RHAWA Passes State Law to Help Property Owners Remove Squatters
On May 10, Governor Inslee signed in to law, legislation which will allow property owners to have squatters removed from their property by law enforcement immediately, rather than having to navigate the lengthy eviction process.
SB 5388, which passed with unanimous, bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, takes effect July 23, 2017.
Specifically, the law will allow property owners to file a declaration that a trespasser - not a tenant - is on their property. This allows law enforcement to remove the person immediately, unless that person can prove they were a legal tenant within the past 12 months.
State Representative Andrew Barkis was lead sponsor of the House-version of the legislation which was melded in to a final Senate version of the bill. He also has worked for over 20 years as the owner of a professional property management company. His leadership was crucial in getting this bill passed, after having seen it stall the previous 5 years in the legislature.
Rep. Barkis remarked that, "The bill's signing is the culmination of many years of work between the various groups. I believe bringing my background in the industry to the legislative process paid off." As a leader for the industry in the State Legislature, Rep. Barkis’ support is hugely appreciated by RHAWA, and our industry.
While there are more details in the actual process, the basics of the legislation are relatively simple.
An owner, or their agent, may initiate a law enforcement investigation and request the removal of an unauthorized person or persons. They must declare:
- They are the owner
- The individuals entered and remain illegally in the unit
- That the individual(s) were not a tenant at the property in the past 12 months
- The individual(s) were not authorized to enter or remain in the unit
- That they have demanded that the unauthorized individual(s) vacate the unit, but failed to do so
Any false declarations made by an owner or their agent under this law may bring a cause of action against them for any false statements made, and the declarant may be held liable for actual damages, costs, and reasonable attorneys' fees.
Law enforcement must provide the individual(s) with a reasonable opportunity to secure and present any credible evidence, which the officer must consider, showing that the person or persons are tenants, legal occupants, or the guests or invitees of tenants or legal occupants.
If it is determined the law enforcement that the individual(s) are in the unit illegally they may then proceed with removing them from the premises, with or without an arrest being made, and order them to remain off the premises or be subject to arrest for criminal trespass.