What Is a Squatter?
A squatter is someone that lives on a property (that is not their own) without the owner’s consent. In addition to not having consent, it is unlikely that the squatter pays rent. In many cases, squatters will move into homes (other properties) involved in foreclosure or that are typically unoccupied or abandoned.
Because of Washington state’s landlord-tenant laws (specifically RCW § 7.28.070-7.28.090), squatters can make an ownership claim to land or property via adverse possession, which legally allows someone to own another person’s property if they meet certain requirements. You don’t want to lose ownership of your property nor do you want an uninvited guest squatting on your property and making changes. So what can you do to evict them before it’s too late?
How to Evict a Squatter
Squatters can live on another person’s property until ejectment actions are taken against them. To start the removal process, the property owner will need to complete a declaration form (see RCW § 9A.52.115). This form asks law enforcement officers to investigate the squatter and remove them, and the form asks the filing party to agree that:
- They own the property or are acting on the owner’s behalf.
- The squatter does not have the owner’s permission to be on the property.
- The squatter is not the owner, nor are they a tenant (or they haven’t been a tenant for at least a year).
- The property was “not open to members of the public” or abandoned at the time the squatter entered the premises.
- The filing party does not hold the officers responsible for their actions when evicting the squatter under this declaration.
- The filing party recognizes that they can face a civil suit if they have made any false statements within the declaration form, tried to illegally detain the squatter’s property, or remove them from the property.
Once you complete the declaration form, you should take it to the police and file it. The police can then go to the property and investigate. The squatter will be allowed to present evidence that they are allowed to be on the property, and it is illegal for them to present fraudulent documents or information. If they fail to offer a valid, legal reason to stay on the property they can be removed by the officers and will likely be arrested.
It is important to restate that a current or previous tenant (within the last year) is not a squatter. If their lease has expired and/or they refuse to leave your property, you will need to evict them using the standard eviction process, and you must have a valid reason for requesting they leave the property.
Protecting Your Property from Squatters
If you are worried about squatters on your property and/or about possible adverse possession claims, you should consult with an attorney as they can best advise you of your legal options and help you strategize. You can also take the following steps to protect your property from squatters.
- Consider hiring a property management company if you don’t plan to frequently visit or live on the property.
- Consider installing a security system or cameras—even fake cameras still discourage others from squatting on your property.
- Consider replacing old locks or unsecured entrances (even if you don’t live on the property).
- Hang “No Trespassing” signs around the property and its entrances.
- Pay your property taxes.
- Regularly inspect the property.
- Seek the help of law enforcement as soon as possible (i.e. as soon as you suspect a squatter has taken residence).
At Dore Law Group, PLLC, our attorney has 30 years of legal experience. Once you retain our firm, we can work with you to understand the laws that apply to your case, develop a personalized case strategy, and fight to protect your rights as a property owner or squatter. Schedule a free consultation today by calling (253) 236-3888 or completing this form.