By editorial board • 

Legislation needed to protect public from invited squatters

Appalled at the inability of public and private forces to rid a rural Carlton problem property of long-term squatters, County Commissioner Mary Starrett said she’d like to see state law amended “so people can’t become tenants by squatting on your land.” And we stand four-square behind her on that sentiment.

We are strong advocates of the protection of legitimate tenant rights, but that doesn’t extend to granting rights to squatters. No legal basis should be established for staking a claim on someone else’s property.

Starrett has approached state Rep. Ron Noble about introducing legislation during the coming session. We hope he will follow through, as it is a worthy cause.
Until recent weeks, the Hendricks Road site included a century-old 2,300-square-foot farmhouse and large, two-story barn — relics of a bygone era. However, the barn burned Christmas Eve. The house, power source for the squatters through an extension cord running out a window, went up the following week.

The tract belonged to 59-year-old Rodger Schneider, who invited the first wave of squatters to establish camp in dilapidated trailers, campers, RVs and farm equipment. When he died in October, it took extensive effort by county code enforcement officer Mike Kemper to track down cousins constituting his nearest heirs.
The cousins agreed to sell to a neighboring farmer. However, under Oregon law, the squatters had to be served with 60-day eviction notices before the new owner could take possession. The notices don’t take effect until Jan. 14 — two major fires late.

Since the invasion, masses of waste and debris have piled up, turning the property into a public hazard. This fall, Schneider lost a code enforcement case by default when he failed to appear in court, but the hazard remains and it seriously hampered firefighters.

In addition, sheriff’s deputies have responded to reports of fighting, gunpoint menacing, methamphetamine possession and a suspicious device that turned out to be a modified firework.

All states address squatting, typically in their landlord-tenant laws. However, Oregon law has some quirks that turn a nuisance into a festering sore. Foremost among them is a provision forcing banks to wait until a homeowner has missed payment for a full 12 months before initiating foreclosure proceedings.

All too often, the homeowner has abandoned the property to opportunistic squatters by then. And unlike other states, Oregon recognizes them as official tenants, triggering a cumbersome and time-consuming eviction process.



It's interesting to me that this issue is currently being considered through the perspective of neighbors, but not through the perspective of the property owner. Without more details on Starrett / Noble's plans, how would the government keep private property owners from making personal decisions about how to use their own land while also keeping unwanted elements from overstaying their welcome - according to the neighbors? Where in this scenario do private property rights end and the government powers (even if theoretically on behalf of the neighbors) begin?

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