Island County is suing a Camano Island man after years of unsuccessful efforts to get him to comply with county code regarding septic systems, junk vehicles, trash, construction and illegal dwellings.
On Dec. 30, the county served David Muresan with a summons and legal complaint, taking the long-running matter to Island County Superior Court.
Island County asks the court to compel Muresan to comply with a long list of codes and with public health and safety laws. The county also seeks to enforce accrued fines, penalties and attorneys’ fees and costs.
Muresan told the Stanwood Camano News he intends to fight the lawsuit.
Muresan responded to the summons, asking the judge to approve Muresan’s own so-called "Needy-People Initiative," which would allow landowners to build small houses, septic systems, electrical installation without permits and with free inspections. No additional property taxes would be paid. The owner could place trailers and other structures to rent to poor people at low cost. Any number of structures would be allowed, regardless of zoning.
Muresan's response to the county's previous orders has been his initiative, which he said he's also offered to the state and the cities of Stanwood, Seattle and Everett. None adopted it.
Muresan, however, follows his initiative on his own property, regardless of its legality.
He provides a place for the poor to rent for $150-$600 per month with utilities included, he wrote in an email to the Stanwood Camano News.
“The conditions for someone to live here are: Not to disturb neighbors, not to disturb other tenants and to pay rent,” he wrote.
The county placed a lien of $36,741 on his property in October 2020 after a hearing examiner ruled for the county following a public hearing. Since then, a $500 per day fine has brought that to more than $260,000.
Muresan’s 5-acre parcel on Crestview Drive features a three-bedroom house and a detached garage converted into a space with seven makeshift rooms. He collects rent from tenants housed throughout the property, including from trailers, campers and tents.
Since at least 2014, neighbors have formally complained to the Country Club homeowners board and to various county departments of problems arising from illegal tenants, dwellings, junk vehicles, trash and sewage on the Muresan property.
Island County Sheriff’s Department records show calls from the property itself for deputies to respond to incidents of domestic violence, child welfare, theft and medical emergencies.
Multiple county departments have tried for years to bring Muresan into compliance with county code to no avail. Island County officials then began working to take the matter to court.
The problems and legal case have been building for years at the 5-acre parcel on Crestview D…
"Generally speaking, my office only gets involved in these matters when the Planning Department (or other health and safety regulators) have exhausted their attempts to get a property owner to comply with the law," Prosecutor Greg Banks wrote in an email to the Stanwood Camano News. "In this case, the agencies trying to protect the people on the property were not successful through the methods available to them, so the county commissioners authorized my office to initiate a lawsuit."
If the court rules in the county's favor, it could order various kinds of relief, including possibly issuing an injunction requiring certain acts by a property owner, Banks said. If a property owner disobeys an injunction, the owner can be imprisoned for contempt. The court could also grant the government authority to go in and clean the property.
Coming to a head
Recent events have intensified the situation.
On Dec. 3, firefighters responded to a burning 22-foot, two-axle recreational trailer being used as a residence. The RV was a total loss, but no one was injured in the blaze. First responders found various structures and vehicles plugged into an electrical network of long extension cords — some submerged in mud and water, according to the county’s legal complaint document.
“Camano (Island) Fire and Rescue noted that the illegal portable dwellings, which are located far from the street, are particularly difficult for firefighters to access with water supplied from hydrants,” the document stated.
On Dec. 7, law and code enforcement officers with a search warrant found 10 to 15 people living in the garage and in multiple vehicles parked on the property. They all used a toilet in the garage, patched into the house’s septic system. In addition, graywater was being discharged directly onto the property, according to the complaint document.
The converted garage and enclosed carport contained seven sleeping areas, a kitchen area and two bathrooms.
“All across the building, open electrical junction boxes exist," Island County building official Dustin Curb noted. "In multiple locations, the wires supplying power suspend light fixtures.”
The document noted that the exposed circuits pose life safety risks. There were no smoke detectors, fire partitions, carbon monoxide detectors or legally required sprinklers.
Several units lacked proper egress; one had no direct exterior access at all. Another had a window that didn’t open, while another had a window that was taped shut.
Substandard and illegal electrical, plumbing and other work threatens the health and safety of residents and visitors. These violations are being committed in crowded, confined indoor spaces occupied by numerous individuals, including children, during a pandemic, the document stated.
The lawsuit, which came after years of trying to get this property owner to comply with health, safety and planning code, was filed in Superior Court on Dec. 23, and Muresan was served a summons Dec. 30.