Lawmakers fear a stampede to condemn unused property
DENVER, Colorado – Some Colorado property owners are rushing to claim other people’s unused land before a new law goes into effect on July 1 tightening the state’s lax property condemnation rules.A western Colorado ranch has notified at least 40 people it wants to condemn their vacant land where cattle have grazed for decades, the ranch’s lawyer said Thursday.Lawmakers are considering a bill to tighten the rules sooner to keep even more cases from being filed. They say they don’t know how many cases are in the works.”It’s disheartening to see people gaming the legal process,” said Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Genesee, who sponsored the bill and supports efforts to speed up the effective date. “That’s why we ran the bill in the first place.”The old law allowed someone to gain possession of someone else’s property after using it unchallenged for 18 years.The new law requires anyone claiming someone else’s land must have a “good faith belief” that he or she has a right to it. Attorneys have said that would be difficult to prove.The law was changed after a Boulder couple successfully sued to get part of an adjacent vacant lot under a principle called adverse possession. The couple said they had been using the land for 25 years without protest.The owners of the contested lot have appealed.The Big 4 Ranch near Carbondale, about 110 miles west of Denver, is moving to claim land in a proposed subdivision that has never been developed, said Herb Klein, an attorney for the ranch owners.”It’s an ancient subdivision. There’s a fence around it, and no one (except the ranch) has access. It’s vacant land,” Klein said.Klein said the property was designed for 380 homes, but none were built because the developer was unable to get a railroad to allow access.Rep. Debbie Stafford, who voted for the new law, said she is one of the owners whose land is targeted by the Big 4 Ranch.She said when she refused to sell for the $4,050 appraised value, “they said too bad, they’re going to take it.”Erika Sullivan said an Aspen attorney has told her he would go to court to claim her western Colorado lot if she didn’t sell it to the Big 4 Ranch owners for the appraised price of $750.”It’s on a mesa with beautiful views of Mount Sopris,” she said. “If they get us out, they would own the entire mountain and they could build million-dollar homes.”
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