KIRO 7 Investigates: Seattle preventing squatter houses from being demolished

A city rule is preventing some homes that have become havens for drugs and squatters from being torn down.

Ballard resident Adrienne Livingston knows about the rule all too well. She still remembers the night squatters broke into the vacant boarded-up house near hers.

When police arrived, “there were two men inside, and in addition they found bikes, laptops, drug paraphernalia,” Livingston said.

Across Seattle, there are similar properties that have become drug dens for squatters. Most are single-family homes that await demolition, so someone can build apartments or townhomes.

Many developers who own these problem properties said they'd like to just knock them down -- essentially ending all the trouble for neighbors.

However the city of Seattle in many cases will not allow demolition, even after repeated reports of squatting and drug issues.

“Generally we don't allow them to demolish the housing unless they have a plan to replace it,” Bryan Stevens with the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections said. “We want to make sure if someone is demolishing the housing, something is going to be built in its place.”

However, with Seattle's building boom there is a construction permitting backlog. Right now it takes two to three months to approve smaller projects and six to eight months for bigger ones.

“This is inviting problems with homeless people going in and squatting in these houses,” said one real estate agent who deals with developers.

KIRO 7 asked Stevens: “If there's a proven track record of some squatting and drug use problems, why not let the developers and builders knock the building down right away?”

Stevens said the city has room for improvement in this area.

“I think the intent behind our policy was good,” he said. “But I think we recognize now with all the development we're seeing, and some of the vacant housing problems, that there are some limited case where it would make sense to be able to demolish these properties sooner than later -- especially if the builder or owner is interested in doing that.”

Stevens said he does not know when it will happen. He said his department is working with Mayor Ed Murray’s office to figure out the best way to approve certain demolition permits ahead of a final building plan.

However, Livingston and others plagued by these problem properties said they deserve a plan, not a just promise.

“I'm going to need to see some more action,” said Livingston upon finding out the city is looking into moving up demolition schedules.

She also knows developers are part of the squatting problem as well. Some do not board up and secure homes correctly. Others, according to the city, let problem properties stand after they are allowed to demolish them.