by Kimberly M. Raphaeli
RCO Legal, P.S. – USFN Member (AK, OR, WA)
Washington has traditionally been a squatter-friendly state. However, recent news stories about squatters taking over homes and refusing to leave, while property owners are helpless to stop them, have resulted in an outcry by concerned citizens. The law currently requires property owners to file an eviction action or, other civil lawsuit, to obtain a writ of restitution before the sheriff can step in and forcibly remove squatters from a home. This can be difficult when a property owner does not know the identity of the persons and may not have the financial ability to pursue a civil action. While a property owner wades through this difficult legal process, the home and neighborhood suffers. Illegal activity may be present; property damage may be ongoing — all while property values decline in the neighborhood.
Lawmakers have taken note and introduced House Bill 2897. The bill proposes to expand the definition of criminal trespass in the first degree to include an individual not listed as a tenant on a rental agreement or as a guest in an affidavit signed by the owner of the property, who refuses to leave immediately upon demand and surrender possession of the premises to the owner (a “tenant by sufferance”). This means a property owner, after written demand to the squatters, may contact law enforcement to report an active criminal trespass and receive assistance without needing to file a civil action.
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