Washington draws in many visitors who want to see its beautiful forests and lands. As a property owner, you may enjoy your own Washington property. And you likely work to ensure that your property and family are safe from trespassers. As a property owner, you have certain rights when someone enters your land without permission or removes items from your property. However, you may not be sure exactly what is illegal.
You may wonder, What are the real estate trespassing laws in Washington state? Every landowner should know some basic information about illegal trespassing on their private property. Below we explain trespassing laws for property owners in Washington.
What Is Trespassing?
In general, trespassing is when someone enters another person’s property without the legal right to be there and without authorization. Trespassing is illegal in Washington State. But, what are the real estate trespassing laws in Washington state? Washington has different types of trespassing laws: civil and criminal. Penalties for trespassing can range from the trespasser serving jail time to the trespasser paying damages to the property owner.
Criminal Trespass Laws
Trespassing on someone else’s property is a crime. Washington has two forms of criminal trespass: first-degree criminal trespass, a gross misdemeanor, and second-degree criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor.
Criminal trespass in the first degree is knowingly entering and remaining in the building of another. This carries a penalty of up to one year in jail. Criminal trespass in the second degree encompasses a wider area than just entering a building. You can be guilty of this if you knowingly enter the premises of another, including the land surrounding the premises. Second-degree criminal trespass carries a possible sentence of up to 90 days in jail.
A landowner can call the police if they believe someone is trespassing on their private property. The police will respond to a trespassing call and might arrest the trespasser. Then, the State decides if they want to pursue criminal charges.
Lawsuits for Trespass
Trespassing is also a civil wrong and can form the basis of a civil lawsuit. The difference between a civil and criminal action is in the parties and penalties. In a criminal action, the State prosecutes the crime against the trespasser. Although the property owner is a witness, they have little to do with what happens in the case. If criminally convicted, the trespasser can go to jail for their crime or be subject to other criminal penalties like fines and probation.
In Washington, a real estate owner can bring a civil case against the trespasser for statutory trespass. This is a civil wrong, otherwise known as a tort. Unlike in a criminal case, the property owner has most of the control over a civil lawsuit. Below are the requirements for bringing each type of case and the compensation an owner may recover.
Trespass As a Civil Wrong
When someone trespasses on someone else’s land, under tort law, it infringes on the landowner’s rights to enjoy their property. So under common law, a landowner can bring a trespass claim against someone who knowingly entered onto your property without a right to be there. Common law torts are private wrongs that have been recognized by the courts but aren’t in a statute.
For a claim under the tort of trespass, you must prove each of the following:
- You owned the land or property;
- The other person knowingly or intentionally entered into your property;
- That person did not have any authority to be on the property; and
- You suffered damages as a result of the trespass.
A common example in the forests of Washington is when someone hunts on private property without permission. A hunter may claim that they didn’t know that it was private property. If you have “no trespassing” signs hanging around your property, you can show that they knew or should have known that they were trespassing.
A person can also be liable for trespass if they put something on your property without your permission and you suffered damages. An example of this would be if a stranger throws a brick on your property, hitting your greenhouse and shattering the glass.
Washington’s Statutory Trespass Laws
In addition to the judicially recognized tort of trespass, the Washington state legislature passed laws regarding trespassing that allow a landowner to sue a trespasser under certain circumstances. These trespassing laws involve trespassing to remove natural resources from the land.
The primary trespass statute prohibits someone from wrongfully entering another person’s land and:
- Removing a valuable natural resource from the property;
- Injuring or wasting the land or property;
- Damages personal property on private property; or
- Damage improvements on the property.
“Wrongfully” means that the person intentionally entered the property without authorization, or they reasonably should have known they were entering the private property without permission.
The second trespass statute addresses the illegal removal of trees. Under this statute, a person is prohibited from removing trees from your property without permission or authorization. This statute includes tree removal on both private and public property, such as the street in front of your house. If someone wrongfully enters your property and removes your trees, including cutting down a Christmas tree, they can be liable for trespass.
Compensation for Owners in Trespass Cases
If you prove the elements of trespass, you are entitled to recover monetary damages, including the following:
- Loss of the value of the property;
- Damage to the property;
- The cost of repairing or restoring the property;
- Discomfort or annoyance costs; and
- Reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
Plus, the trespasser faces treble damages in certain situations (such as removal of timber). This means that the harmed property owner could recover three times the actual costs incurred due to the harm caused by the trespasser.
Contact Our Attorney About Your Trespassing Case
If you are faced with a trespasser and have experienced harm, you need a real estate lawyer who can fight for your rights as a property owner. Property issues and the legal nuances of trespass can be hard to navigate. The lawyers at Bolan Law Group. are here to help. With our decades of experience representing property owners, we know the importance of quality individualized service. Contact us for a consultation.