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Bill in Legislature targets squatters, gives power to property owners, law enforcement

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A Monroe woman says she’s at her wit’s end with a property that she says has been taken over by squatters.

Q13 News has shown you through the years, squatters are a problem all over Western Washington — a problem that’s not easy to fix.

“This is on the river and if the river comes up before all this is cleaned up, it’s all going to be washed down river and washed onto my property,” said Monroe homeowner Paula Peak.

Peak says she’s spent many years frustrated by the property next door.  She says squatters trashed the place, leaving this mess leaking into the Skykomish River.

“I think if there was better communication going on from our government agencies and our councilman and city administrators; just a little bit, just better communication. That’s all I think it would (take to) calm a lot of people that are really upset wondering, ugh, is anything being done?” asked Peak.

Peak says she’s called the sheriff’s office, county health district, and every government agency in between to get help for what she calls a consistent problem next door. Those agencies say they’re doing the best they can, but it’s not a quick or easy process.

“I think we need stricter laws in effect where law enforcement can enforce them,” said Peak.

That’s why a group of lawmakers are trying again to pass a squatters bill to give property owners more rights and help police get squatters out.

“Urban areas, rural areas, suburban areas, who have had issues with squatters on their property,” said state Sen. Hans Zeiger.

Zeiger and two other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle sponsored a pair of bills related to squatting this session.  A similar effort failed last year, due to heavy opposition from tenants’ rights groups. Zeiger says he’s feeling more optimistic this time around.

“Property owner who makes the declaration by penalty of perjury, but make sure they have their facts in a row and make sure the person who they’re claiming shouldn’t be on their property, truly shouldn’t be on their property,” said Zeiger.

The bill gives protection to legitimate tenants and property owners and more power to law enforcement.

“This makes it very clear to law enforcement at what point they can intervene and that’s exactly what is needed,” said Zeiger.

In the past, Zeiger says law enforcement had to wait for a crime to be committed.

Under this bill, officers could arrest an alleged squatter just for trespassing. It passed the Senate unanimously and is now on its way to the House floor. Zeiger says a companion bill in the House is also receiving praise.