OLYMPIA, Wash. -- The days of rent-free living for squatters could soon be over in Washington state.
A KING 5 report last month on squatters in a Tacoma rental home has created a social media firestorm—enough outrage to inspire a state lawmaker to introduce legislation promising change.
The idea behind the bill is to make it easier for property owners to remove squatters. Current state law is vague on the issue. Right now, in many cases, property owners must dish out thousands of dollars in court costs and lawyer fees before squatters are forced to hit the road.
This week, squatters left a mess behind in the Tacoma rental house owned by Bob and Rose Nelson.
Until recently-- for a month-- the Nelsons had no access to the house they own. The locks were changed and deputies said they couldn't help the couple. The Pierce County Sheriff's Department said state law required the Nelsons to initiate an eviction hearing.
"We have no rights," said Rose Nelson in January of 2016." [Deputies] can't go in and remove them is what we were told."
The Nelson's story on KING 5 caught the attention of Rep. Hans Zeiger of Puyallup. He says he's now anxious to add some common sense to state law.
"We shouldn't have to be dealing with this in our society," said Zeiger. "A property owner shouldn't have to go through an endless series of legal hoops to remove a squatter from their property."
Zeiger says House Bill 2897 throws so called "squatter rights" out the window, requiring officers to go after offenders for criminal trespassing. The bill would eliminate the need for property owners to go through a lengthy legal process.
Zeiger says his bill has bi-partisan support, companion legislation in the senate and is a hot topic among his constituents.
"Folks have been contacting our office," said Zeiger. "There's been a lot of buzz on social media about this. People are getting engaged in this issue because they see there's an injustice here."
The house squatter bill is currently waiting to be assigned a hearing. Zeiger says there will be urgency to move it through the legislative process quickly.
"We want to do everything we can to get that a hearing in the Judiciary Committee and make sure that it gets on to the House floor for a vote because it's a short session, and we need to make sure we're dealing with this issue," explained Zeiger.
The Nelsons were able to get back into their house earlier this week after neighbors suspected the squatters of illegal activity and put pressure on them to leave, according to Rose Nelson.
Neighbors have established a GoFundMe page to help the Nelsons pay for repair costs to the house.