LITTLETON, Colo. (CBS4) – A long-anticipated homecoming for a Littleton family has hit a legal roadblock. Two weeks ago a judge ruled in favor of the Donovan family, giving squatters just two days to leave their home. Since then, the squatters have filed a flurry of legal paperwork and have managed to stave off an eviction slated for this week.
CBS4 first met Troy and Dayna Donovan and their two young children in a relative’s basement in Greeley. The family of four was living in one room because their house was taken over when they were out of town.
Last August the Donovans moved to Indiana to pursue a job opportunity. They winterized their home on South Mabre Court and left for the Midwest for eight months. To their surprise, when they returned, a new family was living in their home, claiming they had a legal right to do so.
“I told her, ‘What you are doing is wrong; it’s illegal.’ ” Dayna Donovan said.
She said she tried to politely ask the people who were camped out in their home to leave.
“I would really like you to move out of the home or we will take legal action against you,” she said.
The Donovan’s initially filed a burglary report with the Littleton Police Department. According to the police report, Mary Fernandez-Beleta and Jose Leyva told police they bought the home from a man named Alfonso Carrillo for $5,000. Carrillo has been linked to dozens of stolen-homes cases across the Front Range and is facing a series of charges. In each case, squatters claimed they have a legal right to the home through a little-known law called “adverse possession” which gives squatters rights to abandoned property.
In a statement, Littleton Director of Communications Kelly Nardi says, “The paperwork presented by the occupiers of the home appeared to be legitimate.”
A detective was assigned who deemed the case a civil matter. Ownership of the home would be determined by the courts. Littleton also referred the case to the Denver District Attorney who is investigating Carrillo.
On July 12, a District Court Judge ruled Troy and Dayna Donovan had the right to return home. Fernandez-Beleta and Leyva put up no defense after Judge Michael Spear told them anything they said in court could be used if a criminal case was brought against them. Judge Spear ruled the defendants had 48 hours to leave the home.
On his way out of court, Troy said, “We feel justice has been done. We got our home back and we can get out of the basement and get a full home to live in.”
Hours after the case Troy Donovan immediately went back to his home to check his property. The door was left unlocked so he entered a home filled with other people’s possessions. He took pictures to document the condition of the home, and then left, per the judge’s orders, giving the people inside time to pack up and move out.
But the next day the Donovan’s were back in court. The squatters claimed they were afraid for their safety and were granted restraining orders against the Donovans. In essence, keeping the Donovans from returning to their home as long as the Fernandez-Beleta and Leyva were there.
After 48 hours had passed, the Donovans again called Littleton police and asked them to arrest the people in their home for trespassing. But that did not happen.
“Littleton police officers did everything possible within the limits of their authority.” Nardi said. “Circumstances of eviction are civil matters and enforcement is done by sheriff’s offices, not by local police agencies. It is really unfortunate that there are two families who are victims in this case.”
In the meantime, Alfonso Carrillo prepared a series of appeals on behalf of Fernandez-Beleta and Leyva. Each was immediately rejected. Thirteen days after the initial court ruling, the Arapahoe County sheriff was scheduled to do an eviction. The Donovans were required to provide as many movers as necessary to empty the home in one hour. But just hours before the eviction, the whole process was canceled because Fernandez-Beleta filed for bankruptcy.
“The sheriff’s office will not proceed with an eviction if there is a bankruptcy in question,” said Arapahoe County Undersheriff David Walcher.
Now a Federal Bankruptcy Court will have to determine ownership of the house which could take weeks or even months. Meanwhile, the discouraged Donovans are plotting their next move, from a relative’s basement in Greeley.