Squatters have legal rights. The Washington law allows squatters to live in another person's property if the owner doesn't take legal actions to force an eviction. Additionally, a squatter can claim full legal ownership of the property through Adverse Possession.
But what exactly is Adverse Possession? Adverse Possession is a legal doctrine in property law that allows a squatter to own someone else's property so long as they meet all requirements.
In Washington, a squatter wishing to make an Adverse Possession Claim must meet 7 distinct requirements.
These are the requirements:
- The claim must be hostile.
- The squatter must physically live in the property.
- The occupation by the squatter must be evident to anyone.
- The trespasser must possess the property exclusively.
- The squatter must live on the property for 7 continuous years.
- The squatter must have Color of Title.
- The squatter must've been paying property taxes for the 7 years they'd been occupying the property.
As a property owner or landlord, knowing you have a squatter living in your property can be frustrating as it can sometimes take a while to get rid of them. Therefore, it's important to understand all the necessary information regarding their rights. This way, you'll be able to protect your property from unwelcome invaders.
The following are answers to some commonly asked questions regarding squatters' rights.
Who exactly is considered a squatter in the state of Washington?
The term "squatter" isn't defined by law. As such, there is no precise legal definition for the term. Broadly speaking, though, a squatter is someone who occupies someone else's property without permission.
Is a trespasser a squatter?
Although trespassers and squatters seem similar, they aren't necessarity the same. Generally, a trespasser is someone who uses force to enter someone else's property by breaking a door or window, for example. A squatter, on the other hand, is a person who gains entry to a home usually through an unlocked entrance.
Also, trespassing is usually criminal in nature, while squatting is a civil matter.
That said, a squatter can be considered a trespasser once the actual owner establishes that they are no longer welcome in the home.
Is a holdover tenant a trespasser?
A holdover tenant is someone who continues to live in the rental premises even after their lease expires.
In this situation, as a landlord, you have two options:
- Begin an eviction proceeding against the tenant by serving them a relevant eviction notice.
- Let the tenant stay at your will. If you choose this option, the tenant will occupy the unit under the same terms and conditions, but the tenant can be evicted at any time without notice.
What requirements does a squatter have to meet in order to claim Adverse Possession?
As already mentioned, a squatter can lay claim on a property after residing there for some time. For the Adverse Possession claim to succeed, they must meet the following requirements.
- The squatter must've lived in the unit for 7 continuous years (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 7.28.050, et seq.). This means the squatter must not have left the property for weeks or months at any point during their occupation.
- The squatter must be physically living in the property. What's more, they must have been making improvements to the property just like the actual owner would.
- The squatter must live on the property exclusively. Sharing the property with others would invalidate their Adverse Possession claim.
- The claim must be hostile. In legal sense, "hostile" takes on three important definitions.
- The first definition is "Simple Occupation." "Hostile" is defined to be just a mere land occupation. The trespasser doesn't have an obligation to know who the actual owner is.
- The second definition is "Awareness of Trespassing." Here, the trespasser must acknowledge their illegal actions. They must know, in other words, that they are occupying someone else's property.
- Lastly, "hostile" is defined as a "Good Faith Mistake." It means that the squatter made an innocent mistake in occupying the property. They may, for example, have been relying on an invalid deed, which they weren't aware of.
- The squatter must have color of title. The legal term 'color of title' simply means that the ownership of the property isn't 'regular.' In other words, it means the owner lacks at least one of the required documents.
- The squatter must be able to show proof that they have been paying taxes for the 7 uninterrupted years. If they fail to do so, their Adverse Possession claim will be invalid.
How to evict a squatter in washington state?
Fortunately, removing a squatter from your Washington property is comparatively easy. Unlike in most states, all you must do is call the police. More precisely, you are required to serve a declaration form to a peace officer.
Once they have the form, they will give the squatter an opportunity to present their defense. If they don't present any credible evidence, then the peace officer will have no other option but to evict them from the property.
How do I protect my Washington home from squatters?
Luckily, there are a couple of things you can do to protect your Washington home from a potential invader.
Here are some tips:
- Inspect your home on a regular basis. This is particularly true if it's unoccupied.
- Pay your own taxes.
- Ensure that the property is well secured by blocking all entrances, including the doors and windows.
- Call the police as soon as you notice a squatter is living there.
- Hire a reputable property management company to manage it for you.
Do you still have some unanswered questions? If so, contact Windermere Property Management.