Dealing with squatters 'one of the most frustrating things for law enforcement officers'

Dealing with squatters 'one of the most frustrating things for law enforcement officers'
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — For the last several years, homeowners have had their properties across the valley occupied by people without permission, a practice called "squatting."

”We hear about it, if not weekly, on a monthly basis that someone is squatting in a vacant residence,” said Bakersfield Police Chief Greg Williamson.

Williamson said homeowners looking to reclaim their property have had a challenging time doing so, because under current state housing law, if a rental status is disputed it must be handled in a civil eviction court. That process has proven quite a challenging one across the county.

After viewing a series of our stories on squatter issues, state Sen. Jean Fuller expressed deep concerned about what she saw.

“Maybe we can look into a better way to verify documentation that would be something. If someone is arrested for forgery or false documents, maybe there could be a website, so at least they don't get to do it over and over again,” Fuller explained.

Proposed changes would have to go through the judiciary committee, of which Sen. Mimi Walters is a member. The committee guides the state housing law.

“Although it might seem like you have a problem and it might be an easy fix, sometimes it isn't necessarily,” Walters said while explaining the process involved.

University of Pacific Law professor John Sprankling laid out the potential challenges that lay ahead with changing the law.

One challenge Sprankling sees with a new law is it could create a way for landlords to cut into tenants rights.

“Suppose the landlord is maintaining defective premises. He has an obligation under the law to make sure the premises is solid. If he can evict the tenant under the guise of being a trespasser, he avoids a court looking at that issue,” said Sprankling.

Another issue is having law enforcement determine who is a tenant and who is a squatter.

“Which box does the person fit in? Is it the tenant box or the trespasser box?” Sprankling explained.

Sprankling did lay out an idea he believed could work within the current legal framework

“It's conceivable the Legislature could come up with a very short process. I presume this would involve an application to the court with very limited notice, perhaps a day of two notice, to the person in possession, followed by a short court hearing,” he said.

It's an idea already in practice for legal issues, like injunctions.

”Give a judge a look at this controversy to see if there really is a good-faith belief that person is a tenant,” Sprankling said.

The idea seems to be one that resonated with local officials who sit in a position to take action.

“People are having a hard time getting in using these long time lines that exist. Maybe it's time we streamline the process,” said Fuller.