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City of Bellingham sues property owner over encampment of unhoused people

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — The City of Bellingham filed a civil suit in Whatcom County Superior Court on November 22nd against a property owner claiming he is maintaining a public nuisance due to an encampment of unhoused people.

Approximate location of the property named in the lawsuit.

In the City’s complaint filed with the court, Erwin Rommel’s property in the 4000 block of Deemer Road “has a large encampment of unhoused persons.” It goes on to detail that the unhoused persons are:

  • trespassing and illegally camping on the property
  • abusing illegal drugs, mainly fentanyl
  • given lists of items to steal from nearby businesses in exchange for drugs

The complaint also notes the conditions on the property. “Piles of garbage, refuse, waste material, and litter can be seen on the property and are getting bigger every day.”

The complaint also notes, “Neighboring property owners have also reported trash spillovers into their parking lots including syringes and burnt aluminum foil [used for smoking fentanyl] that originated from [the property].”

The City says it sent letters to Rommel in October and November advising of his responsibilities to remove the nuisances on his property per the City’s municipal code. He was given 7 days to clean up the property or appeal the City’s declaration that the property was a nuisance. As of the date of the lawsuit, neither had been done. The City says it offered to clean up the property with the owner’s consent at the owner’s expense. At this point, abatement and clean up can occur without the owner’s permission while still at the owner’s expense.

The lawsuit seeks a warrant of abatement authorizing access to the property, by force if necessary, to abate the nuisances, including removal of trespassers, removal and disposal of all property, garbage, waste and contaminated soils and replacing with clean soil and revegetation. The City also seeks a judgement to cover their legal costs as well as the cleanup costs.

Rommel will have 14 days to respond to the lawsuit once having been served a summons.

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