Washington Squatter Laws

Washington squatter laws allow an individual to make an adverse possession claim if they live on, maintain, and pay taxes on an unoccupied property for seven years.
Written by Bonnie Stinson
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
Squatters have some legal protection in Washington. Not only can a squatter legally inhabit unoccupied property in some situations but they can legally claim the property via adverse possession after a period of seven years.
You might think all squatters are people with bad intentions. But some people become de facto squatters by simply occupying a portion of territory that’s not their own, like the edge of a neighbor’s backyard. Legal disaster is possible either way. 
Luckily, you can protect yourself by understanding the laws.
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Evergreen State
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Who is considered a squatter in Washington?

A squatter is someone who lives in a property that is abandoned or unoccupied—without the lawful permission of the property owner.
There is a difference between a trespasser and a squatter. If you are facing this situation, be certain that you understand the state and national laws. You may be surprised to discover that your unwanted guest is actually a legal squatter and not an illegal trespasser!

Squatting vs. trespassing vs. holdover tenants

To determine whether someone is squatting or trespassing, you must consider two key factors: whether the property is occupied and whether the person is unwelcome
Squatting is when someone enters an unoccupied property and there are no posted signs about whether or not they are welcome. If there are signs posted that clearly prohibit unwanted visitors, squatters can be charged as criminals whether the property is occupied or not.
Trespassing is when a property is occupied and someone enters without permission.
There is also a third possibility: holdover tenants. These are people who stay in a rented space past the expiry of a lease. If they continue to pay rent and the landlord accepts the money, they become tenants at will. Otherwise, it may be considered trespassing. 

Adverse possession laws in Washington 

Squatters may be able to legally claim property against the original owner. This is called adverse possession. Check out the official language of the legislation
The squatter must meet specific criteria in order to qualify. In Washington State, squatters must demonstrate seven years of continuous use and improvement. The squatter must also
pay property taxes
on the property
Here are five possible requirements that a squatter must satisfy:

Hostile possession

Hostile possession means that the squatter took possession of the property without permission. It does not mean that any actual violence was involved. 
In fact, this portion applies to people who either knowingly or unknowingly occupied someone else’s property.

Active possession

Active possession means that the squatter is currently in control of the property. They treat the property like an owner would, improving it and maintaining it. They might perform repairs or keep up the yard, for instance.

Open and notorious possession

Open and obvious occupation of a property is key. A squatter cannot hide their presence on the property. If they do, they will not qualify for adverse possession.

Exclusive possession

Exclusive possession means that the squatter has been the sole possessor of the property. If the property was shared by the rightful owner during any time, they cannot claim adverse possession.

Continuous possession

Continuous possession for seven years is the final requirement. During this time, the squatter must have paid the appropriate property taxes, too.
Key Takeaway To qualify for adverse possession in Washington, a squatter must have seven years of continuous occupation along with payment of property taxes. 
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Does Washington honor color of title claims?

Color of title refers to property ownership that is not standard because the typical documents are not present. 
Washington does honor color of title claims if
certain requirements
are met.

How to protect yourself from squatters

Squatters do have legal protections in Washington. However, property owners should take steps to protect their property from the legal challenges brought by squatters:
  • Visit often: Do not leave your property unoccupied for too long. If you do, it’s an invitation for a squatter to claim it. 
  • Install locks and alarms: Whether or not you live there full-time, it’s worth investing in a security system and locks to prevent unwanted visitors. This can help you save money on your home insurance, too!
  • Post “no trespassing” signs: Make sure that squatters know they are not welcome. Posting this sign can help you in court if a squatter tries to claim adverse possession. 
  • Pay property taxes promptly: If you delay, a squatter could step in and pay your taxes—improving the likelihood of claiming your property in the future.
So what should you do if you have squatters?
First, deliver a written notice that you own the property and ask them to leave. If they’re unwilling, you can either rent to them, contact law enforcement, or attempt to evict them lawfully.
A word of warning: squatters do have rights in Washington. Do not turn off the utilities or threaten them, as this could lead to legal trouble for you. Contact a lawyer to get help peaceably evicting squatters from your property.

How to find affordable home and car insurance in Washington

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Technically, squatters could stay in an unoccupied property in Washington forever. If the squatter wants to make an adverse possession claim, then seven years is the period of time they must stay on the property while paying property taxes.
To legally claim the property they are occupying, squatters in Washington must pay property taxes continuously.
Not always. If a property is unoccupied or abandoned, squatting may be totally legal. Trespassing, on the other hand, is a criminal offense.
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