If you own unattended property in Washington, you may be at risk of having someone move in without permission, otherwise known as squatting. While it may seem illegal, squatters have rights that landowners must be aware of before attempting to evict. Additionally, squatters can claim legal ownership of real estate property through Adverse Possession.

In simpler terms, Adverse Possession is a process that allows squatters to own someone else’s property as long as they meet all seven requirements. These requirements are as follows:

  • The claim must be hostile. In this case, “hostile” does not mean unfriendly. Rather, hostile means the possession infringes on the rights of the owner, either by mistake or trespassing. The key here is that the owner did not give their consent.
  • The squatter must live physically on the property for seven years if they have a Color of Title. If they do not have one, they must live on the property for 10 years.
  • The occupants must live in a way that is obvious to anyone, not hidden.
  • The squatter must possess this property exclusively.
  • A Color of Title, an invalid document that appears to be a legitimate claim of ownership, is required for seven years of continuous occupation.
  • The squatter must pay property taxes for the seven years they occupied the property.

The last thing a property owner wants is to have someone take legal ownership of their investment; that’s why it’s important to understand Washington’s squatter rights laws so you can better protect yourself. Learn everything you need to know about Adverse Possession and how to prevent squatters on your land below.

Understanding Washington Squatter Rights Law

Squatting can happen for several reasons, such as a person occupying an abandoned property or moving into a foreclosed home. Other common reasons for squatting include:

  • The person takes shelter in the property due to an emergency or unforeseen circumstance
  • The occupants were not aware that the property was taken or that they needed permission
  • A neighbor assumes part of the land accidentally and maintains it, puts their property on it, and pays taxes on it.
  • A mistake with the title deed or having partial documents but not the full title to the land

When a landlord or property owner discovers someone squatting on their land, the only way to legally remove them from the property is to follow standard Washington eviction laws, which we wrote about in detail. We’ll also go over how to evict a squatter below.

Squatting vs. Trespassing

At this point, you may be thinking, isn’t squatting just trespassing? Not necessarily. It’s easy to mistake one with the other; however, the two have distinct differences. Squatting is typically a civil dispute, while trespassing is a criminal offense. 

Can squatters be charged with a criminal offense?

Yes. A squatter can receive criminal charges if they occupy a property after the owner makes it clear that their stay is unwelcome. They might also be charged with additional crimes, such as breaking and entering or trying to claim ownership using forged documents. But even so, squatters have rights that must be protected under state and city law. 

Additionally, squatters can avoid a trespasser charge by meeting the following requirements:

  • The property was vacant
  • They entered the property due to an emergency
  • The squatters improved the property by updating the paint, planting flowers, cleaning up trash, etc.

What is a Holdover Tenant?

A holdover tenant is a person who occupies the property at some point through a rental agreement with the owner and refuses to move out after the lease expires. A lingering tenant may be unable to find another place to live, frustrated with the landlord, affected by economic shifts such as a recession or pandemic, or another reason. 

If a holdover tenant refuses to vacate, the landlord has two options:

  1. The landlord can agree to extend their stay and continue taking rent payments, which is known as “tenants at will.” The landlord can then treat the occupant as a current tenant and can evict the tenant if necessary.
  2. If the tenant continues to refuse to leave after receiving a notice to quit, the landlord may be able to charge the tenant for trespassing.

How Washington Adverse Possession Works

As mentioned, a squatter can gain legal ownership of a property in Washington if they have a Color of Title and have occupied it continuously for at least seven years. Without a Color of Title, a squatter must live there uninterrupted for 10 years. This process allows squatters to obtain legal permission to stay on the property.

Adverse Possession Claim Requirements

As mentioned, a squatter must meet all of these requirements if they want to make an adverse possession claim. Missing even one of these requirements will make any adverse possession invalid. Here they are in detail: 

  1. Hostile Possession: This states that the owner did not give consent to the squatter, whether the squatter made a good-faith mistake or was aware of their trespassing but chose to occupy.
  2. Actual Possession: The person must live physically on the land and maintain and treat the property as if it were their own.
  3. Open and Notorious Possession: The squatter must be obvious about their occupancy and cannot hide out of sight. They should live as if they are rightfully on the property.
  4. Exclusive and Continuous: The squatter must be solely occupying the property for at least seven years. If they leave and return at any point, the time starts over.

How to Evict Squatters from Your Property

While many states require the landlord to evict tenants through the civil process, Washington’s rules are different. If a landlord would like to remove someone taking up residence on their property, they can do so by calling the police. Owners will need to provide proof of title via a declaration form to show that they legally own the property. 

What is a Declaration Form?

A declaration form is a document required by Washington law that allows police officers to remove squatters from a property. The landlord must specify in the form that they are the property owner, as well as state the following:

  • The squatter is not a tenant or owner and is occupying the property without permission
  • The property was not abandoned or welcome to the public when the squatter began occupancy
  • The landlord understands that any false statements made can be used against them by the squatter
  • Law enforcement cannot be liable for any actions resulting from removing the squatter

If the squatter does not have clear and convincing evidence that they have a right to the property, police officers can evict them from the premises and even arrest them for trespassing. 

How to Prevent Squatters on Your Property

When it comes to squatters, prevention is key. Here are measures you can take to protect your property:

  • Pay Property Taxes: If you want to secure your ownership, make sure to pay property taxes each year and on time.
  • Install a Security System: A security system can deter squatters, prevent trespassers, and protect from breaking and entering.
  • Screen Tenants: If you plan to rent your property, make sure to carefully screen each tenant before they move in. This can help avoid any issues with tenants later on. Try our tenant screening tools, which range from a background check, credit check, and financial summary.
  • Check the Property: Visit the property yourself or have a trusted friend or property management company check the premises for you. 
  • Maintain a Lived-in Presence: Keep the home looking as though someone lives there, even if it’s vacant. Stay on top of landscaping, get the mail, and clean inside and out regularly.
  • Address Lease Violations: If you suspect you have an occupant overstaying their welcome, take immediate action. Issue a proper warning and initiate the eviction process as soon as possible.
  • No Trespassing Signs: Post “No Trespassing” signs to make it more difficult for a squatter to claim they did not know they were occupying illegally.


Squatter rights can be difficult for a property owner to navigate around. But the more you understand Washington’s squatter and eviction laws, the more prepared you’ll be in the event that someone tries to occupy your property. 

If you find yourself needing to remove squatters from your property, consult with local law enforcement. For additional help, reach out to a Washington-based lawyer for specific legal advice.

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Are property taxes required in Adverse Possession in Washington?

Yes, a squatter trying to claim possession of someone else’s land must pay property taxes for the entire seven years they have occupied the property.

Can Washington landlords remove squatters?

While it is not recommended that property owners in Washington remove squatters themselves, they can call police authorities to have the squatters forcibly removed.

Can I pay property taxes to claim my property?

Yes, if you pay property taxes regularly and on time, it helps to prove that you own the property.

Do I need a Color of Title to claim possession in Washington?

You do not need a Color of Title for a squatter to begin claiming possession in the state of Washington; however, having one will shorten the period of occupancy it takes to make an adverse possession claim (from ten years to seven years).