A squatter is someone that occupies someone else’s property without permission. And, unlike a trespasser, a squatter occupies a property with the intention of living there long-term.
Like all states, squatters have rights in Washington. You cannot simply self-evict them from your property once you find out they are living there. You must follow the law to remove them.
That said, getting rid of squatters in Washington is relatively easy. You won’t need to go through a civil eviction process to remove squatters. All you’ll need is to take criminal action against a squatter.
What Rights Do Squatters Have in Washington?
A squatter is simply an unauthorized tenant. They don’t pay rent nor abide by any lease terms. Despite this, Washington laws give them certain rights.
First and foremost, you cannot simply self-evict the tenant by doing any of the following:
- Removing their personal belongings from the property
- Locking them out of the property by changing the locks
- Shutting down utilities such as water and electricity
Doing any of these things is illegal. In addition, they may even sue you for damages resulting from the illegal eviction.
A squatter can also obtain legal ownership of the property under Adverse Possession laws. So, besides living on your property rent-free, the squatter can also become the legal property owner.
For this reason, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with the Adverse Possession laws in order to prevent this from happening.
What Requirements Must a Squatter Fulfill Under Washington Adverse Possession Laws?
Generally, in the U.S., a squatter must fulfill 5 distinct requirements in order to file an adverse possession claim. The requirements are as follows:
1. The possession must be “Open & Notorious”
The squatter must make their occupation obvious to anyone. In other words, they must not try to hide the fact that they are living there. Even when carrying out your own investigations, it should be obvious to you that there is a squatter living there.
2. The possession must be “Exclusive”
Adverse possession laws require that the squatter be the only person occupying the property. Sharing their possession with strangers, other squatters, or even the actual property owner will nullify their adverse possession claim.
3. The possession must be “Actual”
Adverse possession laws also require that a squatter making an adverse claim is physically present on the property. The squatter can establish this through property improvements and other beautification efforts.
For a squatter seeking to make an adverse possession claim on forestland, Washington squatting laws require that the tenant has made substantial improvements amounting to at least $50,000. (RCW 7.28.085).
4. The claim must be “Hostile”
In property law, “hostile” doesn’t mean violence or danger. Rather, it takes on three definitions: Simple Occupation, Good Faith Mistake, and Awareness of Trespassing.
Simple Occupation is what Washington follows, however. It defines “hostile” as a mere occupation of land. In their occupation, the squatter does not have to know that the property belongs to someone else.
5. The possession must be “Continuous”
For a squatter to file an adverse possession claim, they must reside on the property for a continuous number of years. In Washington, the period must be either 10 years or 7 years depending on whether the squatter has color of title and has been paying property taxes. (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 7.28.050, et seq.).
The entire period must also be uninterrupted. The squatter’s adverse possession claim would fail if they leave the property for weeks or months and then return later to claim it.
Squatting laws in Washington also have a special provision for legally disabled landlords. A legally disabled landlord is defined as one who is under the legal age, is imprisoned, serving in the military, or is legally incompetent. They can prevent an adverse possession claim through additional time.
In other words, the possessory period can only begin once the disability has been lifted.
How Can You Prevent Squatters from Occupying Your Washington Property?
You can prevent a squatter from occupying your Washington property by applying the following tips:
- Inspecting the property on a regular basis
- Paying the taxes due on the property without delay
- Ensuring the property is secured. Some of the things you can do in this regard include closing all windows, blocking all entrances, and locking every door
- Posting signs on the property warning against would-be trespassers
- Offering the squatter an opportunity to rent the property
- Hiring a competent property management company like Amera Property Management to help lease the property on your behalf. A good property manager will ensure the property is rented out to a great tenant who pays rent without delay and takes good care of their rented premises
How Can You Get Rid of Squatters in Washington?
It’s relatively easy to get rid of a squatter in Washington. Unlike in most states, you don’t need to go through the potentially costly and time-consuming civil eviction process. All you have to do is take criminal action against the squatter by giving a declaration form to law enforcement. There's no lease involved, so you're free of that process as well.
A declaration form is a legal document. It has several requirements, including:
- The person filling it must be the actual owner or acting on behalf of the owner
- The person occupying the property lacks the authority to do so
- That the occupant of the property is neither a tenant nor the owner and hasn’t been either for the last year
- The premises were not abandoned at the time when the unauthorized person entered
- That the person filing the declaration form knows that the person they are requesting to be removed can sue them for false statements made on the form
Once the law enforcement has received the form, they must allow the squatter to present any evidence they may have on their right to occupy the property. If they fail to do this, then law enforcement will forcefully remove them from the premises.
Amera Property Management is an expert in Washington property laws. Besides helping you deal with a squatter problem, we can also help you rent out your vacant property. We’re the trusted property management company in Olympia, Tumwater and Lacey areas of Thurston County! Contact us today to learn more about our services.
Disclaimer: This blog shouldn’t be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney. Laws frequently change, and this post might not be up-to-date at the time you read it. Please get in touch with a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company for further help.