The idea that someone can invade an unoccupied dwelling belonging to another, settle in, help themselves to whatever is there, change the locks, and force the owner to resort to time-consuming, expensive litigation to root them out is both ridiculous and chilling. Alice in Wonderland would understand. No one else does. It runs counter to all legal and cultural notions of private property ownership in the United States and is especially offensive to rural landowners, for whom private property ownership is a bedrock principle. But, as surreal as it sounds, “squatting” is happening, as noted by the Gazette Editorial Board in its January 25, 2018 editorial. To date, law enforcement’s hands have been tied, because occupancy disputes are controlled by civil, not criminal, statutes. As such, owners whose property has been invaded are required to prove through civil proceedings that they, not the squatters, have the right to possess and occupy the property. The squatter sits there unless and until the owner prevails. As the Gazette editorial says, Senators Bob Gardner and Owen Hill and Representatives Larry Liston and Dave Williams deserve a lot of credit for sponsoring and introducing Senate Bill 18-015 in the current legislative session. The proposed legislation would allow a peace officer to remove a squatter pending resolution of the underlying dispute. In short, it would put the horse before the cart, where it belongs. It’s about time.
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