TACOMA – State lawmakers are sounding off as a Tacoma couple has struggled to remove squatters from their property.
Bob and Rose Nelson say squatters have been in their south Tacoma rental home for more than a month. They say the squatters have changed the locks and refuse to leave.
"They basically locked us out of the house and we called the sheriff," said Rose.
Pierce County sheriff's deputies say state law requires the couple to secure an eviction order before anything can be done. Deputies say they need to know for sure if they're dealing with squatters or actual tenants, even if it seems obvious.
State lawmakers are questioning that approach. Senators say the law is designed to protect tenants, not squatters.
The Nelsons say their former tenants allowed the squatters in the home, near Vickery Avenue E. and 112th Street E. in Tacoma, before vacating the property in December.
"All of a sudden they're in your home living there and the sheriff won't come and arrest them for trespassing? That seems, to me, to be completely ridiculous," said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver.
Benton has co-authored legislation on rental properties in the past. He says the laws are just fine the way they are. The deputies, he says, just need to listen the property owners and force the squatters out.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Sumner, agrees but also says if more clarity from Olympia will help, she's in favor changing the law.
"I can't imagine what the genesis of the legislation was that may have put this in," said Roach. "I suspect it was never anticipated in the first place. So the law that is there, that is existing right now, needs to be changed to meet the circumstances of today."
Until progress is made, the Nelsons may have to spend thousands of dollars in legal fees. To protect their property, they keep paying the bills.
"I'm paying for the electricity and the water, the taxes, the whole nine yards," said Bob.
Roach says deputies need to listen to the people who own the property. She says that should be the determining method in resolving allegations of squatters living on the property. The Nelsons say they're preparing to hire an attorney and hoping for a quick eviction process.
Statement from the Pierce County Sheriff's Department:
"My understanding of the situation is that the previous tenants moved and left the current individuals there. A check of our work orders does not show that an eviction process was brought through the civil unit for action on an issued court order. Being that the previous tenants may have allowed the current occupants to be at the residence, this would require a court order from Superior Court for the Sheriff's Office to act in removing the occupants. I understand the frustration of the property owners but minus the court order, we cannot physically remove the occupants. If and when the owners do obtain the proper court order, the civil unit will be more than happy to assist in executing the order."
-- Sgt. Rodger Leach, Pierce County Sheriff's Dept. Civil / Court Security Supervisor