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New tools will help shove squatters out


Snohomish Police Department photo

Neighbors, elected officials and police officers gathered Wednesday, March 21 for a meeting at Weaver Way prompted by neighborhood complaints at the City Council meeting the night before. The house discussed in the story is not visible in the picture.


SNOHOMISH — One “zombie house” remains on the market after an unsuccessful auction but the city has two new tools in its belt to clean up nuisance properties.
The foreclosed property at 1405 Weaver Way hit the auction block for the third time on May 18.
Twenty buyers dwindled to five as the minimum bid circulated. The property debt was $594,910.57 and the bank would not take a penny less. Real estate site estimates showed a high fair market value of $570,767, leaving disappointed bidders silent in the brief auction proceeding outside the Snohomish County Courthouse.
Also disappointed was Deputy Rich Niebusch, the Police Department’s community officer, who was on hand with paperwork for a potential new owner to facilitate evicting the squatters inside that had so upset neighbors. Nobody bought it.

New laws
The city has new tools to repair the damage done to neighborhoods when abandoned properties are invaded by illegitimate tenants.
The first state law, enacted last July, empowers police to evict squatters if the property owner declares they do not belong there.
The process is cheaper and faster than how it worked under older laws. Previously, a party would have to take legal action against “unlawful or wrongful detainers,” such as the Weaver Way squatters, through a lengthy court proceeding process.
There are still challenges under the new law. Finding absentee property owners and meeting all the law’s conditions can be difficult.
In the case of 1405 Weaver Way, the owner was out of the country.
The declaration, too, is somewhat complex: owners must attest to nine conditions being met. Among them, the owner must have already demanded the squatters leave without effect, and certify that the property was not abandoned when the squatters took residence.
Police are adding the new options to their arsenal as well.
“On a case by case basis, this law could be a helpful tool for us to apply in cooperation with an engaged property owner ... but this is clearly not a one-size-fits-all solution, and will not address every nuisance property situation,” Police Chief Keith Rogers said in an email.
The second state law will take effect June 7. It specifically addresses bank-owned properties, which have been more difficult to guard against squatters. A 2016 law banned banks from even entering the properties during the foreclosure process. The new law allows banks to secure the properties earlier, which can prevent squatters from taking hold.
The law’s teeth, though, are in the form of bank sanctions: A city can act to abate a nuisance and place a lien on the property to recover the costs of abatement.
City attorney Grant Weed shared about the bills at a May 1 City Council meeting.
There is a “high likelihood of eventually getting your costs reimbursed,” Weed told the council.
At Weaver Way, while the hot real estate market failed to shut down squatters, the chilling effect of police patrols and a heat shutoff have made a difference said next door neighbor Katie Ard.
Police arrested a registered sex offender residing at the property. Neighbors have been active, too, forming a neighborhood watch which continues to meet.
However, neighbors are now concerned that a second home on the block is harming the family neighborhood. At a nearby Weaver Way home “they have somebody there we believe is doing drugs as well.” There are “random vehicles, someone comes out with a small bag in their hand, gets in car for two minutes or so,” Ard said.
There is no new auction date set for 1405 Weaver Way as of press time. While neighbors wait for a final resolution, they hope the old-fashioned stink-eye paired with new strategies will neutralize their unwanted neighbors.

  

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