With housing availability and affordability at an all-time low and homeless populations at an all-time high, the issue of squatters in vacant properties is becoming more prevalent in association communities.  The news has published extreme cases in New York of squatters being treated as legitimate tenants under New York law with the actual owners spending thousands of dollars and years in court to reclaim their property rights. With the news showing squatters taking over properties nationwide and the associated drug and crime problems, Board members are understandably concerned when they believe unauthorized person or persons have moved into a property without an owner’s permission.  Neighboring owners may also report alleged squatters to the Board and demand that the Board act to remove these persons.  How should the Board respond?

Before addressing how a Board should respond, it is helpful to understand some basic information about this topic. For instance, what is a ‘squatter’?  A squatter is a person who occupies property with the intention of claiming ownership, but has no legal claim to the property.  A legal claim can be title, a lease, or an invitation by the legal owner or representative of the owner.  Someone who is on the property without permission, but with no intention of claiming the property as their own may, but not always, be treated as a trespasser.

Is there a way for a squatter to obtain ownership?  In many states, there is a legal concept known as “adverse possession.”  Adverse possession is the process by which someone without a legal right to property gains legal rights.  In Colorado, if a person openly and continuously occupies property for 18 years and meets specific statutory requirements of C.R.S. 38-41-101, such as making improvements, and demonstrating care of the property, that person establishes conclusive ownership of the property. If the person pays all of the legally owed taxes on the property, the time period for claiming ownership is reduced to 7 years under C.R.S. 38-41-108. There are exemptions for property owned by the state of Colorado, or any county, city and county, irrigation district, public, municipal, or quasi-municipal corporation, or any department or agency.

Can squatters be evicted? Yes, depending on the circumstances of the occupation.  A formal eviction may need to be filed with the court and notice served to the person(s).  However, Senate Bill 18-015 (codified at C.R.S. 13-40.1-101, et seq.), which became effective July 1, 2018, made the process of removing squatters easier by allowing an owner to sign a document under penalty of perjury for the issuance of a temporary injunction and writ of restitution. These documents allow the sheriff to remove the squatters within 24 hours of the issuance of the writ.

Returning to the original question, what should a Board do when they believe unauthorized persons are occupying a property or an owner requests action regarding removal of allegedly unauthorized persons?  The answer is simple, the Board should not take any action as the Board has no authority to act in these situations. Boards do not have police powers or judicial authority that would permit them to act.  The Board only has authority to enforce its own governing documents. The Board should be careful not to become involved or to give the impression that they are responsible for interpreting or enforcing the law. The issue of unauthorized occupants and/or trespassers must be handled by the owner of the property. The owner may enlist the assistance of the police and the court to enforce their ownership rights.

If you have questions or your board would like to discuss squatters and/or powers of the Board, please contact one of our attorneys at 303.432.9999 or at [email protected].

4 responses to “Squatters: What is a Board to Do?
  1. This is really good to know. . But it sounds like it doesn’t always work for the owner

  2. Is the board considered to be the owner of the common areas in the event of a squatter starting to camp out on the property?

    1. The Board does not own the common areas. Common areas are owned by all owners in proportional shares. The association, through the Board, is typically tasked with maintenance responsibilities of common elements. In general, if there is someone camping out on common elements, this person may be considered a trespasser. The safest option for all involved is to contact the police to report the trespassing and allow them to handle the situation.

  3. As a first time HOA board member, your articles are very helpful and educational. With so many facets of knowledge needed to operate a board, your newsletter is a very needed tool.

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