Governor vetoes bill expanding definition of ‘trespass’ to help landlords

In the veto letter, Gov. Steve Bullock said the bill is un-neighborly and unconstitutionally vague.

By Cole Grant/UM Legislative News Service

HELENA – While Governor Steve Bullock has signed more than 200 bills into law so far this legislative session, he’s vetoed 13. One of those recently vetoed bills tried to update the state’s trespass laws.

House Bill 231, among other things, would have required someone to have written permission or a valid rental agreement to be on residential property. If someone didn’t have either of those, or wasn’t invited, they could be removed from the property immediately.

It would’ve also made it criminal trespassing for someone to knowingly and unlawfully enter or stay in an unoccupied structure.

In a hearing last month, Great Falls landlord Chris Christiaens said it took him four months to get rid of an unwanted drug operation from a property he owned.

He said he had to replace every door in the building, pull up the carpet, and in one room he said he found over 150 hypodermic needles and syringes.

“By the time I got that apartment back in shape for renting, it was $7,500. I don’t know how many landlords can afford to have that happen,” Christiaens said.

Mark Murphy with the Montana Association of the Chiefs of Police opposed the bill, and said the courts should handle rental disagreements.

“Giving law enforcement this power to determine when there is a valid rental agreement is not good policy, and we don’t want that job,” Murphy said.

In the veto letter, Bullock says the bill is un-neighborly and unconstitutionally vague. He also echoed the chiefs of police, saying that expanding the criminal trespass definition this way won’t work for law enforcement.

If two-thirds of both the House and Senate want the bill to become law, they can override the governor’s veto. This has never happened to Governor Bullock.

The Legislature has six scheduled days left in session.

Cole Grant is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.