Editor’s note: “Jen” and “Michelle” did not want their real names used for this story for fear of retribution from Michelle’s ex-boyfriend.
The way Jen tells it, she just wanted to help her daughter get a second chance.
Jen explains that Michelle, who is in her mid-20s, is an alcoholic who had long been involved in an unhealthy relationship with a man who uses drugs. Together, they had a child, whom Jen adopted. In recent months, Michelle and the man had been homeless, sleeping on friends' couches and falling further into their addictions.
Then Michelle told her mom that she was ready to start over. She wanted to get into a recovery program and begin life on her own. With Jen's help, Michelle got her own apartment.
But Jen says Michelle couldn't completely cut her ex off. Feeling sorry for him, she allowed him to store toys (for children he'd fathered in other relationships) at her apartment.
Then came her biggest error. One night, when he had nowhere to go, Michelle let her ex stay at her apartment, with the agreement that he would leave when asked. Jen says the arrangement worked out OK for a while, with the ex an occasional visitor. But one night, when Michelle asked him to leave, he refused. She let it go at first, but several days later, the two got into a loud argument over his continued refusal to leave. A neighbor called Colorado Springs police.
Jen says that Michelle explained the situation to officers and asked them to remove the ex. To her surprise, they refused, saying that although his name wasn't on the lease, he "lived" in her apartment and must be evicted. They noted he had been in the home three days in a row. A day later, when he stole Michelle's only key, she went back to police, who again said they couldn't help.
Michelle has since entered an inpatient addiction program. She's still paying rent on the apartment, Jen says. The ex still lives there.
Turns out legal rights to a residence aren't determined by a lease. Colorado Springs police spokesperson Barbara Miller says her detectives tell her they look at a "totality of circumstances."
In Michelle's case, for instance, detectives said via email that they would ask: whether the ex had another residence; whether he had significant property in the apartment; whether he had care products, such as a toothbrush, there; whether he had paid rent or bought groceries; and so on.
Detectives also said in the email that they'd inquire how long he'd stayed there, adding that "three days is a long time."
The email stated: "People have the right to remove someone from their home even after inviting them in. It starts getting gray the longer they are welcome to be there ..."
Miller further consulted with city attorneys, who sent an email explaining the law in greater, if generalized, detail.
"The research we conducted seems to agree that once someone is there 30 days, there's an understood tenancy between the owner/tenant and the guest," it states. "I have been unable to find any specific legal resource in Colorado that gives guidelines on how long someone can stay as a "guest."
It also notes that the same law states, "Any person in possession of real property with the assent of the owner is presumed to be a tenant at will until the contrary is shown." So, the email explains, simply giving a guest a key can make them a tenant.
In conclusion, the attorneys say detectives are probably asking the right questions to determine tenancy. They add, "The law is clearly muddled in this area."
Showing them the door
Theresa L. Kilgore, managing attorney for Colorado Legal Services in Colorado Springs, agrees the law is murky — especially when the "guest" doesn't have a home of his own. She thinks the best bet is probably to avoid finding yourself in the situation in the first place.
"[B]efore inviting a person to stay at your apartment, you should be confident the guest will leave when asked," she says via email. "Consider the factors the police may look at [if] a dispute arises, and don't give the guest a chance to claim he/she resides there."
If you do end up with a guest who won't leave, call the police and explain your situation with a copy of your lease in hand. It helps to have a landlord present who can verify your claims, Kilgore says. If the police, however, decide that your guest is a tenant, you'll have to look for some other avenues.
If you believe you're in imminent danger from your guest — if there have been abuse and/or threats — you can ask a judge to file a protection order that excludes the guest from your home. The orders can be requested through TESSA or at the El Paso County Combined Courts.
If you're not really in danger, you'll have to file a Notice to Quit — forms are available online with the state's judicial branch — which allows the guest at least three days to vacate your home. If the guest still hangs around, you must file a Summons and Complaint in Forcible Entry and Unlawful Detainer at the county courthouse and receive a court order for the guest to leave.