Following the subprime mortgage meltdown of 2008 and the ensuing recession, many Americans lost their homes. Although Washington was not among the states hit hardest, vacancies and homelessness both increased. Homeless residents began moving in to many of these vacant houses, and calls for changes in eviction laws to facilitate evicting these squatters then followed. Ironically, Washington's tenants rights law, designed to protect the rights of renters, has made getting rid of squatters particularly difficult.
Where to Start
The first thing to recognize is that in Washington there is no legally-framed method of evicting a squatter other than the methods used to evict legal tenants. This means that you have no right to use force or even intimidate an illegal squatter. Your only recourse is to begin an eviction proceeding, which must be code-compliant even when the squatter has never been a legal tenant.
The eviction procedure in Washington begins with sending the squatters an eviction notice. If the squatters don't leave, file an unlawful detainer complaint against the squatters. You also can obtain a packet of forms that include the unlawful detainer form and other documents you may need from the Public Law Library of King County. The cost is $35. You may read about the kit online, but you will need to go to a library location to buy it in person.
After you've filed the unlawful detainer, the court sets a hearing date. Prior to that, one important step is to prepare legally acceptable copies -- usually certified -- of your title deed and mortgage to show the judge. Once the judge confirms the unlawful detainer, you can then ask the sheriff's department to conduct the physical eviction.
You can read more about the eviction process on the Access Evictions website, which specifically addresses Washington's law, and at Nolo's "How Evictions Work: Rules for Landlords and Property Managers," which is a general guide to U.S. evictions.
Unless you own the home the squatters have moved into, you may not have legal standing to begin eviction proceedings. Washington eviction laws offers no ready remedy to neighbors who want troublesome squatters evicted. You can complain to the city attorney, however, if you believe the squatters are creating a health hazard or engaging in illegal activity. This has worked, but it is a long process.
One way to jump-start the eviction process if you are not the legal owner of the property is to find out who holds title to the property. Often, it is the bank that funded the loan. If you complain to the bank about squatters and note its refusal to act could make it legally responsible for the squatters' actions, the bank may begin eviction proceedings.