It is important for property owners to understand real estate trespassing laws in Washington and their legal rights. The act of trespass and subsequent remedies for property owners are governed by both common law (decisions made by the courts) and by Washington state statutes. Trespass is a tort, which means it is a wrongful act that causes injury to another party and may lead to a lawsuit. Specifically, a trespasser generally wrongfully enters another person’s property, interferes with possession of property, damages property, or wrongfully removes resources from property.
Is it Illegal to Trespass on Private Property?
Is it illegal to trespass on private property? Yes. Trespassing on private property is illegal and there are good reasons why. Trespassers can not only cause damage to the property of another, they can injure themselves and others in the process. Therefore, property owners have the right to file a lawsuit to stop trespassers from coming onto their property and also to collect an award for resulting damages.
If you are a property owner who wishes to take legal action against a trespasser, the Seattle or Tacoma real estate attorneys at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess can help. We offer a free consultation to examine your individual situation and determine the best way to handle it. Call us today at 206-621-1110 to get started.
Real Estate Trespassing Laws
Common Law Tort Liability
One avenue property owners have to recover damages from and take legal action against trespassers is to do so under common law tort liability. Common law is developed over time through decisions made by courts.
Under the common law tort of trespass, trespassers may be liable for damages if they interfere with another person’s possession of real property.
If someone trespasses on your land and you wish to recover damages, your attorney would have to prove the following legal elements:
- You owned or possessed the real estate at the time of the trespass (can be an owner or tenant).
- Another individual intentionally entered onto your land without proper authorization to do so.
- You suffered damage as a result.
In addition, you would have to prove the defendant showed intent when trespassing onto your land. If another person accidentally wanders onto your land unknowingly, it is likely that no trespass occurred.
Under some circumstances, a person may be held liable for trespass even if he or she did not actually enter your land. For example, if the person simply helped another individual enter your land, they both may be held liable. Also, objects may cause a trespass; for example, if a person throws something onto your land and causes damage, they may be held liable for any losses you suffered.
Statutory Liability for Trespass on Property
In addition to common law liability, Washington state has two statutes, laws created by the legislature, specifically related to trespass liability. These are as follows:
- RCW 4.24.630 – This law creates liability if an individual wrongfully and intentionally does any of the following:
- Damages personal property on land
- Damages any improvements that were made to the land
- Removes valuable property from the land, including minerals, timber, or crops
- Causes injury to the land or waste.
- RCW 64.12.030 – This statute imposes liability for anyone who intentionally and wrongfully enters land and removes or damages trees, shrubbery, or other timber on another person’s property. This includes cutting down Christmas trees without proper permission.
“Wrongfully” is defined in the statute as when a “person intentionally and unreasonably commits the act or acts while knowing, or having reason to know, that he or she lacks authorization to so act.”
These statutory damages are primarily related to injury to property or the plants or trees on the property. However, if you are not covered by these statutory remedies, you may still have a case under typical common law tort liability as dictated by case law (i.e., when someone interferes with the possessory right of another). In fact, the tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress is available to Plaintiff and not precluded by virtue of the existence of RCW 4.24.630 or 64.12.030.
What Damages Can I Receive if Someone Trespasses on My Property?
Under RCW 4.24.630, liability for damage to land and property, in a successful lawsuit, property owners may be awarded damages that include:
- Treble the amount of the damages caused by the removal, waste, or injury
- “Damages for the market value of the property removed or injured, and for injury to the land, including the costs of restoration.”
- Reimbursement for reasonable costs, including but not limited to investigative costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees and other litigation-related costs.
Contact a Real Estate Attorney at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess for Help
This is only a brief explanation of the possible liability for trespass to real property. If you are a property owner and believe you have been the victim of trespass, you should always contact an experienced Seattle or Tacoma trespass attorney.
To make sure your case is handled correctly and that you can receive optimum compensation, call the real estate lawyers at Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess at (206) 535-1831 or (253) 358-8876 for help today.