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Effective Squatter Laws Needed Now in Seattle

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We believe when non-owner occupants of a property threaten the health and safety of a community through drug activity, excessive trash or garbage accumulation, gross rodent infestation, non-permitted demolition or destruction of the property, or illegal activity requiring multiple police interventions, the City of Seattle should be empowered to (1) declare the property ‘Unfit for Habitation’ or a ‘Chronic Nuisance’ and then, (2) take immediate action to remove the offending non-owner occupant(s), (3) require all property deficiencies be corrected at owner’s expense prior to new occupancy, and (4) return full control of the property to its legal owner(s).

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Transients and homeless squatting in vacant private, and bank owned homes, is a growing concern in Seattle. Current City of Seattle Municipal Codes in many cases fosters and exacerbates this intolerable situation; and is in fact detrimental to public health, safety and security of the very community it is supposed to protect. This loophole of conflicting laws is being exploited by nefarious types for their own personal gain, while putting families and children at risk. Because of this, we are asking for a change to our Seattle Municipal Code allowing for immediate action by the City of Seattle when non-owner occupants of a property endanger the health and safety of neighbors.

The following is a case it point describing this situation:

A few years ago the owner of a Haller Lake property in the North Seattle included an investment property in their bankruptcy. When the bankruptcy was finalized the owner left town believing the lender would take back the property. The lender chose to not complete the foreclosure, and title/ownership to the property remained in the owner’s name. At the time of the bankruptcy when the original tenant moved from the property he in essence invited another person to 'do what they will' with the property. That new occupant invited others, and they invited their friends and acquaintances. Together they have not paid the owner rent for the property for around a year and a half. Also during this time they have systematically laid waste to the property.

Today the yard is filled with huge piles of trash and garbage. Occupants have been seen adding to this trash pile on an ongoing basis. At times black smoke, smelling of burning plastic, can be seen coming from the chimney of the house, and downwind the house smells of rotten garbage and urine.  There is an ever-growing population of rats living on the property. Neighbors see the rats at all hours. During a recent police raid, a large rat was observed dragging a pizza box out the front door. From the first of this year to mid-July 2014 there have been 86 police incident reports regarding this property as verified by public Seattle Police Department records. These include arrests, drug activity, fighting, and all manner of complaints. There have been many additional incidents since mid-July to date. During one recent police raid, it was determined the occupants had bridged the electrical meter box with aluminum bars, thereby stealing power. This caused insulation on wires to melt in the house nearly causing a fire. As a result Seattle City Light was called by police to disconnect power lines at the pole. There is an increasing past due water bill on the house believed to be well over $3,000. Though there is no hope of collecting this bill from the occupants, Seattle City Utilities has previously kept the water turned on letting the bill accumulate. The water may be off at this time but it is difficult to verify. There is also a secondary illegal trailer residence that has been moved onto the property. Officers have said at any point in time there could be upwards of 8-11 occupants on the property; and the house has become a criminal nexus for transients from Snohomish County looking for a place to crash. Considering the rats, mold, garbage, and drug activity, the house has essentially become a toxic dump.

With all the police, drugs, loud arguments, and threats, along with the piles of decomposing garbage, neighbors close to this house have had their property values plummet. Many are living in fear, feeling their personal safety threatened on a daily basis. The surrounding neighborhood has had a substantial increase in crime, including mail theft, home break-ins, and vehicle thefts that are believed to be a direct result of the transient occupants in the house. Neighbors’ emotions range from fear to rage regarding this property, especially considering the lack of action by the City of Seattle. One neighbor has already been pushed beyond the breaking point, and is now forced to move from his home. Occupants of the house have recently been seen walking down the street and in their trash filed yard brandishing intimidating clubs bringing even further fear into the community.

The Seattle Building Department, the Mayor’s Office, and City Council have been contacted regarding this property. Though now it most likely meets conditions for declaring the house ‘Unfit for Human Habitation under Municipal Code 22.208.010, or conditions for declaring the property a Chronic Nuisance under Municipal Code 10.09.030; the City of Seattle’s only current avenue of action is to fine the ‘Owner’ for the ongoing violations. Interestingly, it is also the City of Seattle's own strict tenant laws that prevent the Owner from taking any immediate action to correct the situation; and the City of Seattle is not able, or unwilling to remove the occupants from the property itself.

The owner on title, though removed from lender liability by bankruptcy and now financially incapable of making any changes to the property, is fully cooperating with the community’s attempt to remove the occupants through an eviction process. That effort in itself is costly and time consuming, requiring a lengthy legal process. Community members have raised the funds for legal fees. Previously the owner offered to sign a deed in lieu, and give the property to the lender. The lender replied they would not proceed with any further foreclosure, or take back the property, as long as it is occupied with its current residents. They know what a mess the property is in, and do not want any part of it.

Even the Seattle Building Department agrees with the absurdity of this situation, but their hands are tied. On one hand they could fine the owner, who has little resources, upwards of $500 per day. On the other hand, City of Seattle laws specifically prevent the owner from taking immediate substantive action to correct the situation. City of Seattle’s current policy is to fine owners and not occupants for ongoing issues, regardless of what the non-owner occupants do to the property. As the community continues to suffer, it appears perceived criminals and squatters have more legal rights than tax paying law-abiding citizens. In an effort to protect civil rights of squatters, transients and perceived criminals, the City of Seattle has abrogated the rights of honest members of the community. Balance needs to be restored before neighborhoods crumble. It is clear that the City of Seattle has failed to protect its law abiding residents. What's needed is a revision to City of Seattle Municipal Code to protect neighbors and property owners who are in similar squatter/vagrant home takeover situations, and/or where tenants act with forethought and malice to place their neighbors and community in immediate danger.

Unfortunately this situation is not an isolated incident. With all the vacant properties it could easily happen in your neighborhood, as it has done in Seattle and across our Country. By taking action today to improve our laws, we can help ensure that homeowners and neighbors of these problem properties have the means to protect themselves when a situation such as this arises again. As taxpayers and voters in the City of Seattle, we are asking that non-owner occupant laws be changed to allow for effective action by the City of Seattle when non-owner occupants of a property continually threaten the safety and well being of a neighborhood and community; especially when the owner of a property is unavailable, unable, or incapable of taking the expensive and lengthy legal steps to remove criminal occupants from the property.

We believe, and request, when non-owner occupants of a property threaten the health and safety of a community through drug activity, excessive trash or garbage accumulation, gross rodent infestation, non-permitted demolition or destruction of the property, or illegal activity requiring multiple police interventions, the City of Seattle should be empowered to:

1) Declare the property ‘Unfit for Habitation” or a Chronic Nuisance’.

2) Take action to Immediately Remove the Offending Non-Owner Occupant(s).

3) Require all property deficiencies be corrected at owner’s expense prior to new occupancy.

4) Return full control of the property to its legal owner(s).

 



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