A bill that would have expanded a contentious 2018 measure dealing with home squatters to vacant land was killed in a Colorado Senate committee Tuesday.
The bill, proposed by Sen. Dennis Hisey, R-Fountain, was quashed along party lines in the Senate Committee on Local Government after witnesses called the notion redundant and said laws already exist to prohibit unwelcome guests on vacant land.
Last year’s anti-squatter bill, Senate Bill 15, established an expedited system for property owners to evict those who have moved into their homes or buildings without permission. That measure largely stemmed from frustration and complaints of drug trafficking and other crimes committed by squatters in El Paso County.
Hisey told Colorado Politics that his proposed Senate Bill 47 would apply that expedited eviction process to vacant land. It was a proactive measure, stemming from complaints in his district which could have turned out worse than they did, he said.
But Aubrey Hasvold, advocacy manager for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, testified before the committee that it’s unclear what problem the bill would solve.
Most of the problems that might stem from these cases are already covered under the state’s current trespass laws, Hasvold said. In addition, the new law could be used to further criminalize those experiencing homelessness, she said.
Several other witnesses testified against Hisey’s bill, reiterating that current processes already exist to maintain property owners’ rights. Additional concerns also exist with an expedited eviction process that could skirt the due process rights of alleged trespassers, they said.
The existing process is complicated, time consuming and often expensive, however, Hisey said. Often an eviction can take more than six weeks.
Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose, supported Hisey’s bill and questioned whether the opposing witnesses’ defense of alleged trespassers rights might also diminish the rights of property owners.
The notion to expand the squatter’s bill came from two cases in Hisey’s sprawling Senate District 2, which covers Peyton, Calhan and Fountain, then takes in Idaho Springs to the north.
The first instance, Hisey said, came from Penrose, east of Cañon City. Someone parked a camper on a small, vacant acreage, hiding behind a clump of trees and brush. It’s unclear how long they stayed there. Most in the area were unaware of the camper’s presence until later, he said.
“They started wandering through the trees and asking patrons in the parking lots of local restaurants for cigarettes,” he said.
The property owners contacted law enforcement who, in turn, asked the owners of the camper to move, Hisey said.
“They did (move), but they didn’t have to,” he said.
And the second instance came from a property owner in Park County who arrived from out of town to their vacation property only to find someone had pitched a tent on their land, Hisey said.
Again, the unwelcome guests left when asked, Hisey said, but if they hadn’t, the property owners could have been in store for a lengthy legal battle.
“And in both cases sanitation is an issue, litter is an issue, and there’s the possibility of fire,” he said.
While Hasvold expressed concerns for the state’s homeless population, Hisey said his bill was instead intended to protect those who own a vacation property, investment property or farm land, typically in the state’s rural areas.
The measure wasn’t meant to curb the homeless encampments, he said.
Fresh in the minds of many Colorado Springs residents is the early-morning clean up of the so called “Quarry,” which might have been the largest homeless encampment in the city in years.
At one point an estimated 150 people were living in the sprawling tent city, located on a 10-acre plot of private property near Colorado Springs’ Lowell neighborhood. In December, city employees and police, using heavy equipment and even a drone, drove campers from the land and removed thousands of pounds of abandoned belongings.
There’s already a process for dealing with those types of encampments, said Lt. Bill Huffor of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. And it works pretty well as is.
Perhaps weekly, Hoffer said, he and his fellow deputies receive a call of unwanted trespassers staying on private property. After property owners schedule a visit from a cleaning crew, the deputies will alert the trespassers that they’ll soon have to move on.
“Then on clean-up day, we show up with the clean-up crew and kick everybody out,” Hoffer said. “We write tickets if we need to, but generally we get cooperation.”