House Passes Bill to Remove Unlawful Occupants

Apr 17, 2024
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OKLAHOMA CITY – Rep. Ross Ford, R-Broken Arrow, this week passed legislation in the House that would create a procedure for the removal of unlawful occupants of property.

Senate Bill 1994 would allow a property owner to request the sheriff of a county in which the property is located to immediately remove a person or persons unlawfully occupying real property if certain conditions are met.

Ford, along with co-authors Reps. Terry O'Donnell, R-Catoosa, and Rande Worthen, R-Lawton, and House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols, R-Oklahoma City, issued a joint statement about the importance of the bill.

"Property owners throughout our state are being inundated with illegal occupancy," the lawmakers said. "This is exacerbated by the number of people coming across our Southern border illegally, property thefts through methods such as unlawful title changes, or just people moving a trailer onto someone else's land or moving into someone's home while they're on vacation and refusing to leave. Oklahoma is a property rights state, and we are working with our sheriffs and others to identify and stop this type of crime and to advocate for the rights of our property owners. Private property ownership is one of the very foundations of our constitutional system of government and protects an individual's ability to prosper and participate in the free market and in our representative form of government. This legislation is important to ensuring this fundamental right is protected." 

Ford explained that currently such matters are treated through civil process, and law enforcement are reluctant to get involved. This forces private property owners to hire an attorney, and the process often drags out for lengthy periods.

Worthen pointed out the measure does not allow anyone in a landlord-tenant relationship to circumvent the Landlord-Tenant Act. It only applies to someone who is occupying private property and refusing to leave when asked.

SB1994 would create a form for the property owner to submit to their county sheriff. Once verified, the sheriff must serve a notice to immediately vacate on all unlawful occupants. If appropriate, the sheriff may arrest any person found on the property for trespass, outstanding warrants or any other legal cause. The sheriff is entitled to the fee for service of the notice.

The measure also would create a crime for someone unlawfully detaining or occupying or trespassing upon a property and who intentionally damages the dwelling in an amount of greater than $1,000. Those found guilty would receive a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.

Any person who presents a false document purporting to be a valid lease agreement, deed, or other instrument conveying real property rights would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in the county jail, a fine of not more than $1,000, or both.

The measure states that these provisions are not to be used to circumvent any rights or laws governing the landlord tenant relationship. Any person wrongfully removed may bring a civil cause of action.

SB1994 passed the House with a vote of 77-16. The amended bill now returns to the Senate for final consideration. 

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