Photo: Senator Hans Zeiger
Under current Washington state law, if you arrive home from a long trip and find people squatting in your house, you may not be able to get them to leave without taking the matter to court. If the police can’t easily determine that there was a break-in and if the strangers claim that they have a right to live there, the matter must be decided in a civil eviction court case
“Squatters have become a huge issue in our neighborhoods and communities,” state Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, said in a news release. “Landlords and property owners have had only one course of action through the civil eviction process to remove squatters. This action wasn’t enough to get unauthorized people to leave private property.”
When Senate Bill 5388, sponsored by Sen. Hans Zeiger, R-Puyallup, goes into effect across the state, property owners and law enforcement will have a new course of action. Under penalty of perjury, property owners can now sign a form stating that squatters have never been allowed to live on the property, have not been a tenant or on the title for at least a year, and don’t meet other legal defenses to trespassing.
Thurston County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Sgt. Carla Carter told The News Tribune that police officers can’t always decide who is telling the truth when there are two sides of an argument. The property owner could be trying to boot out rightful tenants, she noted.
“We’re presented varying information, and we don’t have the means to sort through that legal information out in the field,” Carter told the Tribune. “That’s what the courts are for.”
The new bill can’t be used against tenants who had recently been on a lease, so the legislation is unlikely to be invoked during disputes between tenants and landlords. If the landlord signs the form and it turns out they were lying about their tenant being a squatter, they face legal consequences.
“Having a stranger trespass on your private property and refuse to leave has not only emotional consequences for homeowners, but significant economic impacts as well,” said Zeiger, R-Puyallup in a news release. “After learning of situations where law enforcement didn’t feel they could remove people who obviously shouldn’t be on private property, it was clear we needed to act. Washington residents dealing with these situations now know they have the full backing of state law and their local officials to evict illegal occupants.”
The bill goes into effect on July 21st, 2017.