SEATTLE -- You could almost smell the house before you could see it.
Flies buzzed around the pale yellow home on Seattle’s First Hill, just a short walk from Seattle University. The windows and doors were boarded up, trash littered the backyard, and pieces of toilet paper were strewn across the lawn.
The house had sat been abandoned for several years, following the death of the previous owner. It was purchased by a developer about two years ago, but not before squatters set up residence inside.
“I wanna have somewhere I can sleep in this rainy ass city,” said Cappy, a 21-year-old homeless youth.
He said he was among the first group of squatters to call the house home.
“I’ve just found a house that no one wants anymore – from someone who’s dead,” he said. “The person who owns the house, he’s dead. How can he live here when his body’s gone?”
Cappy, his friends, and the vacant house have become a serious problem for some in the neighborhood, where a few homes are on the market for more than a million dollars.
Abandoned properties, especially those that attract trespassers, can have a serious impact on property values and can discourage people from moving into the area.
“If a community has a growing squatter problem, it could affect buyers' and renters' willingness to move to that area, and consequently the local property values,” said Sam DeBord, a managing broker with Coldwell Banker Danforth.
Such properties can also have an impact on the sense of safety in a community, which DeBord said is a top priority for house hunters.
“I expressed concern about our stuff being vandalized or stolen, and (the police) just said that legally they couldn’t do anything,” said one of five young men who rent the home next to the abandoned property of First Hill.
He said one of his roommates saw a man shooting up heroin outside early one morning, and on another occasion a squatter knocked on their door to say he wanted to kill himself.
There are more than 200 vacant homes in Seattle that are currently being investigated by, or are at the center of active enforcement cases with the Department of Planning and Development. Of those, 89 homes have landed on a vacant building monitoring list, a special program for properties that are found to be in chronic violation of minimum maintenance standards. Those homes are subject to quarterly inspections and must pass three in a row before being removed from the list.
While it is not illegal for a home to be vacant, it must be closed off to the elements and secured to prevent trespass.
If an owner does not take steps to address those concerns, he or she could be fined anywhere from $213 to $425.
The vacant home near Seattle University of First Hill is not on the active monitoring list, but has been the subject of two complaints since 2012. The most recent complaint was made in May, and inspectors have since been out to the home to make sure it was secured.
“You can board it up and people come and remove the boards,” said Dave Bowie, who bought the home around two years ago and plans to tear it down and rebuild.
He said there is only so much he can do to keep trespassers out until then.
“I can’t come around and know who’s in here and I can’t be sticking my head in. Who knows what’s there,” he said.
Bowie showed up at the home last week to tell Cappy and his friends that they needed to gather their stuff and leave. He said he understands that the house has been a problem for the neighborhood, but he hopes to start work on it soon.
The Department of Planning and Development said it is important that community members report vacant homes that have become a problem and call police if they see trespassers.
“Squatters are a temporary logistical problem when handled correctly,” said DeBord with Coldwell Banker Danforth. “It's important for local authorities to take an active role in removing squatters expediently so that others are not encouraged by a perception that they can get away with encroaching on others' property rights.”
For more information on city regulations for vacant properties, click here.