Shared from the 1/25/2018 Colo Spgs Gazette eEdition

THE GAZETTE’S VIEWPOINT

Squatters have rights to occupy your home

Truth is stranger than fiction. The need for a Colorado squatters law, to protect deployed service personnel and other homeowners from invaders, provides an example.

The value of property rights cannot be overstated. Property rights are largely what distinguish crime-ridden, underdeveloped countries from robust economic powerhouses like the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Japan, and more.

When governments protect property, people are more confident to innovate, work and invest. They are more willing to leave their homes for deployment when a war or natural disaster demands their service.

When law allows criminals treat the possessions of others as communal property, productive people have little incentive to start businesses, mine for treasures, buy homes and cars, or selflessly serve others.

Every aspect of maintaining a civilized, prosperous culture rests upon reasonable assurances a government will defend private property from wrongful reallocation.

Typical threats to property in the United States are cleverly disguised as righteous crusades to enhance aesthetics or hedge against environmental hazards.

Individuals organize and co-opt politicians to negate mineral rights, without due process or compensation, by forbidding wells that extract lawfully owned resources. Locally, we see group crusades against reasonable plans to build everything from affordable housing to truck stops on private property.

Shockingly, another threat to property rights appears so brazen, so unsophisticated, most people cannot believe it occurs in Colorado communities with laws and cops to enforce them.

Squatters increasingly take over private homes throughout Colorado Springs and other communities.

A KOAA News 5 report documented how homeless people search for empty residences. They break in, change locks, and claim legal occupancy. Police can’t do much to help those who arrive home to find invaders scattered throughout a residence. Rightful owners must prove squatters don’t belong.

Tenancy disputes are civil, not criminal. This limits what cops can do, and successful squatters know how to work the system.

Typically, home invaders tell police they were invited by a previous tenant or the home’s owner. That means they have rights to remain on premise, unless their stories are disproved in court. Cops who toss people out subject their agencies to substantial liability for violating rights of self-professed “tenants.”

Victims of squatters may spend weeks or months, and tens of thousands of dollars, regaining control of their properties.

The problem poses particular burden for deployed military who leave homes empty for months at a time.

Senate Bill 18-015, named the “Protecting Homeowners And Deployed Military Personnel Act,” tips the scale in favor of owners. Sponsors are Colorado Springs Senate Republicans Owen Hill and Bob Gardner, and Springs House Republicans Larry Liston and Dave Williams. Democrats will be wise to sign on.

The bill directs any peace offer to remove a person from a residential property, if the owner or an authorized agent “swears a declaration making specified statements concerning ownership of the premises and the lack of authority for the person or persons who are on the premises to be there.”

The law would require a property owner or agent to indemnify the peace offer and law enforcement agency for liabilities associated with removal. It would make the owner or agent liable for damages, attorney fees and costs of any false statements that lead to removal of one or more squatters.

It seems insane we have this problem in a country built on property rights and enforcement of laws. A lease or title should outweigh claims of “invitation,” when an owner says a guest is not welcome and was never invited.

Remarkably, the problem is real. Hill, Gardner, Liston and Williams are right to try solving it.

SB 18-015 deserves bipartisan support and swift passage into law.

THE GAZETTE EDITORIAL BOARD

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