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Authority to Regulate and Abate Nuisances

This page provides an overview of the constitutional and statutory authority for cities and counties in Washington State to declare and abate nuisances.

It is part of MRSC's series on Nuisances: Regulation and Abatement.

General Principle and Constitutional Provision

There is a general principle that cities and counties have the authority to declare and abate nuisances and that the right of summary action (immediate action) exists in common law under the police power. The general police power is also stated in our state constitution in Article XI, section 11:

Any county, city, town or township may make and enforce within its limits all such local police, sanitary and other regulations as are not in conflict with general laws.

Legal remedies to abate nuisances include the filing of a criminal complaint, or civil action, or abatement. A public nuisance may be abated by any public body or officer authorized by law.

A private person may maintain a civil action for a public nuisance if it is specially injurious to himself, but not otherwise. Provisions in nuisance ordinances authorize a city or county to abate a nuisance on private property if the owner fails to do so by the date fixed by the city or county in the notice to abate.

Statutes Authorizing Cities and Towns to Abate Nuisances

  • RCW 35.22.280(30) – First Class Cities
  • RCW 35.23.440(10) – Second Class Cities
  • RCW 35.27.410 – Towns
  • RCW 35A.21.160 – A code city organized or reorganized under this title shall have all of the powers which any city of any class may have and shall be governed in matters of state concern by statutes applicable to such cities in connection with such powers to the extent to which such laws are appropriate and are not in conflict with the provisions specifically applicable to code cities.
  • RCW 35.21.310 – This statute authorizes any city to enact an ordinance requiring the owner of any property to remove or destroy vegetation overhanging or obstructing a street or sidewalk, to remove or destroy all dead vegetation, and to remove or destroy all debris upon property which is a fire hazard or a menace to the public health, safety, or welfare.

General Statutes for Counties, Cities and Towns

  • Ch. 35.80 RCW – This statute provides for cities and counties to deal with major problems which make structures a health hazard or uninhabitable. The chapter authorizes the establishment of an improvement board and/or the appointment of an enforcement officer. If the procedures are followed correctly and an owner of property refuses to comply with an order to clean up the property, the board can authorize the work to be done and the amount entered onto the tax rolls against the property. The city or county needs to appoint an administrative appeals commission, and the owner can appeal any final decision of the appeals commission to superior court.
  • RCW 46.55.240 – This statute provides for the removal of junk vehicles as a public nuisance from private property within the city or county. It provides specific authority for a city or county to adopt an ordinance establishing procedures for the abatement and removal as a public nuisance of junk motor vehicles or parts from private property.
  • RCW 7.48.120 through 7.48.905 – These statutes outline the standard nuisance abatement authority and court jurisdiction over nuisances. Note that RCW 7.48.250 and 7.48.260 provide both district and superior courts with the authority to impose fines for violation of nuisance ordinances, but only superior courts have the authority to issue orders and warrants of abatement. The procedure for recovering the costs of the abatement is set out in RCW 7.48.280.
  • RCW 35.21.955 (first and second class cities and towns) and RCW 35A.21.405 (code cities) – These statutes authorize cities and towns that exercise their authority to abate nuisances to levy a special assessment against property for the expense of abatement. The special assessment constitutes a lien against the property and is binding on successors in title from the date the lien is recorded with the county. Up to $2,000 of the recorded lien is of equal rank with state, county, and municipal taxes. Cities and towns levying the special assessment may contract with the county treasurer to collect the special assessment through the property tax collection process in accordance with RCW 84.56.035. In cases where the nuisance threatens health or safety, the city or town must provide prior notice to the property owner that an abatement is pending and that a special assessment may be levied on the property for the expense of abatement. In all other cases, the city or town must notify both the property owner and any identifiable mortgage holder.

Statutes Specific to Counties

  • RCW 36.32.120(10) – Laws of 2003, ch. 337 provided statutory authority for counties to declare what shall be a nuisance, to abate a nuisance, and to impose and collect fines upon parties who may create a nuisance.
  • RCW 70.05.070 – Some counties provide that the county health officer shall have the powers enumerated in this statute. Included in the list of powers of a local health officer is the authority to "prevent, control or abate nuisances which are detrimental to the public health."
  • Ch. 17.04 RCW – This statute authorizes counties to create Weed Control Districts for the purpose of destroying, preventing and exterminating, or to prevent the introduction, propagation, cultivation or increase of, any particular weed, weeds or plants, or all weeds or plants, including Scotch broom, which are classed by the agricultural experiment station of Washington State University as noxious weeds, or plants detrimental to or destructive of crops, fruit, trees, shrubs, valuable plants, forage, or other agricultural plants or produce.
  • Ch. 17.06 RCW – This statute authorizes the creation of Intercounty Weed Districts to carry out the purposes set forth in RCW 17.04.010.
  • Ch. 17.10 RCW – This statute authorizes the creation of Noxious Weed Control Boards by counties.

Last Modified: October 26, 2023