Squatters have legal rights. The Washington law allows squatters to live in another person's property if the actual property owner doesn't take legal actions to force an eviction process. Additionally, squatters can claim full legal ownership of the real estate property through Adverse Possession.
But what exactly is Adverse Possession in Washington? Adverse Possession is a legal doctrine in property law that allows squatters to own another person's property so long as they meet all requirements.
Squatters wishing to make an Adverse Possession must meet 7 distinct requirements.
These are the requirements for the claim:
- The claim has to be be hostile.
- The squatters needs to physically live in the property.
- The occupation by the squatters needs to be evident to anyone.
- The trespassers has to possess the property exclusively.
- The squatters has to live on the property for 7 continuous years.
- The squatters needs to have Color of Title (in the legal sense).
- The squatters must've been paying property taxes for the 7 years they'd been occupying the property.
As an 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.
You can also consider hiring a knowledgable attorney.
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 state law. As such, there is no precise legal definition for the term. Broadly speaking, though, squatters are people who occupy someone else's property without permission.
Is a trespasser a squatter?
Although trespassers and squatters seem similar as they both enter without permission, they aren't necessarity the same. Generally, a trespasser is a person 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 is using the property because they gained entry to it 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?
Holdover tenants are people 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 process against the tenants by serving them a relevant eviction notice.
- Let the tenants stay at your will. If you choose this option, the tenants will occupy the unit under the same terms and conditions, but the tenants may 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 may lay claim on a property after residing there for some time. For the adverse possession claims to succeed, they need to meet the following requirements.
- The squatter must've been living in and using the property for 7 continuous years (Wash. Rev. Code Ann. §§ 7.28.050, et seq.). This means the squatter can't have left the property for weeks or months at any point during their occupation. If they did, the claim would not be valid.
- The squatter needs to 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 adverse possession claims 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 remove squatters?
As a property owner, fortunately, removing squatters from your Washington real estate property is comparatively easy and not a long process. Unlike in most states, all you have to do for an eviction 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 start the process. They'll give the squatters 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 rental premises.
How do I protect my home from squatters?
Luckily, there are a couple of things you can do to protect your home from a potential unwanted person.
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 squatters are 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 or a real estate attorney.