A bill that would stop squatters from taking over another’s property has been introduced in the Missouri House of Representatives.
The legislation adds two sections to trespassing in the first degree, which allows police officers the ability to arrest individuals who knowingly or intentionally enter and refuse to exit another person’s property after being asked to leave by the officer.
The St. Joseph Police Department supports the bill, according to Captain Jeff Wilson.
“We do certainly see some of the issues that some of our property owners are dealing with, with respect to this, and we feel like this will be a useful tool,” Wilson said.
Sheila Solon, R-St. Joseph, sponsors the bill.
“This is someone who has broken into a home or apartment that has no right to be there,” Solon said. “If you’re squatting in a house that has no electricity, no water, no trash service, that’s not the best situation to be in.”
Vacant homes often aren’t associated with positive stories. Fires caused by individuals who don’t own the properties aren’t uncommon and can end in tragedy, as was the case last February with a fire in an empty home that lead to the death of a 14-year-old Cameron Satterley.
“So what this bill does is hopefully tightens the laws on trespassing in the first degree,” Solon said. “It adds vacant properties and vacant structures to the trespassing law, which is important, because that’s not in there right now.”
St. Joseph has 27,212 buildings and houses, according to the interactive map called Building Blocks. The website can be found at st-joseph-mo.tolemi.com. Of those properties, 217 are currently deemed vacant, although 28 of those property owners have paid St. Joseph’s vacancy fees.
St. Joseph’s Director of Planning and Community Development is Clint Thompson. His duties include overseeing Building Blocks and the property maintenance department, making sure that vacant homes are secure and taken care of.
“The city’s effort to secure a vacant structure begins with sending out a notice to the property owner to inform them of the violation,” Thompson said. “If the property owner does not respond to our correspondence, then the city itself will secure that structure.”
Securing the structure can prevent further damage and slow deterioration. Property maintenance staff monitors these structures and will mow and pick up trash if it’s not done by the owner. Of course, that comes with a monetary penalty.
Building Blocks allows the city and members of the public to monitor blighted homes, which can negatively impact a neighborhood’s property value. If a vacant structure is not on the map, the city wants to know about it. Call the property maintenance department at 816-271-5342.
“If we can help protect that potential negative influence by working with the property owner, or acquiring the property potentially through the Land Bank … instead of a $10,000 or $15,000 demolition, then maybe we can stabilize that structure,” Thompson said.