Spokane County Sheriffs Crime Prevention Tips – Chronic Nuisance Properties

Spokane County Sheriff’s Crime & Safety Tips

Chronic Nuisance Properties
By Deputy David Morris

A phenomenon has occurred in the last decade or so that has become a blight in our cities and counties. It is what we in law enforcement refer to as chronic nuisance properties. First, let’s look at how a nuisance is defined in Washington State law:

RCW 7.48.120 Nuisance Defined. Nuisance consists in unlawfully doing an act, or omitting to perform a duty, which act or omission either annoys, injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health or safety of others, offends decency, or unlawfully interferes with, obstructs or tends to obstruct, or render dangerous for passage, any lake or navigable river, bay, stream, canal or basin, or any public park, square, street or highway; or in any way renders other persons insecure in life, or in the use of property.

Let’s break this down. First off, a nuisance can result from a person creating a nuisance, or allowing a nuisance to occur on their property. What makes something a nuisance? Well if something annoys people, like a big pile of garbage, or injures or endangers someone, like an open pit, those are nuisances. A nuisance might be something that makes people who live next to it unable to enjoy their property, or their life on their property. That is what is meant by endangering comfort and repose. Suppose there is a “drug house” next door. You see people using drugs, there are needles left on the ground, and maybe alarming behavior by people there. You don’t feel safe there, and you don’t want to allow your children to play outside. That is a nuisance. Offending decency is very tricky to evaluate. Where a person’s right to express themselves annoys or offends another person can be difficult to pass judgement on. Finally, if a pile of junk exists, full of sharp, rusty metal, broken glass, pests etc. can make an area dangerous whether that pile of junk is in a stream, waterway, public park, or street.

In 2018 Spokane County and Spokane Valley passed Chronic Nuisance Ordinances. These laws empower the Sheriff’s Office to take action against chronic nuisance properties. If the sufficient evidence can be compiled by the Sheriff’s Office, we can petition the court to abate a property. Abatement can mean many different things, but in this case it usually means we order all persons to vacate the property, we have any structures boarded up, and we arrest for trespass anyone who returns that was trespassed.

The guidelines written into the statute say that if there are 5 qualifying incidents within any 12-month period, that is sufficient for an abatement petition. Qualifying incidents include five incidents of ongoing criminal activity, or four incidents of ongoing criminal activity and one documented physical nuisance such as accumulations of trash, junk, waste etc. This can be read in detail by looking up Spokane County Code 6.13.020 (9). Qualifying incidents of criminal activity can be served search warrants, recovery of stolen vehicles, arrests of individuals with warrants, trafficking in stolen property, manufacturing or distribution of controlled substances etc.

So far, the Sheriff’s Office has successfully abated six properties since the ordinance was passed and have served at least 47 notices to properties that they were at risk of abatement. As is sometimes the case, our goal is for the property owner to take action to clear up the nuisance once they have been notified. Voluntary compliance is our goal.

If you think there is a chronic nuisance property in your neighborhood, please contact us at the Sheriff’s Office. First of all, report all criminal activity to either 911 or Crime Check. This will bring issues to our attention and if you don’t call, we won’t know that a problem exists. Report physical nuisances to the Spokane County Building and Planning Department, by visiting their website at https://www.spokanecounty.org/247/Building-Planning or call 477-3675. You can also contact the Sheriff’s Crime Prevention Unit. If you live in Spokane Valley, you should call Deputy Chris Johnston at 509-389-2771 or email him at CRJohnston@spokanesheriff.org. If you live in an unincorporated part of Spokane County, you can contact me by calling 509-477-6044 or email at DWMorris@spokanesheriff.org.

Also email me if you want to attend the 2019 Crime Prevention Conference hosted by the Sheriff’s Office on the evenings of October 2nd and 3rd from 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM. This is free to attend and will be very informative!

We want to hear from you! We are your partners in community safety, comfort and repose!