In case you missed it, in the closing days of this year’s Colorado legislative session a long overdue bill was passed and signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper. Titled the “Protecting Homeowners and Deployed Military Act,” Senate Bill 18-015 finally got around to dealing with squatters who illegally trespass, break into, occupy and routinely trash someone’s personal residence. That there was any opposition to this bill by Democrats is disgraceful.
Here’s a summary of just one incident reported by Eric Ross of KOAA-TV news in Colorado Springs. There have been numerous others. Wendy Clark, who lived alone, died in October 2017 of natural causes. Shortly after Wendy’s death, her mother, Gerry Clark, appeared at the home to attend to its disposition and her daughter’s belongings, at which time she discovered that there were unauthorized squatters living there. One was Jack Cole, a convicted felon with a lengthy rap sheet. Naturally, Gerry called the police to have these people removed and, presumably, arrested. That presumption turned out to be wrong.
Colorado Springs police explained that, under the law ― which absurdly treated such situations as if they were landlord-tenant disputes― the police had no authority to remove or arrest the squatters. Gerry would have to go to civil (not criminal) court and pursue the lengthy legal process of having Cole evicted. Three months later Gerry finally got her day in court. Jack Cole brazenly claimed he and the others had a right to the home because he and Wendy Clark were married. That, of course was a flat-out lie; Wendy was single and had never even met Cole. The judge ruled in favor of Gerry and ordered the squatters to leave. Amazingly, Jack Cole walked out of that courtroom a free man with no police waiting to arrest him. Adding insult to injury, after the squatters finally left, Gerry found the home trashed. The squatters broke a window, changed a door lock, stole Wendy’s clothes, furniture, lamps, pictures and even her Pontiac G6 sedan. As far as I know, Jack Cole has never been held to account and Gerry has received no restitution.
According to witnesses who testified at the state legislature during the hearings on SB 15, military service members deployed overseas have been similarly victimized by squatters. Nevertheless, two Democrats, Sen. Rhonda Fields and Sen. Daniel Kagan, voted against the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, basing their opposition on the lame-brained notion that it could unjustly endanger homeless people taking shelter from a storm. Sen. Owen Hill, a co-sponsor of the bill, retorted, “I don’t know people who shelter from a storm who change the locks on the homeowner.”
SB 15 will repair the egregious legal loophole that allowed societal predators like Jack Cole to prey on law-abiding property owners with extended home invasions. Predictably, the bill’s passage was stalled by progressive Democrats whose commitment to so-called “social justice” includes a disrespect for property rights and a knee-jerk animus toward landlords. This led to several additional weeks of negotiations in House-Senate conference committees over whether squatters would be dealt with in criminal or civil courts; and whether evictions would be carried out by police or sheriffs. Republicans wanted squatters to be subject to police arrest and criminal prosecution, as a strong deterrent for future squatters. Democrats wanted to keep this a matter for civil courts and sheriffs. In their social justice mentality, Jack Cole and his ilk are something like homeless “undocumented dwellers” who shouldn’t be treated harshly or made to feel oppressed.
Ultimately, to get the bill passed, Republicans had to compromise, which is better than what we had before. The best news is, if you become a victim of squatters you’ll find the process greatly streamlined. A property owner can now accelerate an eviction by filing a complaint with the county court, along with a signed, formal declaration and a motion for a “temporary mandatory injunction.” Squatters will be served with a summons to appear for a hearing within two days (not five months later) to make their case. And if they fail to appear, the court can order the sheriff to remove them from the premises within 24 hours. Sadly, thanks to Democrats, rather than going to jail, squatters may just go to the next house.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.