Rat-infested house in Spanaway part of Pierce County Sheriff Department's crackdown on nuisance properties

SPANAWAY, Wash. - Residents in a Spanaway neighborhood were able to breathe a little easier after the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department cracked down on a problem house. Investigators said a chronic nuisance property on 50th Ave E. had several code violations including no power, no water, rodents, trash accumulations and people living in sheds on the property.

Detective Ed Troyer said the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department worked to crack down on nuisance properties across the county. He said these properties are known on the streets as “drug dens” or a “trap house.”

“It attracts criminals, drug users, stolen property, rodents, garbage, and it really decays the life of a neighborhood,” said Troyer. “We really believe that a lot of these houses that have 15, 20 people living in them are causing 95 percent of the problem in the neighborhood. So, if we can take care of that particular group of people in the house, we’ve eliminated a lot of our problems.”

People who lived near the trap house in Spanaway said they were relieved law enforcement finally stepped in. They complained about the nuisance property for a long time and some people were concerned about their safety.

“With all the police activity and stuff like that, who wouldn’t be? That’s why I installed cameras and stuff on all four corners of my house. I just can’t take any chances with a family,” said Kyle Alvey.

Alvey moved to the neighborhood a year and a half ago. He said he had to deal with rats coming from his neighbor’s house onto his property.

“Setting traps all the time just trying to get rid of them,” said Alvey. “It took me a while to even realize that it was an issue because they were just underneath the house and they haven’t gotten into the house. And then once I went underneath the house to do some work, that’s when I found out they were causing some damage under there.”

Troyer said the Spanaway house was one of 40 abatement properties in Pierce County so far in 2019. He said investigators expected to shut down about 15 more before the year’s end. Troyer said the Spanaway house had more than 125 incident reports, including shots fired, fights, narcotics, domestic violence and animal control.

“This property is owned by someone but They’ve let it go. They let drug dealers and people use their house. Stolen property is being trafficked through there, we’ve had many medical aid calls, the police have been there so many times,” said Troyer.

When deputies arrived with Code Enforcement to board up the house, they saw a man faced down in the driveway. Troyer said deputies thought the man was dead, but he was actually suffering from a possible heroin overdose.

“Luckily our people showed up and got medical aid and have him some Narcan and cleaned out his system and brought him to the hospital,” Troyer.

Troyer said the abatement process takes a long time and wasn't as easy as some people would expect. He said the county tried to work with the property owner before it even got the point of the house being boarded up.

“Unfortunately, when properties get that bad sometimes people just throw in the towel and leave. And then we have to get in there and take care of it. But that’s not from a lack of trying to get a hold of the owner, trying to get them to fix the property, trying to make the problem go away before we get there. When that doesn’t work then we have to intervene,” said Troyer.

People who lived near the Spanaway trap house said they hope the county’s progress continued.

“Would be glad to see that it be cleaned up because if it’s left the way that it is then that’s still a nuisance and I think people could come back and squat on it,” said Steve Fisher, who lived in the neighborhood.

Troyer said the property owner was responsible for removing all cars and solid waste from the property. The detective said if the owner did not cooperate, he could lose the house in a civil seizure and Code Enforcement would have the property cleaned at the owner’s expense. Anyone found in the house would be arrested for trespassing and/or burglary.