to take advantage of the no trespassing registry the landlord would have to put a unique encrypted code that is generated by the no trespassing registry on all lease documents. Third, fraudulent use of the no trespassing registry by a landlord against a legitimate renter should be a crime and a civil cause of action for the tenant.

The system would be voluntary and property owners would sign themselves up and pay a fee to use the system, but it's money well spent if it prevents illegal squatting and restores the home to the rightful owners without the delays and expenses of a civil eviction.

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Readers can contact Scott Weiser at scott.weiser@altnews.us.

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